· 20 April 2017 ·
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley
— Robert Burns, from Tae a Moose, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, 1785
Postlife occasionally interferes with blogging, as well as with birthdays. #Oxford467, on the 12th of April, has been and gone. Wouldn’t you know it, I missed all the parades. I hope everyone had a good time.
I was given this book as a gift. It’s a tale about me, published in 1949.
The artwork? Not even close. And the title surely refers to the ghastly orange garment they’ve put on my shoulders.
The dust jacket is in poor condition (though at least it has one) and the pages have tanned badly. The binding is in good shape.
Is the inside any better than the outside? Here’s the big blurb from the jacket flaps:
He was soldier, lover, courtier, swordsman, wit, an actor and a writer. He was brilliant and foolhardy as well as the handsomest man in England. His wayward tongue got him thrown into the Tower, his charm and talents won him time and again the pardon of his queen. He had fame and position and fortune, and he hazarded them all —
He was the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, Great Lord [sic] Chamberlain at the court of Queen Elizabeth.
In this full, rich, lusty novel, Burke Boyce has brought to life one of the fascinating men of history against a fierce and turbulent era. The story begins when a lonely child, recently orphaned, rode to London to become the ward of the queen. Nine years later he was the darling of the court, the butt of gossip, the desire of half the women of the kingdom, and affianced to the lovely Anne, daughter of one of England’s richest and highest nobles.
The years that followed were stormy for Oxford as for England. The Spanish Empire was falling, locked in a death-struggle with England; in the north, Mary of Scotland was defying Elizabeth’s authority; a pock-marked duc of France was angling to share Elizabeth’s throne; in the court itself, plots and counterplots abounded, favoritism and treachery linked arms, while a monarch jealous of her power played one faction against another in a giant chess game. And through it all Oxford moved, a dazzling but disturbing figure, restless and unhappy in his marriage and his career — a man of great gifts who was bedeviled into posing as a wastrel until driven by the ambition of one woman and the love of another to put those gifts to the use of his country. With his pen and rabble of players, he rallied all Englishmen into consciousness of their privileges and destiny as free men.
The story of Oxford and Elizabeth’s England has color, pageantry, human drama — and Burke Boyce has caught all of it with stirring fidelity. Cloak of Folly is further evidence that he is a writer of unusual versatility and a most accomplished novelist.
Aside from the hyperbole and the abuse of semicolons, I take issue with two items: (1) what got me thrown into the Tower may have been wayward but it was not my tongue, and (2) half the women in the kingdom is a conservative estimate.
The story itself is what one might expect in an Elizabethan potboiler from 1949. I’d have liked to see Mr Boyce’s notes. He commands great detail in some areas – he knows his Italian swordsmanship, and he’s good at sea, much like his protagonist. There are things he ignores or doesn’t seem to know about, and there are some flights of fancy that made me laugh out loud. That’s not to complain though: the book is a novel, not a biography, so all’s fair. Even so, it holds more essential truth about me than all the fiction that’s put out as fact can ever do for Willy.
Cloak of Folly falls well short of literature, but it’s entertaining if you want a bit of escapism, or if you’re curious to read a largely imagined interpretation of my life that doesn’t have to play by all of the scholarly rules. (Rather like a certain blog…) You don’t need to track down a fusty paper copy, either. The book is available to borrow online, gratis, at the Internet Archive. I can’t say enough about these folks and what they do for the preservation of knowledge. Send them a donation.
I wrote a new sonnet for my birthday – or rather, I re-worked an old one for the occasion. Since so many of these poems deal with the passage of time, I thought it would be an interesting thing to try. I don’t pretend that the new one comes close to the original, but it’s more difficult to adapt something already in existence while trying to maintain a connection to it, than it is to start from a clean sheet of paper. My best days for poetising are long behind me, but I still get the itch now and then.
If you need to refresh your memory, here’s Sonnet 60 in both a modern version and the 1609 quarto text.
So, #Oxford468, 12 April 2018. Mark your calendar. As long as I’m still here, I promise that there will be cake.