CHAPTER 16

THE 154 SONNETS

PART 2

18.

This is a famous sonnet. If it stands alone, it would be assumed it was a male poet to a woman. But if it's part of a set (and that includes the succeeding sonnet also), then it's a love poem from a male to a male. More technically, it's all one sentence, if we discount the question mark as creating a new sentence.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely...

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,...

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poet is no shrinking violet, He knows his sonnet is immortal, as indeed it has proved to be for over 400 years so far. Now it's not a 'tender churl' it's someone whose spring has turned to summer and is more mature.

19.

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws...

And do whate'er thou wilt...

To the wide world...

But I forbid thee...

O! carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,...

Him in thy course untainted do allow...

Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

'Him' is the operative word. The poem is to a man. The poet has the same arrogant self confidence as to his immortal verse. This indicates #18 was also to a male, not a female. The procreation theme with the 'tender churl' has disappeared. Instead there is an obsessionate love for this male person.

20.

This poet holds nothing back. He is blunt and even crude in saying what he thinks.

It seems there is a physical homosexual relationship under way here. You can judge for yourself: here's the whole sonnet

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted

Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;

A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted

With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,

Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;

A man in hue all hues in his controlling,

Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.

And for a woman wert thou first created;

Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,

And by addition me of thee defeated,

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure

Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.

A typical Elizabethan pun or 'conceit' is the use of the word 'prick'd.' The modern Oxford concise dictionary gives the 3rd meaning of 'prick' as: vulgar: penis. There's no doubt that meaning is part of the poet's intention as he explicitly adds 'for women's pleasure.'

We've now looked at the first 20 sonnets, and seen the original theme come and go, to be replaced by another, more personal and passionate. If it's de Vere writing this, already we see why these sonnets were not published until 5 years after his death, even with the obvious pseudonym.

21.

. O! let me, true in love, but truly write,

And then believe me, my love is as fair

As any mother's child, though not so bright

As those gold candles fix'd in heaven's air:

Let them say more that like of hear-say well;

I will not praise that purpose not to sell

This could be for either male or female. And the poet is his usual blunt self.

22.

My glass shall not persuade me I am old

So long as youth and thou are of one date...

...my heart,

Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:...

Thou gav'st me thine, not to give back again.

This is the first time the poet has referred to his own age. Young people don't normally think about being old. It may be that we're now in a later stage of the poet's life. The wording suggests this is a deep and abiding relationship. It could be that these poems are not related to the first set at all, and this love is not related to the 'tender churl' of the first set.

23.

As an unperfect actor on the stage...

So I, for fear of trust, forgot to say

The perfect ceremony of love's rite,...

O! let my books be then the eloquence...

Who plead for love, and look for recompense,

O! learn to read what silent love hath writ...

We would say 'imperfect'. Either Elizabethan usage was different or this poet is occasionally lax in his use of language. I don't know what this 'perfect ceremony of love's rite' is, do you? And why 'for fear of trust'? This seems to be a specific incident with a real person. Yet many scholars say it's all probably in his imagination and we can appreciate the sonnets without supposing any relationship to the world of reality.

24.

...

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done

Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me

Are windows to my breast...

25.

This poem is another pivotal one. The poet gives up hope of preferment; he sees how fickle fortune is. He's happy that he loves, and, something newly said, that he is loved. Here's the whole sonnet

Let those who are in favour with their stars

Of public honour and proud titles boast,

Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,

Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.

Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread

But as the marigold at the sun's eye,

And in themselves their pride lies buried,

For at a frown they in their glory die.

The painful warrior famoused for fight,

After a thousand victories once foil'd,

Is from the book of honour razed quite,

And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:

Then happy I, that love and am belov'd,

Where I may not remove nor be remov'd.

The poet is deceiving himself. He should know that love is just as ephemeral as military or other fortune. That's life. But if the poet is de Vere, we can understand his point of view. We've seen from his life story that he has tried time and again to get 'public honour and proud titles' as obtained by Drake, Raleigh, Burghley, Hatton, Leicester, Walsingham, and others. However it came to happen, he returned to London after about 2 months during the northern rebellion; he returned from the fighting in the Netherlands after 6 weeks. He refused the command at Harwich as demeaning, after which Leicester wrote to Walsingham to say he was glad to be rid of him. The Queen just would not give him a public office of any kind. Foiled in his search for fame and glory in world affairs among his peers, he pursued what he knew best, and the Queen encouraged him in: literature and music. It seems that here the principal meaning is that he is beloved by another person. In addition to his personal 'love' meaning for one individual, there's an inference for the world of literature, which he loves, and where he is loved, 'where I may not remove or be remov'd,' but it was not an easy lesson to learn. At last the poet has told us something about the world he lives in, and his part in it. It's not a world of shopkeepers and petty traders. It's a world of public honour, proud titles, prince's favourites. This poet has seen great careers ruined by one false step. If it's de Vere, he should know, he brought it on himself.

26.

The poem seems to me to indicate that there is a homosexual relationship between the poet and the male to whom the poem is written, Here's the whole sonnet and you can make your own decision on this.

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage

Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,

To thee I send this written ambassage,

To witness duty, not to show my wit:

Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine

May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,

But that I hope some good conceit of thine

In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it;

Till whatsoever star that guides my moving

Points on me graciously with fair aspect,

And puts apparel on my tatter'd loving,

To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:

Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;

Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

This makes it clear that the love is for a man, and perhaps there's a pun on 'Lord,' meaning also literally one of the nobility. Because these poems seem to be part of a sequence, we can reasonably surmise that all the poems since #20 which spoke of a male love are addressed to the same male person. Although graciously worded by an educated poet, this seems to me an intentionally subliminal homosexual poem, with sexual imagery: love, vassalage, strongly knit, bare, all naked, my moving, points, puts apparel on, loving, love, show my head, prove me.

I suggest the days of the poet's infatuation with the 'tender churl' are now past history; this is a more mature relationship with a male whose merit creates strong ties to the poet. The poet has some unspecified obligation or duty to this male. We must watch for clues in the sonnets in case we can detect just who this male is.

27.

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed...

But then begins a journey in my head...

For then my thoughts - from far where I abide-

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee...

Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

'Limbs' seems to me to imply physical sexual activity. Apparently distance separates these lovers when the poet is at home, but not necessarily where the poet 'toils' or works, by day.

28.

How can I then return in happy plight

That am debarr'd the benefit of rest?...

How far I toil, still further off from thee...

I tell the day, to please him thou art bright...

This poem continues the thought from #27, a good indication that we are correct in assuming sonnets from #18 on so far are part of a set. The poet now tells us he's further away from his love when he's at work. We don't know whether these two poems are to male or female, but the poet uses male imagery.

29.

This sonnet is famous, and, requiring comment, is shown complete:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,

Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee,-and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

What Elizabethan poet and dramatist was in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes and in an outcast state? Sir Francis Bacon, born in 1561, member of parliament, philosophical writer, man of letters. By 1621, in the reign of James 1st, he had risen through various political appointments to become lord chancellor, but was later charged with bribery and other offenses, fined and imprisoned briefly in the Tower. He retired to his estates and died at Highgate in 1626. His The New Atlantis, on the ideal state, is much closer to More's Utopia and Plato's Republic than to the tragedies of Shakespeare. We'll have to consider his candidacy later in some detail if de Vere fails.

Then there's Robert Greene, a well known and very able poet and dramatist. Through his own dissolute behaviour he died a pauper at age 32. His work is very different from Shakespeare's, and I believe does not show the development from comedy to history to tragedy to fantasy that Shakespeare's has, which indicates a longer life span for Shakespeare.

Another possibility is Marlowe. He was a most able dramatist, but was murdered when he was 29, by three of Walsingham's spies. He had been charged with atheism, and his inevitable death was more merciful than the church would have given him. He is another candidate for Shakespeare but I suggest his life span was too short to cover Shakespeare's literary development.

Sir Walter Raleigh suffered various reversals of fortune under Elizabeth, and eventually was imprisoned by James 1st, then released after many years, only to be re-arrested and executed. He was a politician, a poet, soldier and sailor, explorer and historian. Educated, and versatile as his abilities were, there's no real evidence that he was a dramatist.

Then there's Ben Jonson, who was imprisoned at one time in his career and had good and bad fortune. He was prolific in his own way as a dramatist, but with his style and subject matter being entirely different from that of Shakespeare, no one has, I believe, ever seriously suggested that he was Shakespeare. They were arch-rivals for public esteem.

Edmund Spenser, Anthony Munday, John Lyly, Thomas Churchyard, Robert Peele, Nashe, Beaumont, Fletcher, Marston, Dekker, Heywood, Lodge, and a number of others did not seem to have lived lives with sufficient disgrace in fortune, men's eyes, and outcast state to merit applying these words to them.

However, this wording fits de Vere's situation well. We can even date the poem, as he's phrased it in the present tense. It would be after the charge of bastardy, after suspicion of his wife's infidelity, and his subsequent homosexuality, brought to light by his former friends in 1581, also after his affair with Anne Vavasour, the sword fight with Thomas Knyvet and his subsequent imprisonment in the Tower and banishment from court which began in 1581 and continued for about 2 years.

So this means the poem was written between about 1581 and 1583. It tells us something more: his sexual liaison with the male lover was already underway then. Even more unpleasant, as this relationship continued for years, it means that during the time de Vere ostensibly returned to his wife during his banishment from court, and was keeping her in a state of virtual continuous pregnancy, until she died in 1588 ten days after the birth of Susan, her youngest daughter, he was immersed in the greatest homosexual relationship of his life.

For over 400 years scholars, students, and the general public have admired this poem without the least idea as to what might lie behind it. But we, who have looked at his entire life span know he is only speaking the truth about his ruined reputation and disgraced life, if the poet is de Vere.

30.

I summon up remembrance of things past...

For precious friends hid in death's dateless night...

And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe...

And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight...

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

This fits de Vere. He lost the Duke of Norfolk he struggled unsuccessfully to save from execution (1572); the Earl of Sussex, a strong supporter of de Vere (d.1583).

The love and woe could be the Anne Vavasour affair, with an illegitimate child, imprisonment, banishment from court and serious injury from a sword fight. The expense could be the huge cost of his Italian tour, which involved selling off estates to pay for it.

The new element here is 'dear friend', or perhaps a new attitude to the male love.

But the power of the friend to wipe away all the sorrows of the past suggests more than friendship.

31.

This seems to continue from #29

Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts...

And there reigns Love...

And all those friends which I thought buried...

Their images I lov'd I view in thee,

And thou-all they-hast all the all of me.

So we're back again to love for this unspecified person, who could be male or female here.

32.

If thou survive my well-contented day

When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,...

O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:...

'But since he died, and poets better prove,

Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love.'

For once, this poet has lost a little of his arrogant self confidence, and thinks there may be other, better, poets. This poet appears to be an older man and closer to a reconciliation in his life.

33.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen...

Even so my sun one early morn did shine,...

But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine

This seems to be part of the same set, and now again we're told it's a male love.

34.

There's been a sudden change, I suggest, and this poem has nothing to do with those preceding it. To see if you agree, here's the entire sonnet

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day

And make me travel forth without my cloak,

To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way,

Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?

'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,

To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,

For no man well of such a salve can speak

That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace:

Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief,

Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss

The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence's cross

Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

There's something going on here which we don't know about. The other person, male or female unspecified, has the shame, may repent, is the offender, sheds tears in love, has ill deeds. The poet has the disgrace, the grief, the loss, bears the strong offence's cross. The shedding of tears by the other person suggests it may be a female.

If the poet is de Vere it is unlikely to be the 'fair youth,' whether Southampton or another. This 'disgrace' of homosexuality publicized by Howard and Arundel among other charges, in early 1581, only referred to young boys, three mentioned by name. Southampton (born in 1573) was certainly never implicated. Sonnet #34 does not seem the type of poem de Vere would write to a young base-born boy. But in March 1581 Anne Vavasour gave birth to a son by de Vere. The wording of the poem could well apply to her, if she pursued de Vere. She was then the offender with the ill deeds, shame and tears. De Vere had the disgrace, grief, and loss (of reputation and banishment from Court). The reference to the salve and wound reflect what happened to de Vere as a result of his sword fight with Thomas Knyvet in March 1982 over the affair, where de Vere was injured and is said to have used salves on his wound for a long time afterwards. But this poem doesn't seem to be an afterthought; it seems to have the immediacy of a meeting requested by Anne Vavasour when she first broke the news to him that she was pregnant with his child. So perhaps the wound and salve are metaphorical here, drawing on his experience with the injury he received in a gondola while in Venice. That's if de Vere wrote the poem.

35.

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done...

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorising thy trespass with compare,

Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,

Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are,

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense, - ...

Such civil war is in my love and hate,

That I an accessory needs must be

To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

This may be linked to #34. Here, 'fault' is mentioned twice, and qualified by sensual; salve becomes salving, Now it seems that the 'sweet thief' has committed a sensual fault against the poet. 'Robs from me' suggest some kind of sexual infidelity. Because this poet appears to be a homosexual we don't know whether the offender is a boy or a female. The wording in these poems must have been very clear to the participants, but we don't have names to attach to them, leaving us in the dark, as we outsiders were probably meant to be.

In the lines omitted the poet uses legal terminology: adverse party, advocate, lawful, plea; and accessory; thief and robs as quoted above,

36.

Here's the complete sonnet:

Let me confess that we two must be twain

Although our undivided loves are one:

So shall those blots that do with me remain,

Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

In our two loves there is but one respect,

Though in our lives a separable spite,

Which, though it alter not love's sole effect,

Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,

Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor thou with public kindness honour me,

Unless thou take that honour from thy name:

But do not so, I love thee in such sort

As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

The 4th line from the end is significant. If the poet is de Vere, who could with public kindness honour the premier earl in the land? It has to be someone in as great or greater authority. I suggest it seems to be the Queen. The first two lines introduce a theme more fully developed much later in the poet's life in the Phoenix and the Turtle poem. Here he's saying you must distance yourself from me in public because of the blots on my reputation, but 'thou being mine' are strong words from a youthful de Vere to his Queen. Little did he then know how governance and world politics came first with her: she had only made a fleeting pass at him, which he took too seriously, it seems.

Remarkably, #96 utilizes the same last two lines at its end, so we'd better look at that poem now ('gentle' may be in our sense of gentility,or high born, not softness)

96.

Some say thy fault is youth, some wontonness

Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;

Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less:

Thou makest faults graces that to thee resort.

As on the finger of a throned queen

The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,

So are those errors that in thee are seen

To truths translated and for true things deem'd.

How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,

If like a lamb he could his looks translate!

How many gazers mightst thou lead away,

If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!

But do not so, I love thee in such sort,

As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

The linkage of the last two lines suggests affinity between #36 and #96. The theme and thought pattern seems to flow naturally from #36 to #96. The suspicion that #36 relates to the Queen is augmented through reference by this always direct poet to a queen in line 5 of #96, and its 3rd line from the end: 'all thy state.' But whether or not these two poems are addressed to the Queen, their relationship implies, I suggest, that the sonnets as a whole are not in chronological order.

Now back to our numerical order:

37.

This is an important sonnet, I believe, and we need to read the entire 14 lines:

As a decrepit father takes delight

To see his active child do deeds of youth,

So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite,

Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;

For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,

Or any of these all, or all, or more,

Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,

I make my love engrafted to this store:

So then I am not lame, poor, nor despis'd,

Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give

That I in thy abundance am suffic'd,

And by a part of all thy glory live,

Look what is best, that best I wish in thee:

This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

#37 could be another Queen poem: 'crowned', 'thy abundance', 'thy glory.' If it's de Vere, the 'abundance' might include the £1,000 a year granted him by the Queen. And the mysterious 'shadow' appears. You may remember Thomas Vavasour referred to de Vere and his shadow which we discussed at that time (Chapter 7), But now it's Shakespeare referring to a shadow. (See Note 1 for other examples of Elizabethan poets' use of the word shadow).

We know de Vere became 'poor' with only 4 pages or attendants, after having run through his family wealth. And he was 'despised,' probably because of his alleged homosexuality, which was a capital offence in those days. This poem refers to a 'decrepit father' taking delight in his active child's 'deeds of youth.' De Vere certainly had experienced this 'delight.' By 1595 de Vere already had 5 surviving children born to him, by two wives and a mistress. It must be a late poem, whoever the poet is, as he seems to write from experience. Since the poem is #37 of 154, it provides further evidence that the sonnets are not in chronological order.

Interesting though all this may be, to me the importance of this sonnet is that the poet has at last told us something verifiable about himself. We've waited patiently for this to happen, and at last here it is. He has been 'made lame.' Now we need to find an Elizabethan poet who was lame. Of course we begin with de Vere, our first candidate. Here's what de Vere is reported to have written in a letter to Burghley dated March 25, 1595:

Wherefore when your Lo(rdship) shall have best time and leisure if I may know I will attend your Lordship as well as a lame man may at your house.

If in our enquiry de Vere had been found never to have been lame, this would have eliminated him as a candidate for Shakespeare, but now we find the opposite is the case. Unfortunately we don't know the cause of the lameness, or when it first occurred. In de Vere's case it may have developed in later years from the gondola accident, or from the severe wound in the sword fight with Thomas Knyvet, or a combination of these plus an arthritic condition, as arthritis seeks out damaged limbs to further erode them. De Vere was about 45 at the time of the 1595 letter. He died at age 54.

This first real clue to narrow the field in the search for the identity of 'Shakespeare' provides a link to de Vere. I have been unable to find another Elizabethan poet and playwright who was reported as being, or said he was, lame. If you know of one, I would be very glad to have you provide me with the evidence. We will then have another short list candidate for "Shakespeare.'

But this still does not make de Vere into Shakespeare, it is merely strong evidence that he could have been.

NOTE 1

In case we may think reference to shadow(s) is a common Elizabethan poetic usage, I might mention here that I have laboured through the entire Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse, (877 pages) and have noticed only these six references to a shadow:

1. P. 378, in Robert Greene's The Shepherd's Ode:

The sun shone and shadow made;

Phillis rose and was afraid.

This shadow reference is straightforward. The preceding line tells us the lover seeing his loved one from a distance 'stole behind his true love's back.' That's how there came to be a shadow in front of her.

2. P.562, Samuel Daniel (1563 - 1619)

Shadows

Are they shadows that we see?

And can shadows pleasure give?

Pleasures only shadows be,

Cast by bodies we conceive,

And are made the things we deem

In those figures which they seem.

But these pleasures vanish fast,

Which by shadows are expressed;

Pleasures are not, if they last;

In their passing is their best.

Glory is most bright and gay

In a flash and so away.

Feed space, then, greedy eyes

On the wonder you behold;

Take it sudden as it flies,

Though you take it not to hold.

When your eyes have done their part,

Thought must length it in the heart.

This poem seems to use a concept of shadow not really different from that of our own time.

3. P. 599 Michael Drayton (1563 - 1631)

vii

Black pitchy night, companion of my woe,

The inn of care, the nurse of dreary sorrow,

Why lengthenest thou thy darkest hours so,

Still to prolong my long time looked-for morrow?

Thou sable shadow, image of despair,

Portrait of hell, the air's black mourning weed,

Recorder of revenge, remembrancer of care,

The shadow and the veil of every sinful deed!

......(and so on...)

This may be a little closer to the concept of shadow which seems to mysteriously envelop the references pertaining to de Vere, and Shakespeare's sonnet #37.

4. P. 704 George Chapman (1559? - 1634)

Night

...

Her trusty shadows succour men dismayed,

Whom Day's deceitful malice hath betrayed.

...

The Shadow of Night, 1594

This seems consonant with modern usage and meaning, as does the next reference:

5. P. 820 John Lilliat (c. 1550 - c.1599)

False Love

When love on time and measure makes his ground,

Time that must end, though love can never die,

"Tis love betwixt a shadow and a sound,

A love not in the heart but in the eye;

A love that ebbs and flows, now up, now down,

A morning's favour and an evening's frown.

6. P. 831 Thomas Campion (1567 - 1620)

(iv)

Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow.

Though thou be black as night,

And she made all of light,

Yet follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow.

...

Follow still, since so thy fates ordained.

The sun must have his shade,

Till both at once do fade,

The sun still proved, the shadow still disdained.

All these six poets seem to be using 'shadow' in a sense that has meaning for us today, but the Shakespearean and de Vere references are more subtle and enigmatic. In sonnet #37 the 'shadow' may seem to have been created by the circumstances surrounding the poet's being lame, poor, and despised, which cast a shadow on his life, but his love for the person with the beauty, birth, wealth, and wit fastens him to this person's stellar attributes in such a way "that I in thy abundance am suffic'd." Another interpretation might be that the shadow cast by the glorious qualities of the person the poet loves is powerful enough to overcome the unhappiness of the lame, poor, despised poet. As to what Thomas Vavasour meant by saying in his challenge to de Vere

...thou art so much wedded to that shadow of thine, that nothing can force to awake thy base and sleepy spirits

we still seem to be left in the dark.

To Chapter 15 To Chapter 17


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