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De Vere Poem 5: I Am Not as I Seem to Be

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. 5: “I Am Not as I Seem to Be”

(May #5: 8 x 4)

1            I am not as I seem to be,

2            Nor when I smile I am not glad,

3            A thrall although you count me free

4            I, most in mirth, most pensive-sad;

5            I smile to shade my bitter spite,

6            As Hannibal, that saw in sight

7            His country soil, with Carthage town,

8            By Roman force defaced down.

 

9            And Caesar, that presented was

10          With noble Pompey’s princely head,

11          As ’twere some judge to rule the case,

12          A flood of tears he seemed to shed;

13          Although indeed it sprung of joy,

14          Yet others thought it was annoy;

15          Thus contraries be used, I find,

16          Of wise to cloak the covert mind.

 

17          I Hannibal, that smiles for grief,

18          And let you Caesar’s tears suffice,

19          The one that laughs at his mischief,

20          The other all for joy that cries;

21          I smile to see me scorned so,

22          You weep for joy to see me woe,

23          And I a heart by love slain dead

24          Presents, in place of Pompey’s head.

 

25          O cruel hap and hard estate

26          That forceth me to love my foe,

27          Accursed by so foul a fate

28          My choice for to prefix it so,

29          So long to fight with secret sore,

30          And find no secret salve therefor;

31          Some purge their pain by plaint, I find,

32          But I in vain do breathe my wind.

 

The original sources use “therefore” in line 30, but the proper usage in context would clearly be “therefor” (i.e., the “salve” is “for” the “sore”), so “therefor” is silently substituted above.

(1) I am not as I seem to be

This is a topos of immense importance to Shakespeare studies for several reasons. De Vere and Shakespeare very distinctively use the Biblical phrase “I am that I am” (Exodus 3.14).

‘I am not what I am’ (Oth., 1.1.65); ‘Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I’ (Rich. III, 5.3.199); ‘I am not what I am’ (Twelfth, 3.1.140); ‘I am not I, if there be such’ (R&J, 3.2.50).

We may conclude that both the de Vere lyric and the Shakespeare passages are exploring the ancient philosophical dichotomy between appearance and being.

(2) when I smile I am not glad

‘I am not merry; but I do beguile The thing I am by seem­ing otherwise’ (Oth., 2.1.125).

(4) I, most in mirth, most pensive-sad

‘I show more mirth than I am mistress of’ (As You, 1.2.3); ‘With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage’ (Ham., 1.2.12); ‘So mingled as if mirth did make him sad’ (Kins., 5.3.52); ‘But sorrow that is couch’d in seeming gladness is like that mirth fate turns to sudden sadness’ (Troil., 1.1.40); ‘sad tales doth tell To pencill’d pensiveness’ (Lucrece, 1496).

(4, 12, 14, 17, 18) mirth … sad … flood of tears … annoy … grief … tears suffice

 

Compare two passages from Lucrece:

For mirth doth search the bottom of annoy;

Sad souls are slain in merry company;

Grief best is pleas’d with grief’s society.

True sorrow then in feelingly suffic’d

When with like semblance it is sympathiz’d.

(1109-13)

 

‘Dear lord, thy sorrow to my sorrow lendeth

Another power; no flood by raining slaketh.

My woe too sensible thy passion maketh,

More feeling-painful. Let it then suffice

To drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes.

(1676-80)

 

(6-8) As Hannibal, that saw in sight His country soil, with Car­thage town, By Roman force defaced down

‘And see the cities and the towns defac’d’ (1 Hen. VI, 3.3.45).

Shakespeare makes four mentions of Hannibal and seven of Carthage. The idea of defacement, based on the strong presence of this topic in Shakespeare’s plays, has been a subject of some commentary even by orthodox scholars.

See also No. 10.16 (raze the ground).

(10) Pompey’s princely head

Two of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, and five others, refer to Pompey (106-48 BCE), the Roman consul.

(12) A flood of tears he seemed to shed

On the theme of tears and weeping, see also Nos. 3, 4, and 9.

(17-22) I Hannibal, that smiles for grief, And let you Caesar’s tears suffice, The one that laughs at his mis­chief, The other all for joy that cries; I smile to see me scorned so, You weep for joy to see me woe

‘Then they for sudden joy did weep, And I for sorrow sung, That such a king should play bo-peep, And go the fools among’ (Lear, 1.4.175); ‘weeping joys’ (2 Hen. VI, 1.1.34); ‘how much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!’ (Much, 1.1.28).

The antithetical states of emotion continue the common thread seen in several of the foregoing parallels, and show the same tendency to categorize antithetical emotions as also correlated.

The example above from King Lear in particular, when contrasted with these lines of de Vere, gives a nice snapshot of the developmental patterns of the artist, as the weep and joy motifs are handled with considerably greater naturalism in the mature work—and yet the connectedness in diction and thought of one with the other is quite evident on careful inspection. See also No. 12.5.

(23) a heart by love slain dead

‘in love was slain’ (Phoenix, 28); ‘Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain’ (Sonnets, 22.13).

(25) O cruel hap and hard estate

‘Our hap is loss, our hope but sad despair’ (3 Hen. VI, 2.3.9); ‘twere hard luck, being in so preposterous estate as we are’ (Win., 5.2.147-48).

(26) That forceth me to love my foe

My only love sprung from my only hate!’ … ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy!’ (R&J, 1.5.138, 140).

(32) But I in vain do breathe my wind

‘You breathe in vain’ (Timon, 3.5.59).

We can see how the more mature thought has gained clarity and energy through compression, but the idiom is preserved.

[January 22, 2018]

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