THE 154 SONNETS
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.
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.
This poet holds nothing back. He is blunt and even crude in saying what he
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.
. 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.
My glass shall not persuade me I am old
So long as youth and thou are of one date...
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
But the power of the friend to wipe away all the sorrows of the past suggests
more than friendship.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
In the lines omitted the poet uses legal terminology: adverse party, advocate,
lawful, plea; and accessory; thief and robs as quoted above,
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
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
Now back to our numerical order:
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
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.
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)
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)
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
4. P. 704 George Chapman (1559? - 1634)
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
5. P. 820 John Lilliat (c. 1550 - c.1599)
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)
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.
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