Sonnet 4: Elizabeth I (BESS), USURER
My interpretation of the plaintexts of the Shakespeare canon, and much of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature as well, revolves around hidden clues suggesting the presence of encryptions, codes, equidistant letter sequnces, or, as I call them, letter-strings. I believe the Sonnets (with few exceptions) contain issues, themes, grievances, personal correspondences, accusations, and, likely, the identification of those writing the sonnets as a sort of personal record of what concerns them the most in their personal and public experience. I further maintain the Sonnets are between and amongst three people: Elizabeth I, Edward de Vere, 17th Earle of Oxenforde, and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earle of Southampton. This trilogy represents, in my mind, a family unit consisting of a mother, a father and a child. And that this family unit was so troubled, hidden correspondences were needed so as not to bring the entire Elizabethan Court (and therefore, of the English people) to ruin, scandal, and probably terrible conflict in the form of dynastic and/or civil war. And that if the secret of this family unit came to light, the lives of all (commoners as well as nobility) would cease to have been.
Sonnet 4 is a stunning verbal presentation of the ingredients of misused money. The outward appearance is that of a poem using money as metaphor for what is generally thought to be the dominate theme of the first 17 sonnets in the 154 sonnet cycle: that of procreation, of leaving an heir, an “executor”, if you will. However, I see this differently. I agree thematically the leaving of an heir theme is sufficiently apparent (virtually obvious) to warrant such an interpretation. Looked at as an elaborate code, however, the anger, perhaps even rage, leaps off the page for me.
As we know, the misuse of funds, in certain contexts, is labeled as “usury”. There are 14 words in Sonnet 4 (a sonnet, as we know, is a poem with 14 lines), with the couplet serving as a sort of punchline; a sentence or two summing up the predominant issue of the preceding twelve lines. At least, this appears to be the case, as the metaphor(s) used are repeated and hammered into one’s understanding so that, I suspect, the true message, the hidden correspondence, is not noticed. A sleight-of-hand, a trick, a ruse, a distraction away from what is meant only for the person or persons to whom the sonnet is intended can understand. I further believe that Sonnet 4 (and many if not most of the others in the sonnet cycle) has little to nothing to do with the up-front content, but is, or originally was, about personal and private matters.
I experience the 14 words as a sort of verbal scream by a person (the writer) whose controlled rage is a condemnation, an accusation: “thifty, spend, legacy, bequest, lend, lends, nigard, profit, userer, summe, summes, traffike, audit, executor”. In the context of a poem seeming to be romantically persuasive, the density of money appears to me not to be poetic at all. It apppears to be, rather, an ugly comparison to equate attributions of currency to a woman he calls “thy sweet selfe” with an argument designed to persuade the woman to whom the sonnet is addressed, to put her “unus’d beauty” to good use, to leave an heir as a “legacy” to herself, an executor. The final monetary term, “executor“, carries the darkest meaning of all, as will be discussed below. The “e“ in “executor“ is the 17th letter in sentence 14, the final sentence of Sonnet 4.