Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Walter Raleigh

Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Walter Raleigh


Raleigh showed up at court around 1581 and quickly became a favorite of Elizabeth’s during the banishment of Oxford. Raleigh was a patron of Spenser. He is credited with having introduced the potato to Ireland (Norton 917) during his 1584 expedition, but the slave-trader Hawkins had already done so in 1565. Raleigh is responsible however for importing tobacco from the New World.

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote to Lord Burghley in 1583 regarding his simultaneous hope and fear that he himself could help restore Oxford into the good graces of the Queen: “And the more to witness how desirous I am of your Lordship’s favour and good opinion, I am content, for your sake, to lay the serpent before the fire as much as in me lieth; that, having recovered strength, myself may be most in danger of his poison and sting” (qtd. in Ogburn and Ogburn 380).

The image connects Oxford with the poesy Meritum petere, grave used in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres due to its inclusion in a poem there: “Amongst old written tales” (Ogburn and Ogburn 381).

Raleigh seems to be behind the character of Coriolanus at one stage of the play’s evolution (Ogburn and Ogburn 327). “The single-handed attack upon the town of Corioli … is like that of Ralegh at Fayal when Essex failed to appear” (Ogburn and Ogburn 964). Cressida seems to represent Elizabeth defecting to Raleigh in the form of Diomedes (Ogburn and Ogburn 612, 628), while Paris and Helen function as the more overt Eliabeth and Raleigh (Ogburn and Ogburn 613). Raleigh may inhabit Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern to some degree (Ogburn and Ogburn 653). Raleigh’s father was Walter Ralegh of Fardell; so consider Hamlet’s “who would fardels bear” in that light (Ogburn and Ogburn 653).The word “fardel” is used six times in A Winter’s Tale, where the fact that he was considered at court to be a kind of “oracle” may also pertain (Ogburn and Ogburn 749,750; cf. 1119); note also the “moon” and “water” imagery (IV.iii.171f) — “Water” was Elizabeth’s nickname for him (Ogburn and Ogburn 760).

Robert Cecil “betrayed his lifelong friend, Raleigh, for his own gains” (Ogburn and Ogburn 598; cf. 965), packing him away to prison in 1603 for most of the rest of his life on trumped-up charges of treason against succession of James I. No wonder he wrote “The Lie.”

The poem he is most famous for was not written by him. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” (Norton 917) appears in England’s Helicon (1600) after the more famous “Come live with me and be my love” poem by “Chr. Marlow” (186-187) but what has been promulgated as Raleigh’s response is attributed to “Ignoto” (187-188). And this poesy is pretty certainly another one of Oxford’s.


England’s Helicon. 1600.

Raleigh, Walter. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1. 8th ed. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006. 917-923.