William Shakespeare’s – Sonnet 99. (Analysis
of the ‘Culler-ful’ Elizabethans)
This sonnet relates to the year 1599 – it is the only Shakespearean sonnet with fifteen lines, “a summer’s story” encompassing a group of three sonnets 97, 98 & 99, which relate to a period when the young princes Robert Devereux & Henry VVriothesley:
“Hath put a spirit of youth in everything”.
In trying to understand our great author’s meaning – we must always look at the ‘quarto’ original (above) which helps us understand why these works relate to Essex & Southampton who are of course ‘Tudor Princes’, which we may determine because the words “Lily’s” & “Rose” (S.98) and “Lily” & “Roses” (S.99) are four words all capitalised in the originals – the natural colours of Tudor England and in this instance allude to Tudor princes. While in examining line ten of (S.99) we find an individual who is not of the House of Tudor because he is neither “red nor white” this is our mischievous author having a bit of a dig at the aristocratic pretentions of William Cecil – Lord Burghley who became increasingly ill in the final period of his life and quite possibly died of cancer in the year 1598 – making perfect sense of the following line written by one of his principle adversaries:
“A vengeful canker ate him up to death”.
“Heavy Saturn” line four (S.98) is of course a further allusion to Cecil, let me quote ‘Katherine Duncan-Jones’:
“The planetary deity Saturn is associated with old age coldness and disaster, here he is seen as heavy in the sense of ‘grave’, ‘ponderous’ or ‘slow, sluggish’.
Queen Elizabeth I – along with Edward de Vere are known to have used the word “Pondus” a marsupial of the word ‘ponderous’ to describe Cecil – who finally reached his leaden tether on the 4th August ‘1598’ .
During the period of this “summer’s story” the English had been trying unsuccessfully to gain the upper hand in Ireland, ‘Essex’ (General) blamed the Cecil-succession as he felt his troops insufficiently supported by the mother country. They were short of all essentials, food, clothing and armaments and he railed against the authorities explaining that they simply did not understand the conditions they were having to endure and fight under across the Irish-Sea.
If we take a brief look at “The Phoenix and the Turtle” which I have made a study of in my work “With the Breath thou Giv’st and Tak’st” it will help explain how we may recognise in these sonnets the young princes the 2nd Earl of Essex – Robert Devereux & the 3rd Earl of Southampton – Henry VVriothesley.
Looking at the first five stanzas (the injunction) of Shakespeare’s famous poem – we find a parliament of birds represented in the following order ‘The Phoenix, the Owl, the Eagle, the Swan and the Crow’, momentarily though we are only interested in the ‘eagle’ and the ‘swan’ for these birds are allusions to our proud princes, meanwhile the poem cunningly creates the impression that represented is a requiem for “The Phoenix and a Turtle” but this is not strictly so, because the “session interdict” that is mentioned actually relates to events immediately following Essex’s execution.
In fact there are only two words found within the ‘injunction’ capitalised & italicised, which are the words “Arabian” (in the first stanza) the ‘A’ deputising for the initial of the God ‘Apollo’ while in the (fourth stanza) the ‘R’ of “Requiem” deputises for the first-initial of the name ‘Robert Devereux’. Interestingly we can individually identify our two princes in ‘proper’ Tudor colours, and by looking more broadly at the Shake-speare cannon – can also identify our author in the colour green. While I fully appreciate – ‘The Tudor-Rose’ was originally designed to commemorate the marriage of Henry VII which merged together the houses of Lancaster and York ‘red & white’, while in the third verse of “The Phoenix and the Turtle” we find ‘Henry VVriothesley’ represented by the Eagle (which to his closest friends was his nickname) attracted because of his flamboyant dress sense and penchant for wearing tall feathers in his hats.
His colour is red.
This is the eleventh line of the poem and the original spelling:
“Save the eagle, feath’red king”. (Quarto)
John Donne alludes to this very fact in his poem “The Canonization”.
“And we in us find the ‘Eagle and the Dove;
The Phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us, we two being one, are it.”
In a pattern of his love – he alludes to ‘The Tudor Trinity’ who are ‘Wriothesley’, ‘Oxford’ (The Turtle-Dove) and ‘Elizabeth’ (The Phoenix).
In the fourth verse ‘Robert Devereux’ is represented by the ‘Swan’ because in death like Orpheus he becomes sweet creation – Apollo’s bird – ‘a Swan’.
His colour is white.
This is the thirteenth line of the poem:
“Let the priest in surplice white”.
This allusion is confirmed in line twelve of (S.97.)
“And thou away, the very birds are mute”.
Yes; the principle colours of the Tudor Rose are ‘red & white’ but the third colour is green which is where our author comes in. He is Henry Wriothesley’s father and Queen Elizabeth his mother, and in reading his poem “Venus & Adonis” we understand it an allegory of Henry ‘Wriothesley’s miraculous birth, in that sense this same subterfuge is repeated in “Loves Martyr” where the birth of rare ‘Wriothesley’ again takes place without any rumpy-pumpy having taken place, because the ‘Phoenix and the Turtle’ reproduce by immolation (by throwing themselves upon a funeral pyre) while the purpose of these tales is to save the virgin Queen’s blushes.
What would make a sexual relationship between “The Phoenix and the Turtle” illicit is that it would be incestuous and would indeed (thankfully) make any such issue ‘rare’, which is of course the very word our author uses in “Love’s Martyr” to describe ‘Henry Wriothesley’ – where he is either described as “Rare” or “Rarity” or “Rarenesse”, while Ben Johnson in his poem “The Phoenix Analysed” refers to him the same way as Shake-speare in (S.1) as “Fairest Creature”.
Significant importance; should be attached to the way our author spells the words feathered & chequered, in “The Phoenix and the Turtle” we find “feath’red”, and in “Venus & Adonis” we find “chequ’red” in both instances these words are paired with the word ‘white’ because these are Tudor colours and our proud author is keen to bring our attention to this fact.
His highly successful poem “Venus and Adonis” first published in 1593 – was the first work published using the pseudonym ‘William Shake-speare’. ‘Adonis’ is of course an allegory of himself, while ‘Venus’ is an allegory of Queen Elizabeth, at the conclusion of the poem ‘Adonis’ is slain by the wild boar whose tusks penetrate his crown jewels, while ‘Venus’ is so distraught she closes her eyes in disbelief – but reopens them:
And, being opened, threw unwilling light
“Tis true, tis true!” Thus was Adonis slain:
Following the allusion to Shake-speare in line 1112 when ‘Adonis’ is fatally wounded the blood he bleeds is purple, the reason for this is because our author was royal, while towards the conclusion of this allegory we receive further proof of this, as we find the poem’s palette awash with colours symbolising the Royal Tudor dynasty.
By this, the boy that by her side lay killed
She bows her head, the new-sprung flower to smell
Now not being a botanist – I consequently am unsure that if you crop the stalk of a ‘Meliagris lily’ that in its breach will appear green sap? Although I do agree that the ‘Fritillary’ is a purple flower chequ’red with white – which most obviously represents our Prince Henry Wriothesley.
What I wonder is if “Green dropping sap” is a clue to our author’s paternity of Wriothesley, because by looking once again at “Love’s Martyr” we can deduce that our author’s livery was ‘Vert’ (green) because during the “Invocation” to “Diverse Poetical Essays” that accompanies “The Phoenix and the Turtle” we find that Elizabeth “In the height of Grace” invites:
The ever-youthful Bromius to delights,
Sprinkling his suit of Vert with Pearle.
Now it is possible to interpret these two lines as rather ‘seedy’ so I will mitigate these thoughts with a quotation from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the wat’ry glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass
(A time that lovers’ flights doth still conceal).
Act 1 Scene 1 – 209
These Lovers are of course ‘two’ and the same = Venus & Adonis, The Phoenix and the Turtle, Queen Elizabeth I of England and the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere.
Colour-wise our Virgin Queen can be found dead centre of the ‘Tudor Rose’ as her hair is mirrored by the Marigold flower – ‘John Lily’ Edward de Vere’s personal secretary said this:
“She useth the Marigold for her flower,
which at the rising of the sunne openeth
his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them”.
The Cecil’s as ‘Cullers’ of Princes.
A principle & prevailing thought of mine is that when our great author like his esteemed friend Dr John Dee put pen to paper, they didn’t make mistakes – consequently when in the last line of (S.99) we find the word ‘culler’ masquerading as the word ‘colour’ I am resolute that what he does actually mean is ‘culler’. To my knowledge this is the only instance of Shake-speare using this word.
Firstly; in explanation let me quote lines 5 to 8 of (S.98).
5 Yet nor the laies of birds nor the sweet smell
6 Of different flowers in odor and in hew
7 Could make me any summer’s story tell,
8 Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
The word he uses at the end of line six is ‘hew’ not ‘hue’ while the only thing that surprises me about this is that the word ‘hew’ is not capitalised as naturally it is an allusion to ‘Henry Wriothesley’. While our author speaks of ‘different’ flowers – some ‘odiferous’ and some princely flowers, therefore we can divide them into two groups.
Vengeful & odoriferous flowers (nor red nor white) or:
Sweet ‘red & white’ Tudor flowers (princes).
This first group saw their duty to pluck or cull the second group where they grew – they were therefore ‘cullers of colour’ because by reducing the population of princes by selective slaughter the person or persons responsible for this action we can term ‘culler’ and the very reason our author uses this word in the final line of sonnet 99.
In our author’s eyes ‘Essex’ was culled – although in all probability he was not the only Tudor prince culled, for it is a little-known fact that he had a brother called ‘Arthur Dudley’ also conceived by ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Leicester’.
In the year 1587 at the age of 26 or so he found himself presented to the court of ‘Philip II’ following his capture from a shipwreck off the coast off Spain. The Spanish court were so taken by his story they granted him a pension, while understandably the court in London saw this behaviour as treachery.
Following this episode – his persistent bragging in the Iberian Peninsula (regarding his Royal heritage) soon saw English agents sent to work – while sometime afterwards he found himself wiped of the face of the earth – terminated – vapourised – culled.
In (S.99) we identify these Royal earls because our author wears spectacles tinted with purple hues (spelled ‘Hews’ in S.20) which is a marsupial of the name Henry Wriothesley, but not only is our author’s sense of sight corrupted by love – but also his sense of smell:
The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my loves breath, the purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells?
In my loves veins thou has to grossly dyed.
This purple (royal) theme continues when describing the tightly curled hair of a soon to be condemned – Essex.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair.
‘Our princely roses’ had run into a bit of trouble with the woman who had ‘wrought’ them into this world. Essex against Elizabeth’s command had made VVriothesley his ‘master of the horse’, she had also expressly ordered him not to leave Ireland without her permission but in late September 1599 with a small posse of men to protect him – that is exactly what he did.
Essex was going to have it out with the Queen (not for the first time) he was going to give her a piece of his mind, consequently on the morning of September 28th 1599 he famously broke into her bedchamber (muddy boots ‘n’ all) when she was only half dressed and without wig, actions from which he soon found himself under house arrest with many serious charges levelled against his person.
His predicament with its potential for further censure and demise by execution sent him into a steep psychological and physical decline, therefor with this new calamity:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair.
Our fearful ‘red & white’ princes were in a state of ‘nervous anticipation’ which is one way of explaining “on thorns did stand” or another way is by quoting ‘Jonathan Bate’ “in a state of high anxiety”.
Philip Cooper fecit: © 18th April 2021.