The Dark Side of Shakespeare (A Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)
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Article 11 **********

Did the greatest poet-playwright of the 1560s collaborate with the 17th Earl of Oxford, and influence his circle?  Might that poet's own poetry have influenced Shake-speare and the Sonnets?  Was there a "stigma of print" among Elizabethan nobles?  Here's an article which delves into those questions, and more.

Did Thomas Sackville influence Shake-speare's Sonnets?

W. Ron Hess (


Posted Sept 2008


Abstract: This article has been written for to celebrate the 2009 anniversary of the May 20, 1609 publication of Shak-speare's Sonnets by examining someone who may have influenced them.  The poet-playwright Thomas Sackville (after 1567 1st Baron Buckhurst and other titles) was apparently a political and literary mentor of Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford.  A unique suggestion is that Sackville was the translator from French of "the first euphuist work in English," introducing a literary style used by authors in Oxford's circle in the late-1570s to mid-80s, and anachronistically by Shakespeare's "early plays" in the 1590s.  Thus, Sackville's and Oxford's literary circle influenced Shakespeare, and possibly even the Sonnets.  Both men were examples of noblemen who suppressed their authorship identities ("the stigma of print"), even as they were repeatedly identified as among the best Elizabethan poet-playwrights.  Conclusions: 1) Oxford, Sackville, and his son Robert were possible collaborators from 1572 to 1593, and 2) if Shakespeare's poetry was originated and reworked by several authors, Sackville should not be excluded as a possible contributor.


The "Stigma of Print" and the best poetry from Chaucer to Spenser:

            Before Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare, the greatest poet-playwright in Elizabethan England was Sir Thomas Sackville (1536-1608), after 1567 1st Baron Buckhurst, after 1599 Lord Treasurer, and after March 1604 1st Earl of Dorset.  His biography is in (which has other "Peerage" used here), and in the Oxford Dict. of Nat. Biog. (ODNB, v.48, 542-48), with book-length biographies-criticism in Berlin, Sackville-West, and Swart (but those are repetitive, with much of his life private).  Also, we need to be cautious about some sources; e.g., the new ODNB (543) criticizes the old Dict. of Nat. Biog. (DNB), saying the claim that, "in 1561 Sackville became a grand master of the order of freemasons repeats a fiction, first generated in 1738, by James Anderson."  Though not likely a Mason, we'll see Sackville was almost certainly in another "secret group," i.e., along with Oxford in a private group of poets.


            Sackville had been tutored by Roger Ascham, humanist, royal tutor, and Royal Latin Secretary.  Ascham's 1570 Scholemaster would suggest to Lyly the name "Euphues" (G.P. Krapp, 310-11, points to p. 38 in Arber's edition).  In his late teens, Sackville authored the two most celebrated parts of the 1563 Mirrour for Magistrates 2nd edition ("Induction" and "Complaint of Henry Duke of Buckingham").  Sackville's "Induction" is said by the Inner Temple website to be "the best poetry between Chaucer and Spenser," a shorter, more powerful entry in the tradition of Dante's Inferno.  Plus, he co-wrote with Thomas Norton "the original revenge play," Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex, performed 1561/2 and published 1565.  Despite his few surviving literary works, Sackville was honored in lists of poets alongside of Oxford (e.g., Puttenham's 1589 Arte of English Poesie, Meres' 1598 Palladis Tamia, and Peacham's 1622 Complete Gentleman).  And, like Oxford, Sackville's poetry was praised in Spenser's 1590 Fairie Queene, perhaps hinting at hidden fruits of Sackville's leisure: "...Whose learned Muse hath writ her owne record/ In golden verse, worthy immortal fame:/ Thou much more fit (were leasure to the same)..."


            Yet, after Sackville's elevation to the peerage in 1567, he was never again to have his name on new published poetry or drama.  After Sackville's elevation to Lord Treasurer in 1599, a list of contributors including Oxford and Shakespeare in Anthony Munday's 1600 Bel-védere failed to list Sackville, even though it did list poet-playwright Thomas Norton, Sackville's co-author in 1565 Gorboduc.  Also in 1600, Englands Parnassus had some poetry attributed to "W. Shakespeare," "E. of O.," and "M. Sackuil" (i.e., "Mr. Sackville"), skirting note of Sackville's nobility by addressing only his pre-1567 social status and poetry.  This "stigma of print," or a courtier's reluctance to allow his/her name to be associated with published works while he/she lived, is a basic principle in our Oxfordian thesis.  It was similarly used for Oxford's uncle the poet Earl of Surrey and for the "poet knight" Sir Philip Sidney.  Perhaps because of Sackville's Boleyn blood, we will see it was likely even more a stigma for him, and thus much of his product is likely buried in pseudonymous or anonymous works -- or even misattributed by design.


            Sackville's art needs to be seen in context of his politics.  His mother was a life-long Catholic, and he possibly leaned that way privately.  Still, as 2nd cousin of the Queen, and a close political ally of Oxford's father-in-law Sir William Cecil (after 1571 1st Baron Burghley and 1572-98 Lord Treasurer), Sackville was frequently a special emissary to political hotspots abroad.  He was a trial commissioner in 1572 vs. the 4th Duke of Norfolk (Oxford's cousin) and 1586 vs: Mary Stuart.  Yet, Sackville was disgraced 1587-88 because of his criticisms of corruption in the Netherlands of Robert Dudley (after 1564 1st Earl of Leicester), recurrently the Queen's prime favorite.  Until the March 1583 death of Thomas Radcliff (3rd Earl of Sussex), Oxford's most obvious political mentor, Sussex had been the most outspoken political opponent of Leicester, with Burghley often mediating.  So, we'll see reasons to suspect that the politics of Sackville and Oxford likely supported and continued Sussex's opposition to Leicester's policies.  For, among other policies, Leicester: 1) opposed several foreign marriage projects for the Queen, 2) served as Chancellor of both universities, where he supported Puritan activism, 3) acted as the Puritans' chief advocate at Court, and 4) sponsored a play company for propaganda interests at Court and in the Provinces.  After Leicester's death in late-1588, his allies Hatton, Walsingham, and the 2nd Earl of Essex advanced similar pro-Puritan policies, with Sackville and the Cecils opposing.


            Because of their private natures, we often need to resort to "reading between the lines" of what others wrote, to interpret realities.  In Oxford's "Euphuist" circle,  John Lyly's late-1579 Euphues and His England and Anthony Munday's early-1580 Zelauto (both dedicated to Oxford) wrote about the knight "Euphues" (= well born, educated, witty).  They portrayed Euphues as traveling from Greece's Mt. Parnassus via Italy to England, with the mission of bringing culture and reform to her universities, a similar mission as was Oxford's in 1575-76.  So, it seems that they alluded to Oxford inside of Sussex's anti-Leicester/Puritan politics.  Similarly, with the Queen's backing, in 1591 Sackville would become Chancellor of Oxford U. (Swart, 6), over candidates advanced by Leicester's political heir, Essex, finally wresting that post from the old Puritan political league.  In May 1599, after Burghley's death had left the Lord Treasurer's post vacant, Sackville won the post over Essex's attempts to gain it for himself.  And, Sackville may have secretly led opposition to the Essex-Puritan league, for in 1601 as Lord High Steward (Berlin, 12), he presided over Essex's trial before a Commission including Oxford.


            Sackville's father was Richard "Fill Sack" Sackville (1516-66), cousin of Anne Boleyn, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1559 to April 1566, whose only two known children were Thomas and his sister Anne.  Their mother was Winifred Brydges (c. 1516-86), daughter of Lord Mayor Sir John Brydges and a distant cousin of Lady Jane Grey.  By early 1571, about age 55, Winifred remarried to William Paulet (c.1483- March 1572), 1st Marquis of Winchester.  Paulet had risen under the Tudors from son of a knight to Lord Treasurer.  After 1572, Paulet's heirs (including Sackville's mother and sister) were the highest-ranking nobles in England, even superior to Oxford in protocol.  Paulet generously provided for Sackville's mother, including property and title of Marchioness.  Paulet's grandson, William (c.1532-98, 3rd Marquis 1576), unsuccessfully sued to decrease her benefits.  When Winifred died in June 1586, she had arranged for her daughter Anne to inherit the Marchioness title and a Chelsea estate that had belonged to Sir Thomas More.  Still, we'll see that Sackville and his sister apparently had 1571-78 been offended by their mother's remarriage, such that she may have been "dead" to them!


            One reason for studying the Paulet story is to make an important point about the "stigma of print."  Prof. Steven W. May ( has claimed the stigma is "mythical."  He noted eccentric poetry by the 3rd Winchester, and in an endnote May referenced a 2nd edition in 1587 (i.e., the book's success warranted republishing): 

"Three years later [1586] the Marquess of Winchester set forth his personal collection of aphoristic prose commonplaces."

Yet, it appears that Prof. May failed to recognize that instead The Lord Marques Idlenes (entered in the S.R. Nov. 8, 1586) supported the very stigma May argued against.  Paulet dedicated it to Queen Elizabeth accompanied by an ingenious six acrostic lines (where1st letters spelled "Regina," last letters "Nostra," and the last line's 1st letters were "Angliae"), in which he said:

"...I observed the former idle time in reading and perusing the learned and wise, whose sentences and good saiengs I so greatly affected, that I did not onely reade them, but also committed many of them to writing: which being done onely for my owne recreation and benefite, was earnestly requested by divers my loving friends to make the same more manifest to the world, by commiting it to the presse.... pardon my present weaknes, beinge under the phisitians hands."


            Despite his "weaknes," the 3rd Marquis would live a dozen more years.  Thus, the stigma against publishing within his own lifetime was so strong that the highest-ranking nobleman in England had to feign that he was near death's door, "under the phisitians hands," and only "commiting it to the presse" because he'd been urged to do so by "divers my loving friends," as if they feared his poems would be lost to posterity!  And there were social repercussions that make it seem that Paulet was "punished" for his effrontery.  Per his biography in

"During that time [1576-98] England had no dukes and no other marquesses, so Winchester stood alone above the earls.  And yet he received only twelve votes for the Garter during the entire period.... Winchester's problem was that he was a stay-at-home [i.e., private poet?], whose best Garter year, four votes in 1580, coincided with his only significant office, [his 2nd stint as] Lord Lieutenant of Dorset."


            Oxford was noted by Prof. Alan Nelson (308, 319) as also peculiarly unsuccessful in Garter elections; was it in part because he too had violated the stigma?  Ironically, Prof. May himself identified the original source of the stigma as no less than Baldasare Castiglione:

"To all appearances the code [or 'stigma of print'] was upheld by the next generation of courtier poets, insofar as Sidney, Dyer, Ralegh, and the Earl of Essex, among the more prominent Elizbethan courtiers, likewise made no provision to publish their works.  Indeed, George Puttenham assures us that this new breed of courtier poet would not let his works be widely known in print or manuscript, a condition neatly dovetailing with Castiglione's advice that the courtier should keep close his verses, revealing their imperfections only to his nearest friends." [emphasis added]


            We'll see that Castiglione leads us back to Sackville and Oxford.  Sackville was said in the Preface of Jasper Heywood's 1560 Thyestes to have authored a body of "sonnets":

"There Sackvylde's sonnets sweetly sauste,/ And featly fyned [elegantly refined] bee."

Yet, Sackville's only surviving sonnet under his name was in the Preface to 1561 The Courtier of Castiglione as translated into English by Sir Thomas Hoby (Sackville-West, viii, fn):

These royall kinges, that reare up to the skye

Their Palaice tops and decke them all with gold:

With rare and curious woorkes they feed the eye:

And showe what riches here great princes hold.

A rarer worke, and richer far in worth,

Castilio's [Castiglione's] hand presenteth here to the[e],

No proud ne golden court doth he set forth

But what in Court a Courtier ought to be.

The Prince he raiseth houge [huge] and mightie walles,

Castillio frames a w[e]ight of noble fame:

The King with gorgeous Tyssue claddes his halles,

The Court with golden vertue deckes the same,

     Whos passing skill lo hobbies [Hoby's] pen displaise

      To Brittain folk, a work of worthy praise.


Notice the sonnet's Shakespearean rhyme-scheme and iambic pentameter "fourteener" format, first used in England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Oxford's uncle, the Earl of Surrey.  The only thing keeping it from comparability to a Shakespearean sonnet was its antique 1550s wording.


            Sir Thomas Hoby (1530-66) was married to a sister of Wm. Cecil, Oxford's future father-in-law.  The printer-publisher of the 1561 work was Wm. Seres, who had been a servant of Cecil's and often claimed him as his master even as he served more terms as Master of the Stationer's Company than any other Elizabethan.  At the book's end was a letter dated July 16, 1557 to his "loving frind" Hoby by Sir John Cheke (died Sep. 1557 in the Tower), another Cecil brother-in-law.  Thus, Hoby's English translation of Castiglione's Courtier was certainly encouraged by Cecil, especially since Hoby dwelt in Cecil's house while preparing it, and likely continued visiting after Oxford had come to live with them as a royal ward in Cecil's care.  Thus, Castiglione's "stigma of print" was almost certainly supported (or enforced?) by great Cecil himself, with his iron hand on the Publishing Industry until he died in 1598!


            In January 1571/2, Oxford and Sackville collaborated in making Latin dedications to Bartholomew Clerke's translation of Courtier from Italian into Latin.  Clerke was said by Ward (80) to have been Oxford's tutor at Cambridge (circa 1564?), but this plausible claim was unsupported and is doubted by critics.  Still, as Clerke's dedication to Courtier said, he was Sackville's secretary (c.1571 to 73), to whom Clerke dedicated the book!  So, we can assume that Sackville and Oxford were particularly well-acquainted with the stigma of print originated by Castiglione, and that Clerke was a palpable link between the two noble poet-playwrights!


The Spring [of E. Vere?] and A Courtlie Controversie:

            We've seen that Sackville and Oxford collaborated, or at least each wrote dedications to Clerke's 1571/2 Courtier Latin translation.  But did their collaboration in literature extend beyond that project and time?  During the period after 1572 (when he returned from an embassy to France and served in the commission trying the Duke of Norfolk) we know little about Sackville, who had to run one of the richest, most extensive estates of the time, until 1586 when Burghley asked him to join the Privy Council.  That year he served with Oxford in the commission trying Mary Stuart, given the sad task of conveying her death sentence to her, which she received with surprising grace (more reason to suspect he was a secret Catholic?).  But the period 1572-86 was precisely when the prose style "Euphuism" developed and was briefly dominant at Court, mostly used by authors closely associated with Oxford (e.g., Lyly, Munday, Greene, Watson, Lodge).  "Euphuism" was actually an adaptation from the French and Italian of a flowery, complex prose style which deliberately used Latin-based words to enhance, or reform, their languages.  In France, from 1547 to 75, this reform had been overseen by "the Pleiades" poets, their leader Pierre Ronsard, who was "Poet Laureate," "the Prince of Poets," and tutor to the sons of Catherine de Medici who each became Kings.  So, we need to begin with France in 1572.


            In early 1572 in Paris, as Sackville was preparing to return to London, the Royal Printer published Le Printemps d'Yver (The Spring of Winter since d'Hiver = of Winter), having 5 editions that year and over 3 dozen more during the next half century, one of the most popular French works of all time.  It's scene was in Poitou on the west French coast, in the mythical castle of "Printemps" built by Melusine, a famous man-baiting/destroying fairy or mermaid.  Three male and two female nobles spent chilled evenings in fireside tales about the eternal war of the sexes, arguing which sex was the cause of the most suffering in love (see Rouillard for a scholarly description).  Some of the tales explored bizarre attitudes (e.g., that a woman couldn't be pregnant unless she had climaxed during coitus, and thus her pregnancy proved she had consented to an alleged rape).  The author's religious notions were vaguely Huguenot (i.e., Calvinist).  Although clearly "originated" decades earlier, its final setting was in early 1571 during a lull in the French Civil Wars, which would soon re-erupt in August 1572's horrendous "St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre" (ironically, an aftermath of a royal wedding!).  Despite his noble-class French, at times "Yver" fell back on a quaint provincial dialect now identified with the area near Nantes (where English smugglers and gunrunners to the Huguenots were active, see my Vol. II, Sect. 10.E, pp. 109-18).  "D'Yver" was an archaic spelling, pronounced "de-E-Vere" (remarkably similar to Oxford's name, E. DeVere), and I confess I first suspected Oxford had penned the Printemps masterpiece.  Yet, French historians are satisfied that a "Jacques Yver" was Mayor of Niort in the 1540s, so it seems this name was not merely an alias or pseudonym.


            To this day, the only translation of Printemps into English has been the July 1, 1578 A Courtly Controversy of Cupids Cautels... with diuers delicate sonets and rithmes... by H.W. gentleman, printed by Henry Bynneman for Francis Coldock.  Both stationers dealt with works related to Oxford and his servants, but Bynneman had N. Ling and A. Jeffes as apprentices in 1578, and these two would later become Shakespeare-related printers (per Plomer's dictionaries).  Despite its ample poetry, Courtly's prose made it the first "Euphuistic" English work (Erne, 1).


            The 17th century statesman-poet Sir Henry Wotton (or Wooton, 1568-1639) was only 10 in 1578 (old DNB, v. 21, 966-72), but that hasn't stopped some from improbably pointing to him as translator of Courtly.  In fact, the apparent alias "Henry Wooton" gave few clues about the translator himself, except that he dedicated Courtly to his "sister," the "Lady Anne Dacre of the south."  The old DNB's v.21, p. 72 obscurely read:

"Sir Henry Wotton should be distinguished from... Henry Wotton or Wooton, son of John Wooton of North Tudenham, Norfolk, whose second wife was Mary or Anne, daughter of George Nevill, [3rd] lord Bergavenny, and widow of Thomas Fiennes, [9th] lord Dacre of the South... This Henry Wotton was responsible for the collection of stories from Italian [sic, should be French] romances, interspersed with verse, entitled : 'A Courtlie Controversie of Cupids Cautels'..., translated out of French by Hen. Wotton, London, 1578, 4to.... dedicated to the translator's sister-in-law, the Lady Dacre of the South..."


            That confused and confusing old identification ignored many facts, not the least of which was that the proposed lady dedicatee had died in 1576 and wasn't actually named "Anne."  The new ODNB has wisely abandoned this insupportable identification, no longer obscurely proposing any candidate translator of 1578 Courtly, and now (v. 19, 519-20, see also CDNB I, 997) listing a biography for "Anne Fiennes [nee Sackville], Lady Dacre" (d. 1595, other sources list her as born 1533).  But they're still confused or not fully honest in this matter, strangely omitting mention of the fact that the full title of her husband (wed in 1558, died 1594) was "10th Baron Dacre of the South."  Though they do mention her inheriting via her mother the estates of Sir Thomas More at Chelsea, strangely they fail to note that she also inherited her mother's title of "Marchioness of Winchester," perhaps a title she rarely used in deference to her husband's inferior Baronial title?   That correct identification for her as "Lady Dacre of the South" was made in the entry for her at the site, and yet even there no attempt was made to link her as the sister of the translator of 1578 Courtly.  Why?  Is there a danger to the orthodox view of history and literature in linking Sackville to his only sister, as her only brother?


            Was it perhaps that there were other plausible Lady Dacre choices?  For example, Anne Clifford Dacre (1521-81), was a daughter of Henry Clifford 2nd Earl of Cumberland and Eleanor Brandon (niece of King Henry VIII).  She was sister of Margaret Clifford (d. 1596, wed to Henry Stanley 4th Earl of Derby), and thus she was the aunt of Oxford's future son-in-law, Wm. Stanley, the 6th Derby.  And in 1630 her granddaughter Anne Clifford (a granddaughter of Sackville by marriage) would become the 2nd wife of Oxford's future son-in-law Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery (see ODNB, v.32, 211).  But that was a family name, not her title, nor was it "of the South," and there was no "Wotton" or "Wooton" link to her either.


            Nearly all biographies of Sackville say outright or imply that he was the only son of Sir Richard Sackville (e.g., Berlin, 11 & 13); ergo, in 1578 he would have been the only publically identifiable "brother" of "Lady Anne Dacre of the South," however many brothers-in-law she may have had.  Still, some biographies confuse this a bit (e.g., the link for Sir Richard, under "Children" lists only Thomas and Anne, but in the narrative it states, "...and had 3 sons, including Thomas, and 1 daughter," for which I've seen no verification).  So, is there a slight chance that Sackville and his sister Anne had one or two unnamed half-brothers, possibly even older than Sackville was, who were illegitimate and thus "didn't count" when Sackville inherited his father's estates in 1567?  If so, possibly a "Wotton" was one of them?  I doubt it.


            Another red herring by using the alias "Wotton," probably deliberate, was his statement that his and "Lady Anne Dacre of the South's" mother had died.  And, we've seen that in fact the Sackville siblings' mother lived on to 1586.  So, as I hinted earlier, was it possible that the siblings so resented their mother's remarriage in c. 1571 that in 1578 they regarded her as "dead" to them?  Still, their mother took some pains to see that Anne inherited her property and exalted title when she died; perhaps a posthumous reconciliation or remorse?


            No matter what the objections to Sackville as "Wotton," one point remains significant.  In 1578, whoever it was who supplied the public with the clue that he was the brother of "Lady Anne Dacre of the South," surely expected that the Elizabethan world would recognize a clue identifying Sackville, given that Anne and Thomas were the only acknowledged children of the highest noblewoman in England, the Marchioness of Winchester.  And if Sackville wasn't the real person behind "Wotton," wouldn't he have denounced, deflected, or suppressed that book, especially since he already had a sterling reputation for his literary contributions?


            So, until we find a real "Henry Wotton" who better satisfies as brother of "Lady Anne Dacre of the South," I argue it's almost certain that "Wotton" was intended to be seen as an alias of Sackville.  Sackville's role as translator of Courtly should be the first choice, not the last, nor ignored altogether, as at present.  Oddly, mine appears to be the first ever identification of Sackville as "Wotton."  And so, Sackville not only collaborated with Oxford in 1571, his 1578 Courtly book would be a prelude to Oxford's "Euphuist" circle for the next decade.


            Did Sackville know French?  Swart (12) quoted a letter in which Sackville admitted to understanding French "by discretion" in 1571, answering the Mayor of Boulogne in Italian, which Swart took to mean weakness in French.  And yet, that could easily mean that Sackville chose to not understand, perhaps a diplomatic ploy.  Otherwise, it meant he could "discretely" understand at least some French.  And, it's inconceivable that Queen Elizabeth would have sent her cousin to congratulate King Charles IX on his 1571 marriage, convey to the King a Garter Knighthood, and not ably speak the King's language!  We may be sure that with a French-English dictionary in hand, Sackville was capable of at least "discrete" translation of 1572 Printemps into 1578 Courtly.  And we know that Oxford knew enough French for a 1562 French note to Cecil.


            The fact that Sackville was leaving Paris just as 1572 Printemps was on the sellers' stands seems another clue to him as translator of 1578 Courtly.  He would have had a rare opportunity to bring back a copy, and to know about the huge reception it was having in Paris.  As royal emissary, he doubtlessly had contacts for sending him a copy, perhaps in diplomatic pouch.  Printemps became particularly popular in France after the "St. Bartholomew Massacre," because its forebodings were taken as predictions of that disaster.  But in England, only Oxford's circle seemed to have taken note of it (Erne, iv, says "John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd, and possibly Shakespeare" quoted from Printemps, allegedly via Courtly).


            There is another literary matter in which Oxford and Sackville may have collaborated.  Just as Shakespeare's first published work was reaching the press, so was 1593 Phoenix Nest, a work with a poem by "E.O." (Oxford); and my 2005 "Dreame" article argued much more there should be credited to Oxford.  The Phoenix editor was simply identified as "R.S. of the Inner Temple."  I've searched the various DNBs and other sources to find no better person to match those initials/qualifications than Sackville's son and heir, Robert Sackville (1561-1609), who was with the Inner Temple from 1580 (CDNB v. 3, 2627; ODNB v. 48, 541-42), as his father had been from 1555.  When family links counted dearly, Robert's 1st wife Anne (d. 1618) was sister to Alice Spencer Stanley (c. 1556-1637), whose husband Ferdinando Stanley had sponsored the Lord Strange's Men acting troupe which dominated the London and Court stages 1590-93, and thus c. 1580-93 she was a sister-in-law of Wm. Stanley, Oxford's future son-in-law.


            In sum, note Sackville's proclivity for collaboration: with Norton in Gorboduc, with a group in Mirrour for Magistrates, with Oxford in dedications to Clerke's Courtier, and the reasonable, even probable, identification of Sackville in translating 1578 Courtly, the apparent bridgehead to Oxford's unfolding "Euphuist" circle.  Thus, given his son's apparent links to Oxford in 1593 Phoenix, it seems likely that Sackville and Oxford secretly continued their collaboration in literature well into the 1580s and 90s.  Their shared political antipathy to Leicester, afterwards to those who backed Puritan interests, would likely have continued to bond the two poets.  Since they were both well-favored by King James in 1603, they may have been "Jacobean" supporters of James, at least in the late-1590s and last years of Elizabeth.  Let's not forget the tributes to both Oxford and Sackville as poets from 1589 to 1622.  And, if they were secretly close collaborators, we may never know who really "wrote" what between them.


A Collaboration influencing "Shake-speare?":

            Sackville's Gorboduc (the earliest English drama in blank verse) and "Complaint" are interesting, but weakly admired by critics today.  There remains a fragment MS of "Buckingham" and an MS Sackville's Old Age, the latter discovered fairly recently and is still a curiosity, but I've not seen it said to be brilliant.  For influencing Shakespeare, Gorboduc (a revenge play about a divided English kingdom) has been said to have influenced King Lear and Hamlet in general plot.  Thus, the real claim to his greatness (and to specific influence on Shakespeare's poetry?) is based on his "Induction" to 1563 Mirrour, and on whatever can be made of Jasper Heywood's 1560 praise of Sackville's sonnet cycle, now lost all but one.


            The 1559 & 63 Mirrour project was intended to be an extension of John Lydgate's 1431-38 Fall of Princes (publ. 1494 & 1527), which drew from earlier Italian examples, particularly Boccaccio.  In fact, Sackville's contribution to the 1563 Mirrour likely preceded the 1559 1st edition.  Swart (25-43) lays out overwhelming evidence that Sackville was in the original coterie of seven authors, including Lord Vaux and others who had been close to Oxford's poet uncle, the Earl of Surrey (executed 1547).  They had convened and largely written many of their various contributions circa 1555, certainly by the time of Vaux's death in 1556.  From evidence first gathered by Lily B. Campbell, Swart places Sackville's "Induction" and "Complaint" at 1554-55, or about the time that Sackville entered the Inner Temple at age 18.  This early dating is more noteworthy given the maturity, brilliance, and modernity of "Induction," easily surpassing all poetry of its time.  It supports my impression that to fix a "date of writing" onto any great work of literature is tenuous.  Thus, I prefer to adopt the concept that an author would typically "originate" a work by some likely earliest-to-latest range of dates, then often circulate it among friends, during which there would normally be a further range of updates and revisions.  My Vol. II, Appen. B (187-308) suggests this "origination" concept well-suited each Shakespeare work.


            Here is a short summary of the plot of Sackville's masterful "Induction" (Berlin, 46):

  "In the narrative of the 'Induction,' it is winter; the chill of that cruel season has destroyed the bloom of summer; and Sackville is walking in the fields when night comes on ... the death that winter brings to summer, makes him reflect on all the changes we find on earth, especially the fall of princes.  He wishes that the fallen princes of England would describe their woes in order to warn those whom Fortune has left alive.  At this thought, Sorrow, a figure clad in black and filled with woe, appears.  She says that she has come from Hell to bemoan the destiny of those whom Fortune has placed in misery, so that Sackville should realize that no earthly joy can endure, and she urges him to join her so that he can see and hear the plights of men overthrown by Fortune.


  "Sackville and Sorrow walk hand in hand through a thick wood, enter a deadly gulf, and arrive within the jaws of Hell.  Here they encounter allegorical figures -- Remorse of Conscience, Dred, Revenge, Misery, Greedy Care, Sleep, Old Age, Malady, Famine, Death, and War.  On War's shield they find depicted the stories of illustrious men... and the fall of Troy causes Sackville to lament.  Sackville and Sorrow then continue their journey, sail over Acheron, pass by the barking, black Cerberus, and arrive in the great kingdoms of Hell -- the home of the princes of renown who were once on the top of Fortune's wheel and are now thrust down.  The first to come to them is Henry, Duke of Buckingham, who weepingly is about to utter his complaint.  At this point the 553-line poem, the 'Induction,' ends."


            The "Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham" immediately followed the "Induction," and was Sackville's other poem in 1563 Mirrour, generally said as not so brilliant.  In fact, the two were originally intended to head up the 1559 1st edition; but the editor, Wm. Baldwin, wrote connecting material to describe that the originally intended order got turned around during turbulence and deaths in the group during "Bloody Mary" Tudor's reign. 


            Berlin (46-47) emphasized the narrative's "important theme of mutability" (my emphasis).  This draws to mind that a year after 1578 Courtly, there appeared Munday's Oct. 1579 Mirrour of Mutabilitie, or Principall part of the Mirrour for Magistrates.  Mutabilitie was lavishly dedicated to Oxford, with acrostic poetry spelling Oxford's name and titles, and a curious Latin dedication to Oxford four pages from the back, about which I will comment in a separate article (along with a similar Latin dedication to Oxford by Robert Greene).  Munday's Mutabilitie consciously followed the thrust of Sackville's "Induction" and of 1559 & 63 Mirrour in poetry "complaints" by famous ghosts (e.g., "Nabucodonozor, sometime King of Babilon, for the inordinate and excessive PRIDE that he used in his lifetime," preceded by a 5-line poem where each line started with the letters of PRIDE, and so-forth for each of the "seven deadly sins").  Since Munday declared himself to be Oxford's servant, it would seem that even Oxford's newly-emerging "Euphuist" circle was committed to "passive collaboration" with Sackville's projects, my coined term by which I mean that Sackville didn't need to have known that other writers were riding on his cart, whether he was driving it or not by that time.  Still, as I've proposed for "the Shakespeare Enterprise," this shows that a worthy movement in literary styles and projects can continue long after the "originating" author(s) have delivered the initial iterations of various projects.  And who can say that Sackville wasn't quietly driving the cart after all?  The Mirrour for Magistrates franchise had ten editions-variations between 1559 and 1619.  In 1574 came an add-on called "last part" of the Mirrour, and after 1578 came another add-on called "3rd Part."  So, Munday's 1579 "principall part" could have been another add-on that simply didn't get added-on in later editions.  Still, here was another example of Oxford's circle and Sackville's projects in parallel.


            It's difficult to say that Sackville's "Induction" influenced anything specific in Shakespeare's poetry that couldn't have also been influenced by English, French, Italian, or Latin sources.  Still, the "Induction's" guiding spirit of "Sorrow" had some aspects in common with the "Dark Lady" of the 1609 Sonnets, as well as with the weeping lady in the 1609 A Lover's Complaint, which was attached to the end of the Sonnets collection.  Sid Lubow's speech at the 2003 Shakespeare Oxford Society conference identified both 1609 ladies with "Melpomene, muse of tragedy and tragic poetry," and I confess the identification rings solidly for me.  Still, might they loosely derive both Sackville's "Sorrow," itself loosely from sorrowful or deceitful muses and mistresses from the French "Pleiades" members DuBellay, Ronsard, and Desportes?


            This brief article can't offer thorough comparisons of Sackville's poetry with that of Shakespeare's.  So, it's more fruitful to ask each Oxfordian to study and compare for themselves (the rpo.library link has the complete text of "Induction").  I'm not arguing that Sackville "wrote" or even "originated" Shakespeare's works.  Rather, we should be more diligent about including Sackville among those who "influenced" Oxford's and Shakespeare's works.


            So, let's have a few samples here.  "Induction" began with reflection on Winter's blasts in its first stanza (emphases added for comparison to certain of the Sonnets):

1   The wrathful winter, 'proaching on apace,

2   With blustering blasts had all ybar'd the treen,

3   And old Saturnus, with his frosty face,

4   With chilling cold had pierc'd the tender green;

5   The mantles rent, wherein enwrapped been

6     The gladsome groves that now lay overthrown,

7     The tapets torn, and every bloom down blown.


            This short stanza has many themes and allusions used in the Sonnets (e.g., #s 2, 5, 12, 46, 54, & 98).  But, we could choose any of the Sonnets and likely come up with many similarities to selected passages in Sackville's "Induction."  So, let's try a variation on the exercise developed by Louis P. Bénézet (see Ogburn, 393-96).  Here is my selection of 28 lines, crudely forming 2 faux sonnets.  Ignoring the rhyme differences, by just reading through them, can you tell which words or phrases (not whole lines) from just one of the first 20 of the 1609 Sonnets that I used for substitutions and insertions, or which lines from Sackville's "Induction" were altered with words from that one of the Sonnets?  Aren't these two iambic pentameter "fourteeners" somewhat akin to Shakespeare's Sonnets and Passionate Pilgrim in tone and theme, despite the half century spanning their publications?


 # A   4      With chilling cold had pierc'd the tender green;

          8      The soil, that erst so seemly was to be seen,

          9      Was all despoiled of her beauty's rose;

          10    And sweet tender buds, wherewith the summer's queen

          11    Had clad the earth, now Boreas' blast down blows;

          18    Each thing, methought, with weeping eye me told

          19    The cruel season, bidding me withhold

          50    And sorrowing I to see the summer flowers,

          51    The lively green, the lusty leaves forlorn,

          52    The sturdy trees so shatter'd with the showers,

          53    The fields so fade that increased so beforn,

          54    It taught me well all earthly things be born

          55        To die the death, for nought long time may last;

          56        The summer's beauty yields to winter's blast.


# B    85    Her eyes swollen with flowing streams afloat;

          86    Wherewith, her looks thrown up full piteously,

          87    Her forceless hands together oft she smote,

          88    With pitiful shrieks that echo'd in the sky;

          89    Whose plaint such sighs did straight accompany,

          96    But when I saw no end that could apart

          97    The deadly dule which she so sore did make,

          98    With doleful voice then thus to her I spake:

          99     "Unwrap thy woes, whatever wight thou be,

          100   And stint time to spill thyself with plaint;

          101   Tell what thou art, and whence, for well I see

          102   Thou canst not dure, with pity thus attaint."

          153       They were but shades that erst in mind thou roll'd;

          154       Come, come with me, thine eyes shall them behold.'


            These iambic pentameter lines don't exhaust comparisons that can be made to just my one mystery Shakespeare sonnet (one of the first 20).  Indeed, I originally derived 6 sonnets-worth with ease and deleted 4 of them in interest of brevity, only wanting to illustrate one of many ways that intriguing comparisons can be made.   Imagine how thick the book would be that similarly compares ALL of Shakespeare's Sonnets to ALL of Sackville's "Induction!"


            If Shakespeare had been specially enchanted with Sackville's "Induction," even with just the first stanza, he would have had inspiration aplenty for many of the Sonnets.  So, "What happened to Sackville's sonnets cycle noted in 1560 but apparently now lost?"  If we answered: "Those were a core around which Shakespeare's Sonnets later were written!," who could disprove us?  Perhaps Shakespeare's Sonnets are so "indecipherable" not just from artfulness, but in part because more than one poet contributed to or reworked them over many decades!


Concluding mysteries:

            Interestingly, Sackville would have held his "fortie winters" anniversary in 1576, just when, as I've argued (Vol. II, Figure B.1, pp. 298-99), the earliest Shakespeare plays were beginning to be "originated" for private entertainments.  It has long been my contention that all of the Shakespeare works, including the poetry, were "originated" with the purpose of entertaining nobility, family, and friends in Oxford's circle, originally centering on the 1573-83 circle of Oxford's other mentor, the Earl of Sussex.  Or, was Oxford really a mover in a longtime, very private, circle around Sackville well into the 1590s?  Notably, his and Oxford's names were included in the 1603 broadside Anagrammata in nomina illustrissimorum heroum, with its Latin verses and anagram dedications; and I believe that riddle-sheet was a tribute to leading "Jacobeans" who were about to install King James on the soon-vacant throne.


            Another curiosity is that Shakespeare's Sonnets first appeared shortly after Sackville's death as Lord Treasurer April 19, 1608.  He was at the Privy Council table conducting business, with preservation of his hidden poetry likely the farthest thing from his mind.  A poet who died young, like Surrey and Sidney did, would have many friends eager to spread his fame.  But, longevity in a poet has its negative side when he outlived all those who knew where and what his poetry was.  "Shake-speares sonnettes" were entered into the Stationers Registry on May 20, 1609.  Had the Sonnets come out instead with a title page attributing them to Sackville, or to nobody, we would now be asking, "Where are the 'sugared sonnets among his private friends' that Meres said Shakespeare had written?"  Ironically, we're left guessing about Sackville's missing sonnets.  And yet, the one extant Sackville sonnet is in Shakespearean form!


            As I was writing my 2005 article about 1593 Phoenix Nest's "Another Rare Dreame" poem, I recalled an argument that can apply just as well to Sackville.  Many of Oxford's poems are from the 1560s and 70s, and therefore much of what little we have were really his "juvenilia."  Following on that thought, imagine Oxford's development over several decades, and what would have been his later poetic genius at the time of the final polishing of Shakespeare's Sonnets?  Similarly, if the 18 year old genius of Sackville's 1554-55 "Induction" had continued reasonably improving in private, what beauty might he have contributed to his share of anonymous or alias works, possibly even to Shakespeare's Sonnets?  And Sackville had twenty years earlier and four years later to work on the final polishing than Oxford did.  Even if he was just one of "the Grand Possessors" of Shakespeare's works (referred to in the January 28, 1608/9 preamble to Troilus and Cressida Q1), Sackville may have joined the 6th Derby, 1st Montgomery, 2nd Nottingham, Anthony Munday, Oxford's daughters, etc. in fine-tuning "the canon."  Who can disprove it?



Berlin, Normand, Thomas Sackville (English Authors Series), NY, 1974, Twayne.

(CDNB) Smith, George, ed., Concise Dictionary of National Biography, ISBN 0-19-865305-0, Oxford U. Press, 1992, 3 v.

(DNB) Lee, Sidney and Stephen, Leslie, eds., Dictionary of National Biography, (1917) 1965, Oxford U. Press, 22 v.

Erne, Lukas, "'Throughly Ransackt': Elizabethan Novella Collections and Henry Wotton's Courtlie Controuersie of Cupid's Cautels (1578)," Cahiers Elisabethains, Montpellier, France, Universite Paul-Valery, 2003, pp. iv & 1-8.

Hess, W. Ron, The Dark Side of Shakespeare, Vol. II, ISBN # 0-595-29390-5, Lincoln, NE, Writers Club Press, 2003.

--      "'Another Rare Dreame': Is this an 'authentic' Oxford Poem?," The Oxfordian, Vol. VIII 2005, 3-16; update of 2003 article "Challenge..." at website

Krapp, George P., The Rise of English Literary Prose, (1915) 1963, Oxford U. Press.

May, Steven W., "Tudor Aristocrats & the Mythical 'Stigma of Print,'" Renaissance Papers, 1980; posted at

(ODNB) Goldman, Lawrence, ed., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ISBN 0-19-861411-X, Oxford U. Press, 2004, 60 v.

Ogburn Jr., Charlton, The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the Reality, NY, 1984, Dodd Mead (2nd ed. 1992, EPM Publications, McLean, VA). 

Plomer, Henry R., et al, ed., Dictionaries of the Printers & Booksellers... 1557-1775, Ilkley, Yorkshire, Grove Press, (1910-32) 1977, (Z151 .P73 1977, Reprinted in compact form in one volume).

Rouillard, Linda Marie, "Raping the Rose, Sixteenth-Century Style: Modernising the Medieval in Day Two of Le Printemps d'Yver," Forum for Modern Language Studies, 2003 39:1, 15-26 (Proquest 331766181, see

Sackville-West, Reginald W., ed., The Works of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst: Afterwards Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth and Earl of Dorset, London, John Russell Smith, 1859; facsimile at ISBN 0548696519.

Swart, Jacobus, Thomas Sackville, A Study in Sixteenth-Century Poetry, Gronigen, Wolters, 1948.

Ward, Bernard M., The 17th Earl of Oxford 1550-1604, From ContemporaryDocuments, London, J. Murray, 1928. (Searchable text of Sackville's 1554-55 "Induction") (Overall discussion of Sackville & Gorboduc). (Many "Elizabethan Peerage" biographies and/or lineages).

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The Dark Side of Shakespeare (a Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)