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De Vere Poem 16: Were I a King, I Could Command Content

The Introduction to this new Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship edition of the known poems of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), explaining their text, format, annotations, and historical background, with key to abbreviations and works cited, is available here (see copyright notice therein, note 1). The other de Vere poems published in this edition (and a printable and citable pdf version of the entire article, including all 20 poems with annotations) may be accessed from the Introduction.

Poem No. 16: “Were I a King, I Could Command Content”

(May #16: epigram)

1            Were I a king, I could command content;

2            Were I obscure, unknown should be my cares,

3            And were I dead, no thought should me torment,

4            Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears;

5            A doubtful choice, of these things one to crave,

6            A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.


Compare No. 18.1 (My mind to me a kingdom is) and No. 18.23-24 (thus I triumph like a king, Content).

(1) kingcommand content

‘Was ever king that joy’d an earthly throne, And could command no more content than I?’ (2 Hen. VI, 4.9.2); cf. ‘a king crown’d with content’ (3 Hen. VI, 3.1.66).

(1-2, 6) contentobscure … A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave

‘The king shall be contented … I’ll give … My gorgeous palace for a hermitage … And my large kingdom for a little grave, A little little grave, an obscure grave’ (Rich. II, 3.3.145).

(3) no thought should me torment

‘the torture of the mind’ (Mac., 3.2.21); ‘the thought whereof Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards’ (Oth., 2.1.296); ‘But ah, thought kills me’ (Sonnets, 44.9).

Here is another characteristic topic in Shakespeare’s theory of the mind, found first in the Oxford sample: the idea that the mind can make itself sick with too much worry. Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI all lament the woes of kings.

[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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