“My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” Part III (The Manuscript Evidence)

Posted By on December 1, 2013

Kurt Kreiler, whose new German edition of Oxford's poems is making the Stratford Birthplacers very Nervous. See link in article for details.

To read this series from the start, please begin here.

In one of his last postings to the Waugh Spectator Blog Tom Reedy does his best to help the beleaguered Oxfraudians recover from the numerous humiliating episodes preserved in the transcript of those exchanges. Professor May, Reedy insists

does not attribute [“My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”] to Oxford; he says that he believes the case is stronger for Oxford than for Dyer.
And in fact in the 1975 article he stops short of attributing it to Oxford, only suggesting that Oxford has a claim at least as strong–and in his opinion stronger–than Dyer. I’d give it 50-50 odds for either author.

“If it is by Oxford,” continues Reedy,  ”it is the best thing he ever wrote, but it is not Shakespearean in either expression or style.”

Reedy makes four primary claims here. One involves a reasonably accurate summary of Stephen May’s lukewarm attribution in his 1975 RES article.  The second is his own conclusion, somewhat at odds with May’s “stronger” case for Oxford, that there is a “50-50 odds” for either author of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.” The third is that the poem, if by Oxford “is the best thing he ever wrote.”  Finally, claims Reedy, “My Mind to me a Kingdom Is” is “not Shakespearean in either expression or style.”

We shall take these claims one by one and examine them as required to evaluate their credibility.

As we have already seen, Reedy’s final claim was contested as early as 1853 by none other than Shakespeare Allusion Book Editor Ingleby, to whom the idea expressed in the poem is quintessentially, quote-unquote, “Shakespeare’s.”

Further inquiry will reveal how justified Ingleby’s res gestae opinion was, but before we explore in detail the numerous thematic, idiomatic, and stylistic links between the poem and the Shakespearean oeuvre, let us  revisit, for the sake of clarity,  May’s original argument identifying the poem as most probably Oxford’s.

May’s attribution is based exclusively on his analysis of the variants of this poem as they appear in three early modern manuscript sources, the Rawlinson MS,  Harvard  MS.1015, and B.M. MS. Harleian 7392.

It is important to recognize, in other words, that May declines to consider questions of a stylistic nature in offering his lukewarm endorsement of Oxford’s authorship of the poem. This, as we shall see, is an important limitation of his argument, for had he stepped outside his narrowly defined role as an examiner of manuscript evidence he could have fortified his initial conclusion, as Robert Detobel among others has suggested, with much stronger warrants.

May’s skepticism of the Dyer attribution begins with his observations about the poor state of the Rawlinson text, which attributes “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” to Dyer (spelled “Dier” in the manuscript). The manuscript’s text of the poem “contains at least seven errors in forty-eight lines, scarcely argu[ing] for immediate descent from the author’s original.” It also contains other readily documented attribution errors, including erroneously assigning a text of Spenser’s Amoretti Sonnet viii (f.5v) to Dyer.

The two other manuscript sources containing versions of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” offer conflicting attributions. Harvard  MS.1015, apparently in the handwriting of Antyne Batman, describes the poem as “a sonnet, said to be first written by the L. Ver.”

B.M. MS. Harleian 7392 (ff. 73v-74), somewhat enigmatically, subscribes the poem “FINIS Ball.” Diligent research by Robert Detobel and Kurt Kreiler – author of a recent German edition of Oxford’s poems – has been unable to identify “Ball,” although another manuscript (Coningsbye MS. 7392) lists five poems under this name, one of them (“Who Taught Thee First Alas to Sigh”) ascribed in the Rawlinson manuscript to de Vere and accepted by May (37) as his.

Intriguingly, another of the five “Ball” poems in the Coningsbye manuscript is an otherwise anonymous song (“When Griping Griefs”) printed both in Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576) (along with several lyrics attributed to Oxford) and in Romeo and Juliet (4.5.123-5).

These circumstances thus tend to confirm the probability that Oxford, not Dyer, is the author of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.” Just as importantly, they also suggest – via the enigmatic “Ball” – a “Shakespearean” association to Oxford in the manuscript tradition.

This manuscript tradition association between Oxford and “Shakespeare” is confirmed by other potent examples that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and its internet proxies would do well to consider closely. There is, for instance,  the MSS containing, in the words of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips,  “the earliest copy of any of Shakespeare’s writings known to exist,”  namely Folger MSS. 1.1112, also known as the Anne Cornwallis Daybook.

This book, which bears a legend (apparently of 18th or 19th century origin), stamped in gold on the spine, “MSS POEMS BY VERE, EARL OF OXFORD &c.,” contains the Shakespearean lyric  alluded to by Halliwell-Phillips. “When As Thine Eye hath chose the Dame”[i]  was later published ascribed to “Shakespeare” in the 1599 Passionate Pilgrim. Like the Shakespeare poem, most of the others in the volume are un-ascribed, but one of them is Oxford’s echo poem, sometimes attributed (rather flimsily) to his lover Anne  Vavasour.

Halliwell Phillips, who purchased the manuscript at the 1844 Bright sale, dated the Cornwallis manuscript to the 1580s. He noted that “the writing [of the manuscript] is very early; I very much doubt if any portion of the volume was written so late as 1590….the MS. formerly belonged to Anne Cornwallis, and has her autograph, so that its descent from Vere, Earl of Oxford, is clearly deducible.”  He further commented that the poem constituted “the only specimen of any of Shakespeare’s writings I have seen which was written in the 16th century.”[ii]

As Ruth Loyd Miller has subsequently observed, Halliwell-Phillips’ chronology is confirmed by the fact that many of the poems contained in the volume are in the handwriting of Queen’s Men actor John Bentley, who died in 1585.  Miller speculates that the manuscript originated at Fisher’s Folly, which was purchased from Oxford by Anne Cornwallis’s father circa 1589.[iii]

Most strikingly, following the customary logic used by Stephen May in favoring the attribution of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” to Oxford, namely that the more textually reliable manuscript is more likely to be closer to the author’s original, we should note that to Halliwell Phillips the Cornwallis manuscript “offers a…better arrangement of the stanzas” and “a far superior text”[iv] compared to the version of the lyric published in 1599 in The Passionate Pilgrim.

Embarrassing, huh?

This digression has served to establish an important link in the chain of evidence associating the Earl of Oxford with “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” – namely that a constellation of manuscript evidence ties Oxford closely to a number of poems that are either by “Shakespeare” or have significant Shakespearean associations.

Two points remain to be emphasized about the attribution of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.”

First, if the poem is by Oxford it destroys in one fell swoop the Stratfordian argument that Oxford was a bad poet.

This was of course the context in which the poem was put into evidence in the Waugh debate, and it explains why both Mr. Reedy and Mr. Leadbetter have steadfastly resisted the attribution to Oxford. As May himself acknowledges, “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” has always been among the best loved poems of the English language.

Accordingly, when the subject was broached in the discussion on Waugh’s blog, Leadbetter proceeded to “argue” using the tried and true “buckshot” approach. Not only did he demand immediate gratification in the form of proof of the poem’s Shakespearean associations, but he simultaneously insisted that the traditional attribution to Dyer is the correct one! This is called winning at any cost.

Then, in these memorable words, Leadbetter attempted to enlist Professor May – the originator of the view that Oxford, not Dyer, is the poem’s author! – as his authority:

Steve May does NOT now favour Oxford for the same reason I do not favour Oxford. It’s too good. No one (apart from the usual suspects) attributes it to Oxford today. (emphasis original).

Now, since May’s original study attributing the poem to Oxford was made in 1975 it was of course, theoretically, possible that he had subsequently changed his mind. But when asked for his evidence supporting his claim of May’s changed opinion, Leadbetter tried to change the subject.

Unfortunately for Leadbetter, May had very recently communicated to Richard Waugaman that his view of the matter had not changed. A July 2, 2013 email to Waugaman clarifies May’s present conviction without mentioning Leadbetter’s facetious claim that the poem is “too good” to be by Oxford:

The case for Oxford is, I believe, still better than Dyer’s. The Dyer attribution was made by a student of St. John’s C., Cambridge in an anthology with many incorrect attributions. The nod to Oxford was made by the London clergyman Stephen Batman and is more detailed.

There are only two possible interpretations of this contradictory evidence.  One is that Mr. Leadbetter was lying when he said that May “does NOT now favour Oxford” as the author of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” (or, more generously, had badly misinterpreted May’s remarks).  The other is that May in fact told Mr. Leadbetter something different in November than he had told Dr. Waugaman in July, but then would not follow through by publicly supporting Leadbetter’s embarrassing antics on the Spectator blog.

Since May has not responded to my 11/28 email requesting clarification, the matter cannot on present evidence be fully resolved.

Note added 12/5: I have now received reply from Professor May, who states: “no, I haven’t changed my mind about “My mind.” The scale is tipped slightly in Oxford’s favor as author in my opinion.”  The conclusion from this is that Mr. Leadbetter did not misunderstand anything May had written to him: he just lied.

It is now clear that May’s 2013 opinion has not varied from the one he published in 1975: of the three manuscript attributions of the poem, the Rawlinson attribution to Dyer is, in his opinion, the weakest.

In our next blog entry, we shall see how thoroughly this opinion can be corroborated from the internal evidence of Oxford’s other poetry – as well as cross-examine Mr. Reedy’s blithe contention that “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” is exceptional among Oxford’s surviving lyrics.  I would like to thank Robert Detobel for his inestimable assistance in preparing this series of blog entries.


[i] Hyder Rollins, The Poems: A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co, 1938, 308.

[ii] As quoted in Rollins, 312.

[iii] Ruth Loyd Miller, Shakespeare Identified, vol II Oxfordian Vistas, 369-376

[iv] Quoted in Miller, 374.

Share

About the author

Comments

7 Responses to ““My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is,” Part III (The Manuscript Evidence)”

  1. William Ray says:

    An excellent valuable discussion.

    I would add that Grosert’s phrase,’ true singer’, was prescient both pragmatically and thematically, in his describing the poem, ‘My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is’. The place where it was found, the corpus of a composer and its short verse format tells me that it was written–as song–for performance probably with the lute, on which Oxford was artistic. Both Byrd and Farmer admired the musical skills of the poem’s no longer putative author, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

    One of the early commentators praised him for “Comedy and Interlude”. We do not have to look very far to find charming interludes separating acts of the Shakespeare comedies, clearly in the lilting format of lute and song.

    Regarding the ‘My Mind’ poem’s appearance under the author name “Ball”, I comment as an amateur sleuth (gumshoe, hawkshaw, snoop, hound, beagle, flatfoot) in the matter of the various de Vere pseudonyms.

    It seems open and shut to me that the term “Ball” is a stand-in name similar to Nothing for O in Lear; Abell Emet in Willobie His Avisa for ‘A ring of truth’, playing on Italian anello (audible bell ring, knell), and Hebrew Emet, truth (veritas); or just a round ‘ring’ itself, appearing 17 or 22 times in one scene of Merchant of Venice, whichever way you count them. Either way alludes to the same person, the 17th of something or someone having to do with Four (2+2=Vier/Vere). “Ball” amounts to a three-dimensional variation, no pun intended.

    Scholars might ask how did this unknown guy Ball come out from behind a screen and write the archetypal English Renaissance poem? Easy when you hide your name in plain sight.

    best of luck,

    William Ray

  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hello William,

    Thank you for the provocative speculations and kind words about the blog entry.

  3. Tom Reedy says:

    > “It is important to recognize, in other words, that May declines to consider questions of a stylistic nature in offering his lukewarm endorsement of Oxford’s authorship of the poem.”

    May certainly considers issues of style and literary merit.

    While observing that the poem appealed to courtly and popular audiences both, he notes the poem’s “smug point of view” and its “tendency towards doggerel” (1975 p. 394).

    In May’s *The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts* (1999), he calls the poem a “smug expression of a mind wholly accommodated to a simple, moderate way of life” and says the tetrameter rhythm reinforces “the positive, self-satidfied tone which also makes “My mind to me” a more attractive vehicle for setting forth its commonplace ideas … (63).” He also classifies it in the “moral-philosophical tradition” and says it could have been written as early as 1570 because of style, which causes me to wonder why he didn’t think of William Baldwin as the origin of BAll, either as author or compiler.

    > “May’s skepticism of the Dyer attribution begins with his observations about the poor state of the Rawlinson text, which attributes ‘My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is’ to Dyer (spelled ‘Dier’ in the manuscript). The manuscript’s text of the poem ‘contains at least seven errors in forty-eight lines, scarcely argu[ing] for immediate descent from the author’s original.’ ”

    Yes, the Rawlinson MS, Bodleian Raw. Poet. 85 f19, that attributes the poem to E Dier, contains 7 errors in 48 lines, but and it is hardly in a “poor state” compared to the MS that attributes it to Oxford. The Rawlinson “E Dier” text also contains all 8 stanzas, which works out to an error rate of less than one per stanza,

    However, the Harvard Library MS 1015 f14v, which attributes the poem to L. Ver, contains only 5 stanzas, not 8, and contains 10 errors in its 34 lines, an error rate of two per stanza, twice that of the Rawlinson text.

    > “. . . the customary logic used by Stephen May in favoring the attribution of ‘My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is’ to Oxford, namely that the more textually reliable manuscript is more likely to be closer to the author’s original . . .”

    So tell me, Roger, which manuscript is more reliable and likely to be closer to the author’s version, one that is complete and has one error per stanza, or one that has only 5 of the 8 stanzas and an error rate of two per stanza?

    > “But, based on the available evidence, May’s 2013 opinion has not varied from the one he published in 1975: of the three manuscript attributions of the poem, the Rawlinson attribution to Dyer is, in his opinion, the weakest.”

    No, the attribution to BAll, whoever that is, is considered the weakest; May dismisses it because we don’t know who BAll was.

    And here’s what May actually writes:

    “… it is entirely POSSIBLE that Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is responsible for this perennially favourite work … (1975 p. 385).

    “…nothing in the lyric’s content or style necessarily connects it with one poet more than the other (386-7)

    “The evidence found in these two manuscripts does not conclusively establish either Oxford’s or Dyer’s claim to the verses, although the balance can be TIPPED SLIGHTLY in Oxford’s favour, I believe …” (388).

    In “The Poems of Edward DeVere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford and of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex (Studies in Philology 77:5, 1980), May classifies MMTM as a poem POSSIBLY by Oxford (38-9). In his two-sentence commentary on the poem (81), he only refers to the reader to his 1975 paper.

    Two decades later May published The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts (1999), in which he also lists MMTM as possibly by Oxford or Dyer and refers to his 1975 article in which he “present[s] the evidence for Oxford’s SLIGHTLY STRONGER claim to this poem (312).

    And in May’s response to you email, he writes “The scale is tipped SLIGHTLY in Oxford’s favor as author in my opinion.”

    Notice how many times May uses “slightly”? And notice how he never comes out and makes a firm declaration?

    And what is this weighty evidence that tips the balance slightly to Oxford for May? An anonymous response to another poem by Oxford, “Were I a King”, “seemingly alludes” to a phrase in MMTM, and another anonymous answer to that same poem “seems to echo” a phrase from another response to MMTM (389). This is hardly a secure method of attribution given that Oxford’s “Were I a King” is a treatment of the same topic as MMTM, and courtly poets habitually recycled each other’s imagery and phrasing.

    Readers might want to read that paragraph again, because May’s logic is hard to follow. I had to draw a diagram to understand exactly what he was saying.

    From earlier in your article:
    > “Finally, claims Reedy, ‘My Mind to me a Kingdom Is’ is ‘not Shakespearean in either expression or style.’

    I assume you’re planning to address this at some point. I myself would like to know what you find Shakespearean in the poem. It’s written in iambic tetrameter, a meter that Shakespeare never used, no Shakespearean ambiguity or wordplay exists in the lines, and the idea is a common-place (which wouldn’t make it not Shakespearean; his ideas are often commonplaces expressed in novel diction).

  4. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Tom,

    You raise many tendentious and some interesting points in this posting. Thank you, for example, for pointing out that May is even less consistent than it might have appeared from my statement to the effect that he consistently avoids stylistic considerations. This generalization was based on May 1975 and May 1981; had I taken more time to examine his 1999 book I would have tempered my description, and I am grateful to you for calling his remarks in that volume to my further attention, as I had not fully taken them into consideration in my previous blog entries.

    However, the point of my original statement remains; i.e. while offering his own subjective impressions about poetic value, May usually avoids considering questions of style or content in determining problems of attribution and certainly does not deal with these considerations in his 1975 article or, to any extent, in his 1981 edition of Oxford and Essex’ poems.

    The reason for this avoidance is explained, imho, in the quotation you offer, namely May’s own overgeneralization about the lack of value of examining style because of the frequent sharing of idioms and ideas among Elizabethan poets. Here we have a real disagreement. It is true that Looney, for example, was less aware of this problem than he might have been. It is not true, in my opinion, as May claims, that Looney’s conclusions are invalidated by this reality. They are only qualified, which is not the same thing. You might wish going forward in this discussion to consider the difference between those two things.

    I am glad to see that he does consider in his later work, according to your summary, the possible relevance of this lyric by Oxford to the question of the authorship of MMTMK:

    Were I a king I might command content;
    Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,
    And were I dead no thoughts should me torment,
    Nor words, nor wrongs, nor love, nor hate, nor fears;
    A doubtful choice of these things which to crave,
    A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.
    Vere.

    Unfortunately I was unable to follow your references on this point to read May’s comments on this point. P. 389 in May 1999 is part of the bibliography, and none of the other page numbers in May’s index led me to a discussion of it in this book.

    I will therefore respond to your summary without the advantage of reviewing Professor May’s original remarks. The chief point, as I understand it, is not whether this parallelism in itself is a secure basis for attribution. Clearly, for the reasons stated by May, it would not be. The point is that when one combines the similarities of thought, diction, and imagery, with the manuscript and other evidence (some of which has still not been made fully public), then a stronger case can be made.

    This is what Looney meant in 1920 when he said that

    The predominating element in what we call circumstantial evidence is that of coincidences. A few coincidences we may treat as simply interesting; a number of coincidences we regard as remarkable; a vast accumulation of extraordinary coincidences we accept as conclusive proof.

    Before ending this comment, one further point requires emphasis. Contrary to what some readers might conclude from your remark, I was not in any sense criticizing May on this point. I do have criticisms of May; I hope that you have some of your own. If you don’t, then you are not reading him very closely. My conviction about the authorship of this poem is not based on May’s authority, but on his reasoning, in so far as it goes. So quoting him at length on “slightly” is neither here nor there in the disposition of the case.

    I was merely laying the foundation for the argument that when one begins to factor in considerations such as the parallelism between this earlier poem and MMTK, then May’s argument for Oxford being the author is strengthened.

    “I assume you’re planning to address this at some point. I myself would like to know what you find Shakespearean in the poem.”

    Yes, I will address this point at some length in a future post. In the interim I refer you to the excellent background remarks of Goddard, II, 287-88, who furnishes an excellent introduction to this topic. The literary background for Shakespeare’s exploration of the theme is, of course, the same as that for the author of MMTMK and the Oxford lyric: Seneca.

  5. Tom Reedy says:

    389 refers to May 1975.

    > I do have criticisms of May;

    It’s funny how you’ve never mention any up to now, instead swallowing May whole-hog.

    > I hope that you have some of your own. If you don’t, then you are not reading him very closely.

    Seriously? I just now demonstrated his double standard and bias and you “hope” I have some criticisms of my own?

    > My conviction about the authorship of this poem is not based on May’s authority, but on his reasoning, in so far as it goes.

    Here’s exactly what you wrote: “Most strikingly, following the customary logic used by Stephen May in favoring the attribution of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” to Oxford, namely that the more textually reliable manuscript is more likely to be closer to the author’s original, …”

    You point out several times that May’s “reasoning” was at least partially based on the difference in manuscripts, and that the MS attributing it to Oxford was more reliable and closer to the author’s original, so yes, you do follow May’s authority.

    > The point is that when one combines the similarities of thought, diction, and imagery, with the manuscript and other evidence (some of which has still not been made fully public), then a stronger case can be made.

    Make it at your leisure; we’re also waiting for you to show the Shakespearean qualities of the poem.

  6. Roger Stritmatter says:

    > I do have criticisms of May;

    It’s funny how you’ve never mention any up to now, instead swallowing May whole-hog.”

    Tom, this is the third time I’ve asked you to stop this trash talk on my website. There are a *many* things that I know, or have learned, that I’ve never mentioned to you and probably won’t in the near future. The fact that I agree with May’s attribution of this poem could only be taken by someone like you, who evidently needs a new pair of reading glasses, as evidence that I “swallow” May “whole hog.” Your language is unprofessional, prejudicial, and vulgar.

    In fact, I’ve objected for over fifteen years to May’s categorization of a number of elements of the case, including his claim in May (1981) that Anne Vavasour is a credible author of the echo poem written about her circa 1581. At a recent Concordia conference at which Professor May was in attendance, I challenged his interpretation of Oxford’s poetic accomplishments based on his attribution of MMMK. You know about this incident because I mentioned it during the Spectator debate, where it seems to have given rise to Mr. Leadbetter’s lie about May’s position about the poem, so I don’t know why you think you can get away with claiming in the present context that this is the “first time” that I’ve mentioned any disagreement with Professor May.

    More recently, having recently completed a partial survey of some variants of the echo poem, my position on this topic has strengthened. Some of us do learn from experience, and one thing my experience has taught me over the years is that it is always a mistake not to cross examine the basis for certain conclusions made by apologists of the Shakespearean status quo like May or Nelson.

    I’ve put some questions about the matter of the echo poem to Professor May in a recent email but so far he has not dignified them with a response. But sorry, no, Tom, I’m not obliged to tell you anything that I don’t chose t,o and the fact that I have not mentioned something (although in this case I manifestly did) is no reasonable basis for you to come along after-the -fact make the kinds of outrageous sweeping generalizations that you make here. Please stop it.

    The rest of your posting is more linguistic quibbling, your specialty. Agreeing with someone is not the same thing as making your argument wholly dependent on their authority. I have my own reasons for agreeing with May, some of which he either never considered or has at least discussed incompletely if at all, Capisce?

  7. Tom Reedy says:

    Please explain this statement, then:

    > My conviction about the authorship of this poem is not based on May’s authority, but on his reasoning, in so far as it goes.

    I sketched out his reasoning, which is labyrinthine, to say the least. I also pointed out the weakness in his judgment about which manuscript was most reliable and closest to the author’s original, about which you have said nothing.

    And to whom do you attribute the Vavasour poem? I’ve always thought it was Oxford’s.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Categories

  • Archives

In "From Crackpot to Mainstream"Keir Cutler, PhD, takes down the recent Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (OUP, 2013)

Criticism of Cutler's "Is Shakespeare Dead?": "A magnificently witty performance!" (Winnipeg Sun). "Highly entertaining and engrossing!" (EYE Weekly). "Is Shakespeare Dead? marshals startling facts into an elegant and often tenacious argument that floats on a current of delicious irony" (Montreal Gazette).