Contents Copyright Maria-Luisa Minio-Paluello, 2005

Page 6
Previous page

many other signs point to Sir Walter Ralegh; such an allusion cannot but be intended to point to Sir Walter Ralegh, and to him alone, since he had been granted rights both in tin mines and in the commerce of wine and he had the exclusive rights in them.

Several new themes appear in the following lines and all can be referred to facts of Ralegh's life. These are love (and his marriage), riches, gold and gems coming from the West Indies, and finally Poetry. Autumn begins again:

"Lascivious and intemperate he is." (487)
"Eche evening he descends to Thetis lap." (489)

Ralegh in 1592, seems to have found himself in the predicament 1 of Armado in Love's Labours Lost, V.ii, 662 ff., and he subsequently married the young woman in question. It is likely that the reason why he and his wife were imprisoned was not only the marriage in itself, but the particular circumstances of necessity, actual or believed, which tainted it as an episode of lasciviousness. This episode accounts for the charge of intemperance and lasciviousness. A colourful description of an episode, which is supposed to be the one to begin all this, is given by Aubrey, who puts Autumn's charge in less damning terms:

"He loved a wench well"2

The mention of Thetis, however, is the main proof that this is an allusion to that episode of Ralegh's life, because Thetis (Tethys, the daughter of Uranus and Gaea), is the wife of Oceanus (in the Homeric creation myth), and Ralegh is Ocean. The elements of disloyalty and hypocrisy which accompanied the secret affair with the Queen's Gentlewoman are also mentioned in this connection in the accusation against Sol:
"Eche evening he descends to Thetis lap,
The while men thinke he bathes him in the sea." (489-90)
The next passage also alludes to Ralegh and, in this light, is quite clear, whereas it used to be considered obscure and possibly corrupt:
"Oh, but when he returneth whence he came,
Downe to the West, then dawnes his deity,
Then doubled is the swelling of his lookes;
He overloades his car with Orient gemmes..." (491-94)
McKerrow's note to 491-93 says: "these lines are probably corrupt, but no emendation has been proposed" 3, and, as far as I know, none has been proposed since. But if we refer the passage to Sir Walter Ralegh, the circumstances of his life throw a new light on it and reveal a plausible and straightforward interpretation. The meaning becomes quite clear if we take "the West" (492) to mean the Western counties of England, from where Ralegh had originally come; in fact he came of a Devonshire family, and had spent his life in Devon until when he went to Oxford, sometime in his teens. Ralegh's western accent was an element in his personality evidently very noticeable: "Ralegh spake broad Devonshire to his dying day" says Aubrey4. I would then construe ll. 491-3 as follows:
When he returns to the West Coast (comes ashore on the West), which is also his home country, he rises from the sea like the sun at dawn, splendid and proud, etc.5
the subsequent lines being another of the allusions to Ralegh's extravagant love, and use, of rich jewels. The passage thus interpreted requires no emendation.

The next charge against Sol is that he terms himself the God of Poetry, and we know that Ralegh was a Poet and patron of poets. The accusation reads:

"He termes himselfe the God of Poetry
And setteth wanton songs unto the lute." (496-7).
Ralegh's poems were almost all love poems, and for the priggish Autumn this could be a good reason for calling them "wanton". We can probably go a step further with the question of the "wanton" songs, and consider the poem: "Would I were changed into that golden shower", which seems to be possible to ascribe convincingly to Ralegh.6This poem is generally considered of a more erotic character than proper respect for the Queen should allow: there are facts in the course of Ralegh's relationship with Quee Elizabeth which seem to suggest that Elizabeth objected to it, and that the poem was one of the causes of Ralegh's estrangement in 15897; so much for the "qwanton" poems. Then Autumn says that Sol put the wanton peoms "unto the lute"; it could be merely a figure of speech, - Spenser in Colin Clout says that he and Ralegh did sing their poetry to the pipe, and it can be accepted as part of the convention; but it also seems possible to give a literal interpretation to the line, which links well with the fact that some of his poems did in fact become songs. Although Ralegh never wanted his poems printed, a certain number of them were printed anonymously in collections, and some were set to music and printed by Byrd, in 1588 and 15898
Next page


1. OLDYS, op. cit., p.5 and p.159 and AUBREY, Brief Lives, ed. by O. L. Dick, London (Secker and Warburg), 1949, pp.255-6. Although it seems likely now that all the events in the relationship were legitimate, the marriage having taken place as far back as February, 1591 (cf. above p. 5) evidently Ralegh's contemporaries were convinced of the contrary.

2. AUBREY, Brief Lives, cit. p.255

3. IV. p.426

4. Brief Lives, cit., p.255

5. It has been suggested to me that this may refer to Ralegh's mission to the West, for which he was provisionally released from the Tower in September 1592. This episode however does not seem to me to justify the "aura" of pride and glory of ll. 193-94, not would it explain fully the expression "then dawns his deity" (492) which suggests that Ralegh is coming (or rising ) from the sea, because on this occasion he was coming from London.

6. Mr OAKESHOTT ascribes this poem to Sir Walter Ralegh - the question of authorship is examined in The Queen and the Poet, cit. pp. 95-96 and 166-169

7. Ibidem, p. 95-96

8. OAKESHOTT, op.cit., p. 162


The copyright of this thesis belongs to the author Maria-Luisa Minio-Paluello under the terms of the United Kingdom Copyright Acts. Due acknowledgement must always be made of the use of any material contained in, or derived from, this thesis.