William Shakespeare’s – Sonnet 20. (Analysis)
This sonnet is a portrait of Henry Wriothesley and written in celebration of his birthday – although I must immediately correct myself – because our great author was very careful indeed not to use the word ‘birth-day’, because being a prince divinely ordained in heaven – when Henry Wriothesley entered this world he entered as a “little love God” and Gods are not born they are created.
(9) “And for a woman wert thou first created”.
The word ‘first’ is an extremely subtle allusion to our author’s paternity of Henry Wriothesley because in ‘Love’s Martyr’ also written by our great author (using the witty pseudonym Robert Chester) there is a poem called “The first” its meaning that our author was the first born son of “Phoebe.” She was the Goddess who at will could command ‘silver light’ and she is used as an allusion to Queen Elizabeth 1st. Therefore Elizabeth was Henry Wriothesley’s mother, while along with “Phoebe” other prominent words used as allusions to Elizabeth are ‘beauty’ ‘nature’ and ‘fortune’, while the fact that the word ‘sil-ver’ also holds a special significances for our author shouldn’t be overlooked. Therefor in recognising the word “nature” as an allusion to Elizabeth – we make perfect sense of (line 10):
(10) “Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting”.
Being the fifth sequential (and last) male-infant ‘created’ for his mother, it was hardly surprising that above all things she wished this fifth child to be a girl. As ‘fortune’ would have it this infant was not only beautiful and ‘rare’ but androgynous – not surprisingly then, we find in the very first line Wriothesley (who had a woman’s face) being cosmetically enhanced by his mother ‘nature’.
(1) “A woman’s face by nature’s own hand painted”.
Now; the standard Shakespearean sonnet has 14 lines of iambic pentameter, Sonnet 20 does not. The reason being; it is a portrait of Henry Wriothesley who as I have said had a feminine countenance, one of two reasons every line has an additional unstressed syllable – giving the sonnet a feminine complexion. The other reason; as every line has eleven beats instead of ten unlike the standard Shakespearean sonnet it has an additional 14 beats.
The maths therefor is this: 14 X 11 = 154 ‘an allusion’ to Shake-speare’s final sonnet 154 – a story about a three month old ‘little-love-God’ who on the 21st August 1574 arrived with his mother ‘Elizabeth I’ in the spa city of Bath. Then by regressing precisely three months to the 20th May we arrive at the day Henry Wriothesley entered this royal realm of England, the very day ‘nature’ (Elizabeth) “wrought” him – the day he was “first created” not to be confused with his official birthday the 6th of October 1573. Naturally; as only to be expected this true ‘inaugural’ day 20th May 1574 was commemorated by Shake-speare with an announcement in the stationer’s register of the intention to publish his sonnets, an event that took place on that very day the 20th May 1609, a date that also gets an ironic mention in Henry IV part 1, described as a day that didn’t exist! Because those “rough winds” of authority wished exactly that – that Henry Wriothesley didn’t exist, while to the contrary in our author’s most famous (S.18) we find him eulogising about Wriothesley with the words:
“The darling buds of May”.
Because Wriothesley was exactly that! ‘A darling bud of May’.
Now; many commentators have struggled over the years in respect of what the word ‘hues’ in (line 7) means – well – there is a lesson to be learned here! What we must always do when trying to understand the true meaning of our author’s works, is make sure we study (where possible) the original ‘quarto’ (first edition.) In doing so we see that the word “Hews” is not only spelled differently to the way it is spelled in many modern texts, but in the original it is both capitalised and italicised – like this: “Hews”.
“I will find where truth is hid,
though it were hid indeed
within the center”. (Polonius – Hamlet).
As the word ‘rose’ is a marsupial of the name ‘Wriothesley’ likewise “Hews” is a marsupial of ‘Henry Wriothesley’, which of course confirms that this sonnet is about him. While we should also bear in mind that all three works that Shake-speare dedicated “Venus & Adonis” “The Rape of Lucrece” and “The Sonnets”, were firstly; all dedicated to him and secondly; an expression of ‘Sacred 3’. The love Shake-speare had for his son knew no bounds – a love so intense that at the beginning of (S.105) we find him feeling self-conscious about it:
“Let not my love be called idolatry
Nor my beloved as an idol show”. (S.105)
Wriothesley was the “Master/Mistris” of his passion, words which not only allude to the passion of Christ but also to Wriothesley’s androgynous nature. While in the very next line although he has a woman’s heart we learn he is not entirely woman:
(3) “A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted”.
With these words we understand that Wriothesley is biologically male, as he is without “quaint” while in the penultimate line of the sonnet we learn that amongst his crown jewels (his “treasures”) he has a ‘prick’.
The iniquity with which our author charges his Queen in the closing sonnets, begins to be revealed in line 4 as we remember that Elizabeth was notoriously indecisive (history recalls many examples of this). While a fair perspective of our author is symbolised by the words ‘Nothing truer than truth’ (his personnel motto) while conversely we see that following broken promises by Elizabeth – particularly in respect of Henry Wriothesley’s upbringing, she becomes ‘a false woman’ who is subject to bouts of “shifting change” characteristics completely in line with her fabled indecision.
Biologically speaking – nobody was more royal than Henry Wriothesley and in my forthcoming work “With the Breath thou Giv’st and Tak’st” I explain in detail how this is so, while our great author proudly amplifies the Godly qualities of his princely son in (S.33) by alluding to ‘The son of heaven’ (found in the final line) while we recall that Christ died when he was 33 years old. Our author believed all princes were divinely ordained in heaven – while he was one of five siblings himself (proof of this is given in my article) while one of these was his ‘Envious’ half-brother Robert Devereux the 2nd Earl of Essex.
In (S.33) Wriothesley is described only in Godly or Royal terms – where: He flatters mountain tops with sovereign eye and with golden face kisses the meadows green, while gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy – all this overseen by the celestial face of a deity.
In multiplying 3 x 3 we arrive at the Christian figure ‘9’ which may be seen as a symbol of Christ – that when seen in Roman numerals, we recognise ‘IX’ as the Greek initials of ‘Iesous Christos’, while remarkably in line ‘9’ of (S.33) we encounter a pun on the word ‘sunne’ meaning “my Sun one” (my Godly son), while looking at the last line – inevitably we learn this three month old infant was stained with bastardy – as we find his mother Elizabeth:
“Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace”.
So there is absolutely no doubt in our minds about who precisely is stealing to west with her new born son – our author deliberately omits the ‘s’ in the word ‘unseen’ so the word we are presented with is “un eene” the purpose – to get as close as he possibly could to the protagonist of this disgrace the ‘Qu-eene’.
This destination; the western city of ‘Bath’ Elizabeth arrived at with the infant Wriothesley in tow, precisely three months after she first “fell a-doting” on the occasion that this beautiful cupid child Wriothesley was “first created”. On this day the 21st August 1574 the buntings were out in the spa city of Bath, a city Shake-speare mentions four times in the pair of epigrams attached to the end of his sonnet sequence (S.153) & (S.154).
These epigrams represent the historical narrative of the occasion, when Elizabeth “The fairest votary” in a cold valley fountain of that ground, metaphorically baptised her “little Love-God” who subsequently with his ‘bright eye’ began to gild whatever lay in his path:
(5) “An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling, . Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth”.
As a youth Wriothesley was “the world’s fresh ornament” a golden deity – way ahead of his time because not only was he a prince but he had super-powers and with his heavenly-eyes more bright than mortals – he gilded whatever fell within his gaze, giving ‘worth’ to these recipients who felt illuminated, in the spotlight, embellished by his presence.
Therefore (if back in the day) you were one of those fortunate enough to have Wriothesley’s gaze fall upon you, because it was so beautiful, so glorious, so Godly, you would have felt blessed indeed – luxuriating in his golden corona -the light diffused by a narcissus.
In respect of the words “less false in rolling” in line 5, well; we know today that teenage girls in particular like to roll their eyes in contempt of adults, but in earlier times ’eye rolling’ was seen in an even worse light – as licentious or duplicitous behaviour. Milton speaks of women with lustful appetites who “troll the tongue and roll the eyes”, while Shake-speare – has Sextus Tarquinus in sight of Lucrece’s bed “Rolling his greedy eyeballs in his head”, so if this jibe is aimed at Elizabeth which does seem the case – then it casts a further stain upon the whiteness of the ‘Virgin Queen’.
In the rough chronology of the sonnets we have only reached (S.20) but already from our author we see shades of idolatry towards Wriothesley and animosity towards Elizabeth developing, in close proximity he twice uses the word ‘false’ describing her, and while Wriothesley has bright eyes and is seen as pure and virtuous, her vestal livery begins to appear tainted – as her transition into a darker world commences – to where more maturely in (S.132) our author “swears beauty herself is black”.
As already mentioned the most important element of line 7 is the word ‘Hews’ a cipher for Henry Wriothesley whose pedigree was purple, whose complexion was royal, whose hair was royal, whose persona was royal, an androgynous beauty possessing royal mystique – thereby creating a powerful allure. So tantalised were those mortals that moved in his courtly orbit – they found themselves star-struck and although he was susceptible to rough winds he held the aesthetic standard for all other’s high and proud, overwhelming all in his presence, controlling both sexes equally – ‘stealing men’s eyes and beguiling women’.
At the end of her life; following the death of close friends and the execution of ‘Essex’ Elizabeth became psychologically-sick and in the guise of “Phoebe” we find in Love’s Martyr “fever shaking light” a metaphor for a great uncertainty that began to overwhelm the Tudor dynasty. This Godly ability to control light that Elizabeth inherited from the Gods we also see in her son.
(7) “A man in hue all ‘Hews’ in his controlling”.
According to our author; Henry Wriothesley’s eye was “more bright” than mere mortals:
(6) “Gilding the object where-upon it gazeth”.
Incongruous as it may be; I have to quote another genius ‘Jimi Hendrix’ for it wasn’t only Wriothesley’s mother that fell a-doting, as his father found himself equally besotted by this beautiful androgynous creature who produced the drug of love in our author’s royal veins:
“Purple-haze all in my eyes s’cuse me while I kiss the sky”.
The Forward violet thus did I chide: Sweet thief,
whence dids’t thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells,
In my loves veins thou hast too grossly dyed. (S.99)
This ‘love’ was arguably the greatest love in literature and although it has often been misinterpreted as ‘homosexual love’ it was no such thing – it was as previously explained the love of a father for his son, a love I believe that is lucidly explained in the closing lines of the sonnet. Wriothesley wasn’t born but like a God “created” – and with the “addition” of male genitalia, seemingly he was ‘pricked out’ for women’s pleasure.
It is important to understand that our author was also a prince – therefor he was uninhibited in respect of the sexual-protocols that we mere mortals are subjected by, as he elaborates:
(11) “And by addition me of thee defeated, . By adding one thing to my purpose nothing”.
Wriothesley’s “thing” had no purpose for our author – who was heterosexual, who in the last line of the sonnet – we find one further time – declaring his love for his royal son, while he finds himself at ease with the possibilities of his son’s lover’s trying for size his crown jewels.
(13) “But since she pricked thee out for Woman’s pleasure . Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure”.
Philip Cooper fecit: © 26th March 2021.
To understanding my true meaning – it may be beneficial – reading this sonnet in tandem with Sonnet 111.