Sunday, February 25, 2024

Worthy Sidney Unworthy Oxford

 Haec ego mente olim laeva, studioque supino, Nequitiae posui vana trophaea meae. 

SONNET 72 - Shakespeare

O, lest the world should task you to recite

What merit lived in me, that you should love

After my death, -- dear love, forget me quite,

For you in me can nothing worthy prove;

Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,

To do more for me than mine own desert,

And hang more praise upon deceased I

Than niggard truth would willingly impart:

O, lest your true love may seem false in this,

That you for love speak well of me untrue,

My name be buried where my body is,

And live no more to shame nor me nor you.

   For I am sham'd by that which I bring forth,

   And so should you, to love things nothing worth.


nequitia (Latin)

Alternative forms

    • nēquitiēs

Origin & history

From nēquam ("worthless").


    • (Classical) IPA: /neːˈkʷi.ti.a/


nēquitia (genitive nēquitiae) (fem.)

    1. A bad moral quality; idleness, negligence, inactivity, remissness; worthlessness; vileness, depravity, wickedness

    2. Lightness, levity, inconsiderateness.

    3. Prodigality, profusion.

    4. Profligacy, wantonness, roguery, lewdness.


'The Sound of Virtue', Blair Worden

'Walsingham, writing against the Anjou match, intimates that Elizabeth's failure to 'depend' on God derives from a 'wavering' disposition. Basilius wavers too. His change 'with the wind' has many echoes in Sidney's ficetion, where time and again gusts of 'wind' sway characters into following fortune instead of virtue. Wind is a recurrent symbol of inconstancy, as when 'the inconstant people' of Iberia, faced with conflicting claims to the royal succession, 'set their sails with the favourable wind' of 'fortune'. The constant man, in Sidney's moral scheme and in the neo-Stoic scheme of his time, is inwardly indifferent to good or evil fortune, to the hollow ascendancies of chance. Subordinating passion, which if fortune's friend, to reason, which is virtue's, he is not swayed by the passions of hope and fear, which would lead him from virtue's path.The Duke of Anjou, that personification of inconstancy, is, Sidney tells the queen, 'carried away with every wind of hope'; so, in pursuit of the disguised Pyrocles, is Basilius, 'whose small sails the least wind did fill'; so, in the New Arcadia, is King Antiphilus, that 'weak fool', 'neither hoping nor fearing as he should', who is ' every wind of passions puffed him', 'like a bladder swelled ready to break while it was full of the wind of prosperity'.

The Arcadia advises us that it is foolish, even wicked, to 'buil[d]...hopes on haps', to 'build...upon hope'. We saw that Sidney, with his party, wants the queen to 'build' upon virtue, for what is firmly 'built' will 'stand'. Wind, which blows impotently round the edifices of virtue, sweeps those of fortune away. Philanax explains to Basilius, and Sidney explains to Elizabeth, the strength of those who 'stand upon ' virtue: Musidorus, thralled to fortune, is reminded by Pamela of the frailty of persons who 'stand upon chance'.(p.138-9)


Wind, which blows impotently round the edifices of virtue, sweeps those of fortune away.


Publique Ill Example: 

Oxford appears UNNAMED as Sidney’s intemperate and insubstantial ADVERSARY in Greville’s _A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney_(originally published as _Life of Sidney_)

 Fulke Greville clearly identifies Oxford as a follower of fortune. For Greville, Oxford is the 'personification of inconstancy' in the same way that Sidney regarded Anjou. Significantly, Oxford remains unnamed in Greville's account, which is part of a program of erasing the names of the unworthy from history. As the mighty opposite to the godly Sidney, Oxford was largely excluded from the militant Protestant domain of virtue, and therefore it was necessary that this man of pride and inconstancy be 'swept aside'.

In his account, Greville stages the quarrel as Sidney's  active resistance to the 'tyranny' and wrongs inflicted upon him by Oxford. This is consistent with Sidney's familiarity with continental Protestant resistance theorists such as Languet and Du-Plessis-Mornay and demonstrates Sidney embodiment of their values. Sidney would be an advisor to his Prince (Elizabeth), but he also demonstrates right action and his virtuous mind by resisting the self-loving humours of the 'tyrant' Oxford. 

Greville writes:

'Tyrants allow of no scope, stamp, or standard, but their own WILL.'


Greville, _A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney_

...And in this freedome of heart [Sidney] being one day at Tennis, a Peer of this Realm, born great, greater by alliance, and superlative in the Princes favour, abruptly came into the Tennis- Court; and speaking out of these three paramount authorities, he forgot to entreat that, which he could not legally command. When by the encounter of a steady object, finding unrespectiveness in himself (though a great Lord) not respected by this Princely spirit, he grew to expostulate more ROUGHLY. The returns of which stile comming still from an understanding heart, that knew what was due to it self, and what it ought to others, seemed (through the MISTS of my Lords PASSIONS, SWOLN with the WINDE of his FACTION then reigning) to provoke in yeelding. Whereby, the lesse amazement, or confusion of thoughts he stirred up in Sir Philip, the more SHADOWES this great Lords own mind was POSSESSED with: till at last with RAGE (which is ever ILL-DISCIPLINED) he commands them to depart the Court. To this Sir Philip temperately answers; that if his Lordship had been pleased to express desire in milder Characters, perchance he might have led out those, that he should now find would not be driven out with any scourge of FURY. This answer (like a BELLOWS) blowing up the sparks of EXCESS already kindled, made my Lord scornfully call Sir Philip by the name of Puppy. In which progress of HEAT, as the TEMPEST grew more and more vehement within, so did their hearts breath out their perturbations in a more loud and shrill accent. The French Commissioners unfortunately had that day audience, in those private Galleries, whose windows looked into the Tennis-Court. They instantly drew all to this tumult: every sort of quarrels sorting well with their humors, especially this. Which Sir Philip perceiving, and rising with inward strength, by the prospect of a mighty faction against him; asked my Lord, with a loud voice, that which he heard clearly enough before. Who ( LIKE AN ECHO, that still multiplies by REFLEXIONS) repeated this Epithet of Puppy the second time. Sir Philip resolving in one answer to conclude both the attentive hearers, and PASSIONATE ACTOR, gave my Lord a Lie, impossible (as he averred) to be retorted; in respect all the world knows, Puppies are gotten by Dogs, and Children by men. Hereupon those GLORIOUS INEQUALITIES of FORTUNE in his Lordship were put to a kinde of pause, by a PRECIOUS INEQUALITY OF NATURE in this Gentleman. So that they both stood silent a while, like a dumb shew in a tragedy; till Sir Philip sensible of his own wrong, the forrain, and factious spirits that attended; and yet, even in this question between him, and his superior, tender to his Countries honour; with some words of sharp accent, led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court; as if so unexpected an accident were not fit to be decided any farther in that place. Whereof the great Lord making another sense, continues his play, WITHOUT any ADVANTAGE of REPUTATION; as by the standard of humours in those times it was conceived.


In his account of the Tennis court quarrel in his _ Life of Sidney_, Greville not only features Oxford as a 'tyrannical',  unworthy foil to the glittering virtues of Sidney; he also painstakingly details (justifies?) the reasons why Oxford's name and fame were deserving of oblivion. As the hereditary Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon, he was perfectly placed to  participate in the ignominious backwater fame of the scurra 'Shakespeare'. Jonson assisted by providing the ambisinister Droeshout figure (incapable of 'correct' writing) and further deconstructed Oxford's literary fame with a mock encomium to 'Shakespeare' formed from a cloud of insubstantial, windy metaphors. Jonson's breathless departure from his normal character in the FF is intended to be a form of poetic justice - Nemesis/Jonson imitates Shakespeare's forma and figura thereby blowing Oxford up (presumably with his own piffle).


Vanity/Trifles/Empty Mould:

Wind, which blows impotently round the edifices of virtue, sweeps those of fortune away.


Sidney's worthy immortality 'stands' as an edifice of militant Protestant virtue. Oxford was swept away (or at best, immortalized with a fart).

"Who worship Fame, commit Idolatry,

"Make Men their God, Fortune and Time their worth,

"Forme, but reforme not, meer hypocrisie,

"By shadowes, onely shadowes bringing forth,

"Which must, as blossomes, fade ere true fruit springs,

"(Like voice, and eccho) ioyn'd; yet diuers things. -- Greville


Greville, _Dedication_:

...Neither am I (for my part) so much in love with this life, nor believe so little in a better to come, as to complain of God for taking him [Sidney], and such like exorbitant worthyness from us: fit (as it were by an Ostracisme) to be divided, and not incorporated with our corruptions: yet for the sincere affection I bear to my Prince, and Country, my prayer to God is, that this Worth, and Way may not fatally be buried with him; in respect, that both before his time, and since, experience hath published the usuall discipline of greatnes to have been tender of it self onely; making HONOUR a triumph, or rather TROPHY OF DESIRE, set up in the eyes of Mankind, either to be worshiped as IDOLS, or else as Rebels to perish under her glorious oppressions. *Notwithstanding, when the pride of flesh, and power of favour shall cease in these by death, or disgrace; what then hath time to register, or fame to publish in these great mens names, that will not be offensive, or infectious to others? What Pen without blotting can write the story of their deeds? Or what Herald blaze their Arms without a blemish? And as for their counsels and projects, when they come once to light, shall they not live as noysome, and loathsomely above ground, as their Authors carkasses lie in the grave? So as the return of such greatnes to the world, and themselves, can be but private reproach, publique ill example, and a fatall scorn to the Government they live in. Sir Philip Sidney is none of this number; for the greatness which he affected was built upon true Worth; esteeming Fame more than Riches, and Noble actions far above Nobility it self.


Trophy of Desire - Oxford Will/Desire


Greville's 'Tomb':


SERVANT to Queene Elizabeth

Conceller to King James

Frend to Sir Philip Sidney.



Rewards of Earth

REWARDS of earth, Nobility and Fame,

To senses glory and to conscience woe,

How little be you for so great a name?

Yet less is he with men what thinks you so.

For earthly power, that stands by fleshly wit,

Hath banished that truth which should govern it.

Nobility, power's golden fetter is,

Wherewith wise kings subjection do adorn,

To make man think her heavy yoke a bliss

Because it makes him more than he was born.

Yet still a slave, dimm'd by mists of a crown,

Let he should see what riseth, what pulls down.

Fame, that is but good words of evil deeds,

Begotten by the harm we have, or do,

Greatest far off, least ever where it breeds,

We both with dangers and disquiet woo;

And in our flesh, the vanities' false glass,

*We thus deceiv'd adore these calves of brass*.

Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke


From The Oxford Handbook of Milton

Milton's 'manly' self-regulation:


"'Haec ego mente' denounces the elegies, composed at Cambridge in 1626-9, as 'trifling memorials of my levity, which, with a warped mind and base spirit, I once raised.' "Seduced by the superficial attractions of such verse at Cambridge, Milton assures his readers that now 'my heart is frozen solid, packed around with thick ice'.


Trifling Memorials of Levity - see To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare 


Asa D. Olson

The Form of Selfhood: elegy and Self-Presentation in Early Modern England (Dissertation 2018)

Introduction: A Worthless Genre 

Haec ego mente olim laeva, studioque supino, Nequitiae posui vana trophaea meae. 

These trifles are the empty monuments of my idleness that I set down, at one time, with silly reason and negligent fire. —John Milton’s Epigraph to his Elegiarum Liber, ll. 1-2 

The lines above conclude John Milton’s book of elegies as they are published in his 1645 Poems. Whether this epigraph’s opening lines refer to only the preceding poem (“Elegia Septima”) or the entire collection is a topic of contention; however, the reference to Milton’s subject of his nequitia stands out for several reasons. Milton uses the word with some contempt and is actually asserting his dutiful reformation of morals since his youth, but the word is one that the Roman love elegists Propertius and Ovid embrace in their own collections. In the opening poem of his second book of Amores, for example, Ovid declares himself to be “nequitiae Naso poeta meae,” “Naso, the poet of my wantonness” (Amores 2.1.2). Propertius likewise uses the word in his poem to Tullus, who invites him along on a journey for glory through arms (Prop. 1.6). Propertius rejects the honorable path for love, requesting from Tullus: “me sine, quem semper voluit fortuna iacere, / huic animam extremam reddere nequitiae,” “Give leave to me, whom fortune has always desired to lie in ruins, to surrender my dying breath to this worthlessness” (1.6.25-26). Even in the 9 extant lines of Gallus, the earliest of the Roman elegists, we find the word, seemingly attributed to his beloved Lycoris.  Nequitiae, in its prominence, is intricately entangled with the definition of elegy. It denotes, as my translations so far have shown, a variety of meanings, including idleness, wantonness, and worthlessness. It can reflect the elegists’ embrace of otium (idle leisure) over officium (duty), their preference for love over anything else, and their apathy toward modern values. Indeed, “value” is what is at stake in these examples, which declare the genre’s worthlessness and request that the reader decide whether these poems do indeed have any value. In Roman elegy, one frequent topos in which the question of “worth” is raised is the recusatio or the refusal to write in a higher genre, especially epic. Prop. 1.6, for example, engages with this issue when contrasting the soldier with the lover. This contrast between the soldier and lover is no far cry from the contrast of the poet of war and the poet of love, the subject of the subsequent elegy, Prop. 1.7. The idea in such poems is that the epic poet justifies his literary activity by performing some act of civic duty by writing about politics or history, especially in early imperial Rome when epic material had much to do with issues of nationhood and sovereignty. To some extent, the epic poet could be seen as engaging in a form of civic officium or at least otium negotiosum (a busy, justified sort of leisure). In elegiac recusationes, however, the poet usually rejects a request or opportunity to compose epic in order to continue writing elegies and pursuing love, whose subject (especially in contrast with epic) appears to be rather trivial. This contention between epic and elegiac utility is the subject of the first chapter of this dissertation, where I suggest a reason for the polemic’s prominence; however, this contention exists today too in literary scholarship. With all our attempts to disrupt notions of generic hierarchy and concepts of the canon, epic still maintains that privilege over elegy, and in studies of classical reception—the appropriation and 3 adaptation of ancient Greek and Roman texts—scholars still favor the politics of epic over all that elegy offers, at least as it pertains to early modern England.


Steven May,_ The Elizabethan Courtier Poets_

The New Lyricism

During the 1570's a body of courtier verse emerged that revived the emphasis upon love poetry as it had been introduced to the Tudor court by Wyatt and Surrey. Upon this revitalized foundation, amorous courtier poetics developed without interruption to the end of the reign and beyond. Unlike courtier verse of the 1560's, the new lyricism modeled itself primarily upon post-classical continental authors, from Petrarch to the Pl?iade. Attention to the classics remained strong, of course, but the ancients were assimilated into the new poetics almost exclusively in the vernacular. The courtier's immediate experience is often reflected in this poetry, although the exact circumstances behind it cannot always be identified, nor does this later work necessarily grow out of actual experience. From a literary standpoint this is perhaps the most important shift away from the trends of the 1560's. Subsequent courtier verse placed a greater emphasis upon artifice in its treatment of occasional subjects, while it increasingly strayed away from real events as the most respectable inducements for writing poetry. The movement was toward fiction and the creation of poems to be valued for their own sake, not merely for their commemorative function. As courtier poets ventured anew into the realms of fiction, they made possible once again the creation of a genuine literature of the court. Progress toward a golden age of lyricism was slow, especially with regard to form and the technical aspects of composition, but the shift in direction occurred suddenly during the period between roughly 1570 and 1575.

Although Dyer has been considered the premier Elizabethan courtier poet, that is, the first to compose love lyrics there, the available evidence confers this distinction upon the earl of Oxford. His early datable work conforms, nevertheless, to one of the established functions for poetry practiced by Ascham and Wilson. IN 1572, Oxford turned out commendatory verses for a translation of Cardano's _Comfort_, published in 1573 by his gentleman pensioner friend, Thomas Bedingfield. This poem differs from earlier efforts of the kind not so much because it appeared in English (as had Ascham's verses for Blundeville's book), but because his verses are so self-consciously poetic. The earl uses twenty-six lines to develop his formulaic exempla: Bedingfield's good efforts are enjoyed by others just as laborers, masons, bees, and so forth also work for the profit of others. Oxford flaunts a COPIOUS rhetoric in this poem in contrast with the more direct, unembellished commendatory verses of his predecessors. His greatest innovation, however, lies in his application of the same qualities of style to the eight poems assigned to him in the 1576 Paradise of Dainty Devices, pieces that Oxford must have composed before 1575.

DeVere's eight poems in the _Paradise_ create a dramatic break with everything known to have been written at the Elizabethan court at that time...The diversity of Oxford's subjects, including his varied analyses of the lover's state, were practically as unknown to contemporary out-of -court writer as they were to courtiers.

Oxford's birth and social standing at court in the 1570's made him a model of aristocratic behaviour. He was, for instance, accused of introducing Italian gloves and other such fripperies at court; his example would have lent respectability even to so trivial a pursuit as the writing of love poetry. Thus, while it is possible that Dyer was writing poetry as early as the 1560's, his earliest datable verse, the complaint sung to the queen at Woodstock in 1575, may itself have been inspired by Oxford's work in the same vein. Dyer's first six poems in Part II are the ones he is most likely to have composed before his association with Philip Sidney. ...Yet even if all six (of Dyer's poems) were written by 1575, Oxford would still emerge as the chief innovator due to the range of his subject matter and the variety of its execution. ...By contrast, Dyer was a specialist...Dyer's output represents a great departure from courtier verse of the 1560's, and several of his poems were more widely circulated and imitated than any of Oxford's; still, the latter's experimentation provided a much broader foundation for the development of lyric poetry at court. (pp. 52-54)


Bolton, Hypercritica

Among the greatest wants in our ancient Authours, are the wants of Art and Style, which as they add to the lustre of the Works and Delights of the Reader; yet add they nothing to the Truth; which they so esteemed, as they seem to have regarded nothing else. *For without Truth, Art and Style come into the Nature of Crimes by Imposture*. It is an act of high Wisdom, and not of Eloquence only, to write the History of so great, and noble a People as the English. for the Causes of things are not only wonderfully wrapt one within the other, but place oftentimes far above the ordinary Reach's of human Wit; and he who relates Events, without their Premisses and Circumstances, deserves not the name of an Historian; as being like to him who numbers the Bones of a Man anatomized, or presenteth unto us the Bare Skeleton, without declaring the Nature of the Fabrick or teaching the Use of Parts. (Bolton, Hypercritica)


Judging Spectators

Peter Carlson

“It was well noted by the late L. St. Alban, that the study of words is the first distempter of Learning’, Vaine matter the second: And a third distemper is deceit, or the likenesse of truth: Imposture held up by credulity. All these are the Cobwebs of learning, and to let them grow in us, is either sluttish or foolish.” (Jonson, Discoveries)

In Bacon’s catalogue, Jonson sees and confirms his own distrust of linguistic masks. “Imposture held up by credulity” – which could serve as an abstract for the action of any of his plays – describes the process of mistaking a fiction for a reality” it is seeing what we wish to see rather than analyzing and judging. “imposture,” for Jonson, is the vice of theatricality, but if we can temporarily neutralize the negative thrust he has introduced, ‘Bacon’s phrase might describe the terms under which we enter any theater, that is, a willing suspension of disbelief. Jonson’s suspicion, then, extends to the most basic premises of his medium, and the inner antagonism generated by this doubt can dind release only in the continual and self-contradictory dialectic of self-justification and self- revelation; “hee is call’s a Poet…that fayneth and formeth a fable, and writes things like the truth. For, the Fable and Fiction is (as it were) the forme and Soule of any Poeticall worke, or Poeme”; but “nothing is lasting that is fain’d, it will have another face then it had ere long: As Euripides saith, No lye ever growes old.”


English translation of Bolton's salute to Jonson in Volpone:

To Each University, Concerning Benjamin Jonson.

This man is the first, who studying Greek antiquities and the monuments of Latin theatre as an explorer, by his happy boldness will provide the Britons with a learned drama: O twin stars favour his great undertakings. The ancients were content with praise of either [genre]; this Sun of the Stage handles the cothurnus [i.e. tragedy] and the sock [i.e. comedy] with equal skill: Volpone, thou givest us jokes; thou, Sejanus, gavest us tears. But is any lament that Jonson's muses have been cramped within a narrow limit, say, you [universities], on the contrary: 'O most miserable [people], who, though English, know the english language inadequately or know it not at all (as if [you were] born across the sea), the poet will grow with time, he will transform his native land, and himself become the English Apollo.' 

E. Bolton


Tyrants allow of no scope, stamp, or standard, but their own WILL (Greville):

Infected Will:

Sidney - Neither let it be deemed too bold a comparison to balance the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honor to the heavenly maker of that maker, who having made man to his own likeness, set him beyond and over all the work of that second nature, which in nothing he shows so much as in poetry, when with the force of a divine breath he brings things forth far surpassing her doings, with no small argument to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, since our erected wit makes us know what perfection is, but our infected will keeps us from reaching unto it.


Infected Will - Shakespeare Sonnet 154:

The little Love-god lying once asleep,

Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,

Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep

Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand

The fairest votary took up that fire

Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;

And so the General of hot desire

Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.

This brand she quenched in a cool well by,

Which from Love's fire took heat perpetual,

Growing a bath and healthful remedy,

For men diseased; but I, my mistress' thrall,

Came there for cure and this by that I prove,

Love's fire heats water, water cools not love.



THe little Hearts, where light-wing'd PASSION raignes,

More easily vpward, as all frailties doe;

Like Strawes to Ieat, these follow Princes veines,

And so, by pleasing, doe corrupt them too.

Whence as their raising proues Kings can create;

So States proue sicke, where toyes beare Staple-rates.

Like Atomi they neither rest, nor stand,

Nor can erect; because they NOTHING be

But baby-thoughts, fed with time-presents hand,

Slaues, and yet darlings of Authority;

ECCHO'S of wrong; SHADOWES of Princes might;

Which glow-worme-like, by shining, show 'tis night.

Curious of fame, as foule is to be faire;

Caring to seeme that which they would not be;

Wherein CHANCE helpes, since Praise is powers heyre,

Honor the creature of Authoritie:

So as borne high, in giddie Orbes of grace,

These Pictures are, which are indeed but Place.

And as the Bird in hand, with freedome lost,

Serues for a stale, his fellowes to betray:

So doe these Darlings rays'd at Princes cost

Tempt man to throw his libertie away;

And sacrifice Law, Church, all reall things

To soare, not in his owne, but Eagles wings.

Whereby, like AEsops dogge, men lose their meat,

To bite at GLORIOUS SHADOWES, which they see;

And let fall those strengths which make all States great

By free Truths chang'd to seruile flatterie.

Whence, while men gaze vpon this blazing starre,

Made slaues, not subiects, they to Tyrants are.