Fair Youth: Son or Lover? Richard Waugaman Responds to Hank Whittemore

Posted By on March 12, 2012

Guest Post by Richard Waugaman

Sonnet 116: Let me not the the marriage of True Minds admit impediments.

I am grateful to Roger Stritmatter for single-handedly getting me involved in Shakespeare authorship research during the past ten years, and for this opportunity to respond to Hank Whittemore’s provocative guest post.

Mr. Whittemore has worked tirelessly to educate the public about the Oxfordian authorship theory. Although he is best known for his book on the Sonnets, he has explored many other facets of the authorship question. For example, his blog is systematically exploring 100 major reasons that support our shared authorship opinion.

When it comes to the Sonnets, Mr. Whittemore and I share the crucial beliefs that they are autobiographical, and that they are written by Edward de Vere.

I hope it is clear that Mr. Whittemore and I respect each other. We share the hope that respectful, Quaker-like discussions of differences among Oxfordians will help sharpen our thinking, and thus advance our shared enterprise of educating the general public about the plausibility of our authorship theory.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets have been relatively neglected, compared with his plays. When they’re not being ignored, they have generated a wide range of commentary. This is understandable, given their astonishing literary quality and their formidable complexity.

In addition to the many discussions of specific sonnets, there have also been a few ambitious projects that seek to explain the Sonnets as a unified whole. Some of these projects also recognize the many connections between the Sonnets and the long poem with which they were first published in 1609—“A Lover’s Complaint.” Mr. Whittemore is a distinguished commentator on the Sonnets as a unified body of work.

Mr. Whittemore makes the valid point that some of my published comments on alternative readings of the Sonnets lapse into the sort of ad hominem rather than ad rem reasoning that I often decry among the Stratfordians. Mr. Whittemore has indeed held up a “mirror” in front of me, and I don’t like what I see. His point is well taken, and I wish to retract any insinuation I may have made that the only basis for denying de Vere’s bisexuality must be homophobia.

On the other hand, I like much of what I see in Mr. Whittemore’s post. For example, when he writes, “surely we can agree that Oxford and Southampton as individuals were each possibly or even probably bisexual, yet still not know whether or not they were engaged with each other in a sexual affair.” His agreeing that de Vere was “possibly or even probably bisexual,” removes any imputation of homophobia (or perhaps, more accurately, “biphobia”).

C.S. Lewis has a marvelous comment on the”odd story” of the first 17 “procreation” sonnets—

“What man in the world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married? Thus the emotion expressed in the Sonnets refuses to fit into our pigeon-holes” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (1954), 503-504).

Mr. Whittemore believes de Vere was Southampton’s father; we both think he was Southampton’s potential father-in-law.

Mr. Whittemore quite reasonably asks that we put aside the son/lover crux for a moment, and focus instead on the contemporary history that is the context of the Sonnets. He has a fascinating theory linking many of the sonnets to Southampton’s imprisonment from 1601 to 1603.

I wish to make only one comment on that imprisonment. The historian Paul Hammer, while writing a new biography of the Earl of Essex, found documents that exonerate Essex and Southampton of the charge of treason for the so-called Essex Rising.

Hammer reported this new evidence at a presentation I attended at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2007, and published it the following year in the Shakespeare Quarterly. Hammer’s evidence points to Robert Cecil as having trumped up false charges against Essex and Southampton in a successful power grab in the final years of Elizabeth’s reign.

Hammer’s discovery constitutes a minor paradigm change in our understanding of Elizabethan history. As a result, it is still not widely known or accepted. If Hammer was still able to find this exonerating evidence four centuries after the fact, I would assume that de Vere was well aware of Southampton’s innocence. It would surely have further inflamed de Vere’s contempt for his brother-in-law Robert Cecil. So I would only suggest we read the Sonnets with these recent discoveries in mind.

My own work on the Sonnets has been far less ambitious than has Mr. Whittemore’s. In addition to the 2010 article on the Sonnets that he cites, I have dealt with several sonnets in the context of showing intertextuality between Shakespeare’s works and the Whole Book of Psalms. This was the metrical translation of Sternhold and Hopkins that was set to music, and in which Edward de Vere showed great interest.

The psalms de Vere marked in his copy led to the largest previously unknown literary source for Shakespeare found in the past several decades. I hope this connection between Shakespeare and de Vere will help draw further attention to Roger Stritmatter’s monumental discoveries of still more significant connections between known biblical sources for Shakespeare and marked passages in de Vere’s Geneva Bible.

Whatever our theories of the meaning of the Fair Youth sonnet sub-sequence, I hope further attention to the connections between the Sonnets, Shakespeare’s other work, and marked passages in de Vere’s copy of the Whole Book of Psalms will strengthen our unifying belief that Edward de Vere wrote the works of Shakespeare.

As readers may already know, many of my publications on the Sonnets and other facets of the authorship question are on my website, http://www.oxfreudian.com


About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


2 Responses to “Fair Youth: Son or Lover? Richard Waugaman Responds to Hank Whittemore”

  1. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Richard, and Hank,

    As I look over with some gratification and respect what you have both written I am reminded of the great power of the internet as a new medium of public communication. But I am also mindful of the composure you each brought to this exchange, and what a fascinating contrast your exchange represents in the context of the typical academic discussion about Shakespearean authorship, which always seems freighted with some unspeakable guilt from the past or the kind of “false consciousness” that comes from knowing that the position that your job requires you to take is quite likely wrong, and being afraid to read up on it lest you discover that you *are* right that you *were* wrong.

    How do you tell your colleague? It is best just to leave things alone or try to convince yourself, as so many who supposedly have devoted their lives to teaching Shakespeare’s dramatic conceptions seem ready to conclude, that it “does not really matter, after all, *who* Shakespeare was. We have his works.”

    This is becoming a very popular position, let me tell you. I expect one day one of us will turn around and find a Nishidani or a Tom Reedy saying it himself.

    But of course this is sheer desperation masquerading as intellectual profundity. Few questions in our literary history, and hence in a larger sense also in our history at large, matter more. By “our” I do not mean specifically the direct physical ancestors of Shakespeare’s own mostly English (but with a good leavening of Ireland and Italy, not to mention his knowledge of Plutarch, Ovid, and all the greatest ancients that would have been readily available to him in Elizabethan England, including, one has reason to think, Plato, either in Latin or in Greek or maybe both) culture.

    Having escaped the time capsule, he belongs to everyone now. But those who would pose this fact as somehow a necessary contradiction to taking a more realistic appraisal of where we stand vis-a-vis alternatives to the traditional Stratfordian paradigm are surely in some denial (not being a psychoanalyst, I think I may be permitted that speculation at least).

    You guys, we’ve come a long way. One thing that consoles me to keep on keepin’ on is just to keep trying to imagine what Henry Fonda (in *12 Angry Men*) would’ve said to the idea that it doesn’t really matter who Shakespeare was. Said by a Shakespeare professor. Wouldn’t that be a real humdinger of a line?


  2. Thanks, Roger, and I also want to express my gratitude to Dr. Waugaman for his gracious reply, which comes from not just a very nice man, but, also, from an outstanding scholar who is unafraid to look honestly both at the substance of the issues and at his own conclusions about them. I have more to add from my side on the topic at hand, which I’ll share in further commentary here; but meanwhile, as Roger suggests, we owe it to “Shakespeare” – and to ourselves – to finally get him right. With great appreciation, guys, and I look forward to more meetings online.

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