First, I must apologize to my readers for the long hiatus I’ve taken from my blogging. As most of you know, I’m a non-traditional college student writing my way to my first bachelor’s degree in English.
This semester, I took a break from my Shakespearean studies and just completed a class entitled: “The Beatles and Their World” at The College of New Jersey.
I’ve never had more fun reading, researching, and writing than I’ve had while taking this course.
For my final paper, I chose to research the Beatle I had become fascinated with: John Lennon.
John’s persona grew to mythical proportions during his lifetime. After his murder, his image morphed into that of a martyred hero – at least for awhile.
Then the ugly stories began pouring out, page after page.
I wanted to play armchair psychologist and investigate a hunch that had nagged at me while reading about John’s volatile nature, which resonated with “Jeckyl and Hyde” overtones:
Could John Lennon have suffered from mental illness?
If you were ever curious to learn a little more about John Lennon, or wondered about this yourself, please take the time to read my paper. (click on link below)
John was known for cutting through the bull—- and emphatically rejected the public’s idolatry of the Beatles; just feel the sarcasm in his ballad, “Working Class Hero.”
So, OK, this post has NOTHING to do with Shakespeare. But consider this,
both Shakespeare and the Beatles are British “institutions” AND both have developed into revered myths of the Modern World.
With that in mind, I think John would have forgiven me for stripping away his facade in order to get to the truth.
For those of you in the NY/NJ/PA metro area looking for a Shakespeare fix, I’ve got a recommendation:
This stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy stars Tony award nominee Forrest McClendon who thrilled the Philly audience last year with his powerful performance as Othello at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.
I had the pleasure of meeting Forrest after a performance of the aforementioned play last year; he is a warm and charismatic soul (and a brilliant talent) with a contagious enthusiasm for performing Shakespeare. So, I look forward to witnessing his transformation into yet another Shakespearean tragic figure.
Tickets are selling quickly, so purchase yours now. Student discounts are available, so I’m going to snag one ASAP!
(In Modern English)
To my Bess:
Sweetheart I doubt not but you shall hear ere my letter come to you of the misfortune of your friends, be not too apprehensive of it, for God’s will must be done, & what is allotted to us by destiny cannot bee avoided; believe that in this time there is nothing can so much comfort me as to think you are well & take patiently what hath happened, & contrarywise I shall live in torment if I find you vexed for my cause, doubt not but I shall do well & please yourself with assurance that I shall ever remain
Your affectionate husband
This passionate letter most likely never made it to its addressee. It was written by Southampton to his wife either while he was temporarily detained at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace at Lambeth, or after he had been transferred to his prison chambers within the Tower.
Mercifully, Southampton’s execution day never came. There are several possible reasons why Robert Cecil had Southampton’s sentence commuted from execution to life imprisonment. Public sentiment leaned toward the side of Essex and his followers, especially after the botched-up beheading; therefore, another execution could potentially create a hostile environment for Elizabeth’s government.
One factor that may have weighed heavily on Cecil’s conscience is mentioned in an excerpt from the desperate letter written to Cecil by Southampton’s mother, Mary:
It appeared to me many times his earnest desire to recover her Majesty’s favour, his doleful discontented behaviour when he could not obtain it, how apt despair made him at length to receive evil counsel and follow such company…
Akrigg points out: “If Queen Elizabeth had not so relentlessly maintained her dislike of Southampton, denying him access to her Court, and refusing him from the generalship of the horse in Ireland and then the governorship of Connaught, Southampton might never have turned to treason” (129).
The sickly earl remained imprisoned in the Tower for over two years. When Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, James VI of Scotland peacefully ascended the throne of England.
As mentioned in a previous post, Essex and Southampton had championed James’ right to succession. So, one of his first acts as England’s king was to send forth orders from his castle at Edinburgh for Southampton’s release.
On April 10, 1603, Henry Wriothesley was given a chance to start anew with his title and estate restored to him.
Months later, Southampton was installed into the order of the Knights of the Garter, appointed to the Privy Council, and the sweet wine profits that had once been granted to Essex, were transferred to him. Things were looking hopeful for Southampton with a new sovereign on the throne.
Sadly though, as time passed, the headstrong earl would fall out of James’ favor, too. But I will take a breather from the history lessons for now.
As promised, in an upcoming post, we will briefly examine some controversial theories that suggest a very intimate connection between Southampton and Shakespeare.
Hint: If you’ve seen the 2011 Roland Emmerich film Anonymous, you’ll know where I’m heading!
On February 9, 1601, at 3:00 AM, Essex, Southampton, and their chief supporters were arrested and taken to the Tower.
Indictments were produced on the 17th of February at Westminster Hall “charging Essex with an attempt to usurp the crown, and Essex, Southampton, Rutland and Sandys with having conspired to depose and slay the Queen and to subvert the government” (Akrigg 121).
After a trial before their peers, the Lord High Steward passed the following brutal sentence:
…you both shall be led from hence to the place from whence you came, and there remain during her Majesty’s pleasure; from thence to be drawn upon a hurdle through the midst of the City, and so to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck and taken down alive, –your bodies to be opened, and your bowels taken out and burned before your face; your bodies to be quartered, –your heads and quarter to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure, and so God have mercy on your souls. (Jardine, Criminal Trials, I, 363-5)
Two days after his conviction, Essex requested to meet with Sir Robert Cecil and other officials. According to records, Essex admitted that he and his followers had planned to force their way into the Queen’s presence, “and use her authority to change the government and call a Parliament, condemning their opponents for misgoverning the state” (as per a letter from Cecil to Mountjoy dated February 26, 1601).
Right up to the day of his death, Essex insisted he “never intended violence of death for the Queen” (Akrigg).
During this meeting, Essex also pleaded that his execution be made private, and his request was granted.
In the early morning hours of February 25, 1601, in the presence of about a hundred gentlemen and nobles,
Robert Devereaux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, was the last person executed by beheading on Tower Green. His final words were reportedly:
…this my last sin, this great, this bloody, this crying, this infectious sin, whereby so many have for love of me been drawn to offend God, to offend their Sovereign, to offend the world. (Jardine, Criminal Trials, I, 378)