We now come to a series of Sonnets which are nearly grouped together, and which include Nos. 109, 110, 111, 112, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, and 125.
These Sonnets tell a far different story; the dramatic interest deepens.
They are pathetic, with a most passionate pleading; they are defiant of some opposition and slander; they are filled with personal confessions; they are self-criminating, and quick with repentance; they are intensely personal, and one or two touches of literal likeness in external facts have caused them to be taken for the most actual and authentic representation that we have of Shakspeare himself.
But there is no likeness in the inner character. They do not agree with what we know of
Shakspeare. They do not accord with those Sonnets which are personal.
These Sonnets look very like replies to expostulations on the subject of personal conduct and character.
Yet, we repeat, they do not express either the conduct or character of Shakspeare himself.
It is remarkable, however, that they most startlingly represent the character of Southampton.
The young Earl, as is well known, was a brave, comely, munificent noble, of Nature's own making.
He was ardent and true in friendship, when to be so was injurious to his own best interests; chivalric, and full of warlike
fire. But he was one of those who have the occasional flash and outbreak of the fiery mind; 'so much of earth, so much of heaven, and such impetuous blood!'
His mounting valour was of the restless irrepressive kind that if it could not find vent in battles abroad it was apt to break out in brawls at home.
The very man whose vices Shakspeare would feel to be more amiable than some people's virtues.
His generous and self-forgetting nature was irritated and made reckless by the cruelty of Elizabeth, the Queen, in so wantonly opposing his marriage with Elizabeth, his love.
His daring was at times turned into daredevilry; his hardihood into fool-hardihood.
At which sorry sight the 'fair Mistress Vernon,' and other friends of the Earl, would mourn, and bewail his getting into such bad courses and lamentable scrapes, or
scapes, as Shakspeare would have called them.
These Sonnets may well have been written when the Earl had slidden deeper than ever into disgrace, and the fair Elizabeth had heard of his doings with averted eyes.
The personal relationship here imaged is altogether different from that of Shakspeare and his patron or friend, Southampton.
'Oh, never say that I was false of heart,
Tho' absence seemed my flame to qualify.'
'If I have rang'd,' he pleads, 'I return again,' and 'bring water for my stain.'
How grossly improbable is it that Shakspeare should have written to his friend and patron
'For if you were by
my unkindness shaken
As I by yours, you've passed a hell of time:
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.
Oh that our night of woe might have remembered
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tendered
The humble salve which wounded bosom fits!'
Our poet was one
of the most modest of men, therefore one of the last to have presumed on
his friend's kindness, and have placed himself on an equality in that way!
The arguments of Sonnets 117 and 118 would be puerile if Shakspeare's own; worthy of a flirting coxcomb.
thus,' he would say, 'that I have scanted all wherein I should repay your great deserts; forgot to call upon your dearest love, whereto all bonds do tie me day by day.
Say that I have hoisted sail to all the winds that would transport me farthest from you: given to others that which belongs to you, and was so dearly purchased.
Say the worst of me that you can; accumulate all my wilfulness and errors, and then I shall plead in answer that it was
all done merely to prove the constancy and virtue of your love!'
And this to the person whose frown he is supposed to have feared!
If we take Southampton to be the speaker in Sonnet 117, we shall see how appropriate it all
'That I have frequent been, with
And given to time your own dear-purchased right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.'
He had been abroad three years running, after he first began to woo Mistress Vernon.
He had been in various foreign countries, Spain, France, Ireland; and in doing this he had hoisted sail to those winds that would blow him the farthest from her.
Thus he had given to time that which was her own by right, for she had dearly purchased it by her sufferings on his account.
In another Sonnet he has come home for good, and he only wants now to be forgiven once for all, and he will not again give way to that lust for action, which has been one of his sins.
The excuse of the 118th Sonnet, if used by Shakspeare to his friend, would be still more absurd were it not more insulting.
The Sonnets we are now speaking of include the two which have generally been thought to denote the poet's disgust at his player's life.
But surely they are more true to the life and character of Southampton than of Shakspeare.
'Alas! 'tis true (I admit all you say) that I have gone here and
there, and made myself a motley to the view.' The image may be drawn from the stage; but we do not see how it fits the relation of the poet to his patron.
With what propriety could Shakspeare speak of making a fool of himself on the stage which had been their first meeting-place, and which was the fount of Shakspeare's honour; the delight of Southampton's leisure?
Besides which we know that Shakspeare's life was no tossing to and fro, going
here and there to make a fool of himself. His life was too steadily anchored in a steadfastness of character.
Far more significantly does the image figure the young Earl's public follies to the very life.
'Oh, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in.'
There is one surface fact in this Sonnet by which it has been identified as Shakspeare's own personal expression.
It is quite true in our modern sense that he got his living by public
means. But all the internal evidence is opposed to personal interpretation.
What harmful deeds, we should like to know, had the poet done in consequence of his connexion with the
theatre? How could his name be branded, or 'receive a brand,' from 'thence'?
He had no name apart from the theatre. His name was created there.
He had no higher standard of appeal. He had not stooped to authorship or player's life.
His living depended on the theatre: he met and made his friends at the theatre; he was now making his fortune by the theatre.
How, then, could he receive a 'brand' from it? Supposing him to have had a private dislike to the life, which we doubt, it would have been perfectly out of place to express it thus to the man who had exalted the 'poor player,' however the world might look down on him.
We cannot see why he should cry 'Alas!' and ask to be 'pitied,' and wish he were 'renewed,' and offer to drink some moral disinfecting fluid, no matter how bitter, and seek to do 'double penance,' when he was getting his living honestly, according to the lot that had befallen him.
Besides, if he were the victim of Fortune, what motive would he have for selfreproach?
He could not have been both the helpless victim of Fortune and the headstrong cause of his own misfortune; and that is the character implied.
There is a sense of personal wilfulness in doing harmful deeds.
The bewailing here, as in Sonnet 88, is chiefly on account of 'The injuries that to myself I
do.' 'Do you o'er green my bad;' and there is an endeavour to make Fortune responsible.
If we apply the language of these three Sonnets (110, 111, and 112) to Southampton, we shall find a far more satisfactory solution.
It was perfectly true, and we know it, that he had gone here and there and made a fool of
himself; done it publicly 'to the view.' And in doing these things, after meeting with Elizabeth Vernon, he must have 'looked on truth askance and strangely,' and made old offences of
'affections new.' Fortune, he says, was the guilty goddess of his harmful deeds, in making him a public man, which begets public manners.
We must not forget that the 'public means' has two or three possible meanings.
If applied to Shakspeare, it would express his means of getting a
living. But it might also apply to a man who has to live his life so much in public that all he does is talked about.
There is also a third sense, in which a person who received the pay of the Crown, as Southampton undoubtedly did, might speak of 'public means.'
Here, however, the question may be thought to lie between public and private life, rather than between poverty and riches, or modes of
payment—the life itself rather than the means of getting a living, which he wishes 'renewed.'
The expression 'public manners' must be looked to a little more closely, and we shall see that the poet is writing of one who is of
public importance in a far other sense than a player could be.
Sonnet 25 will enable us to call Shakspeare himself once more to give evidence in the matter.
He there tells us in what sense he uses the word 'public,' for he evidently considers that Fortune has debarred him from the triumph of 'public' honours.
In his time the profession of player would not be 'public' according to Shakspeare's meaning when he uses the word.
Southampton was a public man (he belonged to a public profession), and he
was of sufficient importance to be criticised and flattered, and to be deaf to 'critics' and 'flatterers.'
He was a soldier, not only under the English Crown, but also a soldier of fortune, when in trouble at home glad of any fighting that could be got.
We find that on the 17th of March, 1598, Cecil introduced Southampton to the illustrious Henry IV. of France, at Angers, telling him that Lord Southampton had 'come with deliberation to do him
service.' As a soldier and a man of so fiery a spirit that it led him into brawls, he could fairly
'Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what if works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and WISH I were renewed.'
Poor fellow! he was continually 'in for it.'
Twice the Queen had to prohibit his fighting: once with the Earl of Northumberland, and once with Lord
It will be observed that these Sonnets are written on some special occasion.
Although various harmful doings are spoken of, there is a particular deed on the
tapis, and it is one which has given rise to 'vulgar scandal.'
In Southampton's case we are able to hit the blot exactly. We learn that on his return to England in October, 1597, he was one evening playing at
primero with Raleigh and some other courtiers in the presence chamber.
They continued their game after the Queen had retired to rest, Ambrose Willoughby, the officer in waiting, warned them that it was time to depart.
Raleigh obeyed; but when Willoughby threatened to call in the guard and pull down the board, Southampton took offence and would not go.
He struck Willoughby; blows were exchanged, and Willoughby tore out some of Southampton's hair.
When the Queen heard of the affair next morning she thanked Willoughby for his part in it, and told him, probably with a fierce glance at one of Southampton's friends, 'he should have sent the Earl to the Porter's lodge to see
who durst have fetched him out.' The Queen ordered Southampton to absent himself from the Court.
He was again in disgrace, with Mistress Vernon as a grieved looker on.
By the aid of the agreeable gossip who gives us the above, we are able to see the effect of this disgraceful affair on Southampton's mistress:—
hard of some unkindness should be between 3000 (the No. in his cipher for Southampton)
and his Mistress, occasioned by some report of Mr. Ambrose Willoughby.
3000 called hym to an account for yt, but the matter was made knowen to my Lord of Essex, and my Lord Chamberlain, who had them in Examinacion; what the cause is I could not learne, for yt was but new; but
I see 3000 full of discontentments.'
Is not this the very picture painted by Shakspeare in these Sonnets?
But the lover pleads, and the fair Mistress Vernon listens kindly.
She pities her lover, and effaces the impression which scandal had stamped on his brow.
He does not care what the whole world may say about him now she is reconciled to him.
We may note, in illustration of the line
'Pity me then, and wish I were
the fact that after this unfortunate affair, and a little fighting along with Essex in Spain, the Earl attended to his senatorial duties in Parliament for a whole session, from October, 1597, to February, 1598.
As for Shakspeare, we have no doubt that he was more desirous of getting his theatre renewed, but thought that Fortune so far had pretty well provided for his life.
And we hold it to be absolutely certain that his name never did receive a ' brand ' on account of his 'public manners,' bred through being a player.
His brow never was branded by vulgar scandal. And so evidently public are the
person, the act, the scandal of these Sonnets, that we must have heard of them had they been Shakspeare's.
He would be a man whose public 'manners' and public 'shames' and 'harmful deeds' were notorious; so much so that he sets it down to his profession.
So the personal interpretation of Sonnet 36 would make Shakspeare to be of so suspicious a character, not merely in his private life, but
publicly known to be so deeply dyed and darkly branded by the 'guilt' which he 'bewails' that for his friend to take any further notice of him would be to his own dishonour, and fatal to his 'good report.'
It is quite impossible that a man whose calling degraded him and served to affix a brand on his brow, should have occasion to be 'deaf as all adder' to 'flatterers.'
The personal theory here, as elsewhere, puts all into confusion: it is sufficient warrant for all that Steevens said of the Sonnets: it leads people to think Shakspeare wrote nonsense at times, and exaggerated continually.
Also, the personal rendering deepens and darkens the impression of things which, when applied to the Earl and his Mistress, do not mean much, and are merely matter for a Sonnet, not for the saddest of all Shaksperian tragedies.
We do not know much of Shakspeare's life, but we have no reason to think that he ever uttered one personal complaint against Fortune, nor had he any cause that we know of.
His career in life appears to have been one of steady prosperity.
When he speaks on this subject in person, it is with a very quiet modesty. He does not accredit Fortune with any spite towards him, and shows none himself. He speaks of his 'well-contented day' (Sonnet 32); and once he alludes to the fact that he is debarred by Fortune from such triumph as results through 'proud titles' and 'public honours' (Sonnet 25); but that is all.
The exclamations against Fortune occur in the Sonnets which we have supposed
devoted, according to the theory which we are stating, to Southampton.
In Sonnet 29 he is in 'disgrace with Fortune.' In Sonnet 37 he is 'made lame,' that is,
disabled by Fortune's excessive 'spite.' Again, in Sonnet 90, it is the 'spite of Fortune.'
And, in Sonnet 111, he asks that for his sake the person addressed should chide 'Fortune' rather than him, for she is the 'guilty goddess' of his 'harmful' doings.
In Southampton's case the excuse is appropriate. Fortune was against him in the person of the Queen, and her opposition to his marriage; and but for his being a public man and so much in the power of the Court for appointment and preferment, he would not have had so long and trying a fight with Fortune.
He could have carried off his love and lived a calmer life; he would have escaped many a scar that he received in the struggle with such an untoward Fortune as at length landed him by the side of Essex at the scaffold foot, although he had not to mount the steps.
These Sonnets, which we may call our fourth group, may be considered as making what defence Shakspeare can on behalf of the Earl.
They explain much that he has done; they offer excuses, apologies, contrite feelings, and repentant
expressions of all kinds. They reply to what has been said of him, and, while admitting the worst that is true, they denounce indignantly much that is scandal:—
'No! I am that I am; and they that level at my abuses reckon up
And he says they count 'bad' what he thinks 'good!'
The passionate feeling at times intensifies, and various signs indicate that they are addressed to a woman:—
'For nothing this wide universe I call
Save thou, my rose! in it thou art my all.'
'What potions have I drunk of Syren tears.'
'Why should others false adulterate eyes,
Give salutation to my sportive blood?'
Then, in conclusion of the quarrelling and unkindness, we have the voice of Shakspeare himself coming in with a summing-up of the whole matter:—
not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh no; it is an ever fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, altho' his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, tho' rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom,
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ nor no man ever loved.'—Sonnet 119.
A most perfectly apposite discourse on the loves of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon!
Their love did not run smooth. His wandering bark required the stedfast star of her goodness and beauty.
Both needed the word of cordial cheer to 'bear it out to the end of doom.'
The phrase in Sonnet 110—'a God in love'—has been held to indicate a man; but that view is completely neutralised by an expression in the tenth line of the same Sonnet.
A Goddess in love would not have suited, so he employs an expression beyond sex.
In a similar way Elizabeth was called a Prince. Shakspeare likewise changes the sex of his muse.
The jealousy regarding the Table-book tends to prove that it is a woman.
Some busy tongue has been tittle-tattling, and informed her that a gift of hers has been held but lightly, and parted with by the Earl.
The speaker makes his most complimentary defence (Sonnet 122). But he is intensely angered at the spy who had slandered him to his beloved.
'Hence thou suborned informer! a true soul
When most impeached, stands least in thy controul.'
There are various sentiments in these Sonnets which are only intelligible as excuses for a lover who considered that he was more sinned against than sinning, and we cannot attribute them to Shakspeare speaking of, or for, himself.
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed
When not to be receives reproach of being.'
Sonnet 124 is, indeed, remarkable when read by the light which we can throw on it from the history of the Earl of Southampton:—
'If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to Time's love, or to Time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy that heretic,
Which works on leases of short numbered hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat nor drowns with showers.'
Shakspeare might have spoken this Sonnet without any conflict with the historic circumstances; also he might defy Time and all state-policy to alienate him from his friend, although
state-policy was not likely to be exerted for such an end. But the speaker here is about to face a possible death, and that which would not be appropriate to the Poet speaking of his friend, is appropriate to Southampton speaking of his love.
It may be read as an expression of the Earl's feeling when he is contemplating going to Ireland.
His love, he says, is no mere child of state or plaything of the Queen or her 'policy,' which is such a heretic to love,
although—ominous hint!—it works on a short lease. Time has no power over it.
He may fall beneath the blow of 'thralled discontent'—the rebellious
Irish—to deal with which the 'inviting time' calls 'our fashion'—that is, England's chivalry; but his love shall still live on.
It is fixed; it stands alone, 'hugely politic.' There is an airy exultation or tone of lofty defiance in this Sonnet.
And it is well accounted for by the fact that before he accompanied
Essex to Ireland, in 1599, Southampton married Mistress Vernon in spite
of the Queen! His love is no longer the poor 'unfathered bastard' of Fortune.
It is crowned at last, and this is their day of triumph, even though the Queen do impotently thrust them into prison for awhile.
It may be seen that a large number of the Sonnets devoted to Southampton are written during the Earl's absence from England.
Sonnets 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52 imply absence at a
distance—'injurious distance'—'limits far remote,' on the part of the speaker.
Again, there has been an absence in Sonnet 56 and in Sonnets 97, 98, and 99, which is curiously corroborated in the 100th Sonnet.
Another journey is indicated in Sonnet 113. And it appears to us that the 39th Sonnet, which is a personal one (we take it that Shakspeare never confuses the characters, and that where he speaks of writing or singing, the Sonnet is personal), tells us quite plainly how the Poet first began to write dramatically for the Patron.
It looks like an answer to a request. He feels unworthy to sing of him, and he is glad to make the
absence, the separation, an excuse for doing so. The 'sour leisure' of the Earl's absence is to give him 'sweet leave' to 'entertain the time with thoughts of love.'
The separation shall teach him 'how to make one twain,' by praising writing
about him here who doth hence remain.' This Sonnet occurs at the time of the Earl's first absence, as shown by the Sonnets relating thereto; and so Shakspeare began to write Sonnets on the subject of Southampton's love, his character, and his fortunes; his absence offering the strongest motive; and in this way he 'entertained the time with thoughts of love.'
It may also be urged that if the 77th Sonnet be properly interrogated, it will tell the reader
how a large number of the Sonnets were written for Southampton.
The commentators have hitherto assumed that Shakspeare made his friend a present of a 'table-book' with this Sonnet; and added, helplessly enough, that the friend must have done the same in Sonnet 122; but it is
not written on making a gift. The subject is the old one of making a fight with Time.
The writer is at the time writing in the book, from which he draws one of a series of reflections bearing upon his subject.
The mirror, he says, will tell him how his 'beauties wear;' and the dial will show him Time's stealthy progress to eternity.
'This book' will also teach its lesson. Its vacant leaves will take the mind's
imprint; and he advises his friend to write down his own thoughts in these
'waste blanks,' and they will be a living memory of the past, one
day—just as the mirror is a reminder to-day. If he will do this the
habit—'these offices'—will profit him mentally, and much enrich the book.
Evidently this is a book for writing in, and as evidently Shakspeare is then writing in it.
Moreover it has 'vacant leaves '—' waste blanks;' therefore it will have pages that have been filled.
It has already been enriched, but if the owner of it—Southampton—would also write in it, the book would be much richer than it is now.
'This book' shows it in Shakspeare's hand, and 'thy book' tells us it belonged to the Earl.
Into this book, then, we think many of the Sonnets may have been written, as contributions are made to an album.
In this particular Sonnet we see the poet actually writing in the book.
We may see likewise how naturally he would thus come to write upon Southampton's affairs through the medium of this book, which would pass from poet to patron, and afford matters of peculiar interest when Mistress Vernon and the Earl looked over it together.
Nor is it wholly inconceivable that this book was a present from Mistress Vernon to the Earl, and that it is the very one which we find he has parted with in Sonnet 122.
That was a 'record' of her, but his mind and memory, he says, retain a far deeper record.
'That poor retention could, not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more.'
Here the book is for the purpose of keeping count, as it were, of his love.
It has been devoted to her, but the 'poor retention could not so much hold;' and he has given it away.
We suspect also that this book contained the Sonnets mentioned by Meres; and after it was given away by Southampton, it ultimately drifted into the hands of Thomas Thorpe, and formed the nucleus of his collection.
It is demonstrable that the poet did not contemplate being known to the world as the writer of these
Sonnets. The work was a cherished love-secret on his part, all the dearer for the privacy. He thought of doing it, and he believed it would live, and that his friend and all the love between them should live on in it, but he himself was to steal off unidentified.
In Sonnet 81, he says:—
'Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Tho' I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shah, be my gentle verse.'
Clearly the Sonnets were to be nameless, so far as the author was concerned, or Shakspeare must have been a sharer with his friend in both the immortal life and monument!
Again, he says, when he is dead—
'Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
My name be buried where my body is.'
And in Sonnet 76, there is a kind of 'hush!' He speaks of his friend so plainly, that 'every word doth almost tell
my name,' and from whom the Sonnets proceeded, as if that were self forbidden.
He assures his friend of immortality, he speaks of having an interest in the verses, for they contain the 'better part' of himself consecrated to his friend, but he does not
contemplate living in them by name.
This view of the subject will explain what has always appeared so great an anomaly in the poet's character.
Readers never could reconcile his carelessness about fame with his many boasts respecting immortality.
It appears to us that Shakspeare's Sonnetteering for Southampton was nearly done when the Earl did at length marry late in 1595 or early in 1599.
And from this we assume that the Sonnets which were begun by the poet, advising the young Earl to marry, and continued from time to time all through the long, unquiet course of his wooing, were concluded by the marriage.
There is one exception in Sonnet 107, and it will worthily crown our illustrations:—
'Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love controul,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,'
And the sad augurs mock their own presage,
Incertanties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh and Death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrant's crests and tombs of brass are spent.'
There can be no misgivings or mistake here. That Sonnet was written on the death of Elizabeth, and the consequent release of Southampton from prison.
The Earl had been condemned to die for his part in Essex's mad attempt.
He was left in prison many weeks, expecting death. His sentence was at length remitted, but he was kept in confinement until the
'mortal moon' had 'her eclipse endured.' And it tells us of Shakspeare's fears for his
friend—how he had trembled, the outer world had prophesied, and the Augurs had foreboded the worst.
How he had supposed the lease of his love forfeited by that 'confined doom!'
But all the uncertainty is over now. His love looks 'fresh with the drops of this most balmy time.'
The new king calls him from a prison to a seat of honour; and the poet can crow over Death this time, and his friend shall find a monument in his verse, when the
'crests' and 'tombs of brass' of all such tyrants as Elizabeth have passed away.
We would here remind our readers that Elizabeth Vernon was cousin to the Earl of Essex.
It has been felt that Shakspeare was somehow mixed up with Essex's affairs.
The order from Essex House for 'Richard II.' to be played at the Globe Theatre on the eve of the Earl's attempt is significant.
But our Poet's intimacy with Southampton would explain all. We suspect that the influence of Southampton and Shakspeare did unconsciously work on the national mind, and tend to create a certain glamour of poetry and pity around the headstrong Earl, who, in return, threw a dark shadow over his friends, and in this shadow the world has lost sight of Southampton and his friendship for Shakspeare.
In the Duke of Manchester's recent work will be found two of Essex's letters, which are full of Shaksperian suggestion.
The Earl, in an address to the Lords of Council, asks, 'Was it treason in my Lord of Southampton to marry my poor kinswoman, that
neither long imprisonment nor any punishment besides, that hath been
usual in like cases, can satisfy or appease?' And what he had done, Southampton said on his trial, was purely owing to his affection for the Earl, his
kinsman. There was ample reason both for the bitterness and the rejoicing expressed in that Sonnet!
It is pleasant to find Shakspeare standing by his friend's side, talking part with him.
We know that the Poet was reproached for his silence on the death of the Queen.
In Chettle's 'Englande's Mourning Garment' (1603), he is taken to task
under the name of 'Melicert.'
'Nor doth the silver-tonged Melicert
Drop from his honied Muse one sable teare
To mourn her death that graced his desert,
And to his laies opened her royall eare.
Shepheard, remember our Elizabeth,
And sing her rape done by that Tarquin, Death.'
But the Shepherd had his own private reasons for being deaf and dumb; he remembered another Elizabeth.
This Sonnet, then, must have been written as late as 1603. And there is the most curious proof that it was one of those
odd Sonnets which the printer did not know where to place. The 104th Sonnet tells us that Shakspeare has then known his friend three years; therefore it was not written later than 1594.
The 108th is also one of the earliest, and in it the writer calls his friend
And this 107th Sonnet is stuck between the two. There are but two Sonnets between the Sonnet of 1594 and that of 1603.
We could not give a more forcible illustration of the way in which the Sonnets were sent to press.
And this fact alone proves that the printer made no attempt to re-arrange them according to any secret knowledge of their begettal.
As he received them so has he given them to us.
We have now claimed and reclaimed nearly 120 of the Sonnets as addressed to Southampton, or
devoted to his affairs. We feel so certain that at least the whole of the first 126 are bound up with Southampton, that we ought to be able to account for the remainder of them.
Sonnets 40, 41, and 42 have been held to tell a story very damaging to our Poet's moral character.
We shall show that at least another reading is possible. If the Earl of Southampton had been allured from the side of his mistress for awhile by some friend of hers, these three sonnets would very fitly express her feelings.
She would have the right to speak of 'those pretty wrongs that liberty commits when
I am sometime absent from thy heart,' but Shakspeare could not.
Mistress Vernon might chide the Earl for breaking a 'twofold truth'—
'Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine by thy beauty being false to me.'
But Shakspeare was not in any sense free to reproach the Earl in such an affair as is commonly supposed.
What of the truth that he would be breaking? According to one very possible reading, then, the
41st and 42nd represent Mistress Vernon as speaking to the Earl; but the 40th would be addressed ' to the woman who had stolen, or been supposed to steal, the Earl.
The 41st Sonnet tells us it was the woman that wooed, and here the
'gentle thief' is reproached in person! We presume that Sonnets 33, 34, and 35 are connected with this part of the subject.
The face in tears (Sonnet 34), and the expression 'all men make faults,' are both more womanly than manly.
So is the travelling forth 'without my cloak;' also, the 'loss in love that touches me
more nearly;' and 'such civil war is in my love and hate.'
The expression 'to him,' we take it, is merely by way of a general and proverbial illustration.
Well, then, in the 35th Sonnet we have the 'sweet thief' again spoken of in a way which shows that she must be addressed in person in Sonnet
40. According to the personal reading of these Sonnets, the speaker
must address the thief in person here—
'Lascivious grace! in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes!'
There is more meaning, however, if Mistress Vernon be the speaker, and Penelope Rich, for example, should be the friend.
She and Elizabeth Vernon were cousins, and very intimate. The description
'lascivious grace!' is very appropriate, and, if this be the lady, there were reasons why the two should
not be foes. Some such affair as this seems to be glanced back at in Sonnet 120:—
'That you were once unkind befriends me now.'
On which occasion the speaker holds that the lady wronged
The latter Sonnets, beginning with the 127th, can scarcely have been procured from the same source.
For, had they been so, we should not find them massed together at the end.
Some of them were certainly written as early as those first
printed—the 127th for example,—and if held in the same hands they would have come in
earlier. But that they were in different and
looser hands we may infer from the fact that a piratical publisher could obtain two of them for printing in 1599.
Southampton could not have been the begetter of these unless there was a 'Rosaline' before
And if Thorpe did really dedicate to 'William Herbert,' then it would be probable that some of these latter Sonnets were written for that young nobleman; and Thorpe
concluded that he was the 'only begetter' of Shakspeare’s Sonnets.
But we have no space to discuss the subject here, and we only profess to deal with those Sonnets which have the appearance of being connected, in the ways we have shown, with the Earl of Southampton.
It must not be thought that we are losing sight of Shakspeare's personality whilst eliminating the impersonal Sonnets.
We are drawing all the more closely to himself. In our reading we lose the phantom Shakspeare who could ungraciously forget his early friend, to whom he had made public promises, given hostages for the future, and dedicated love without end; who could sing of his friend's eternal truth, after
passionately denouncing his falsehood, and talk of locking up his jewel lest it should be stolen after it had been filched from him; who could slavishly prostrate himself at the feet of a boy; who could hypocritically reprove his friend for his loose conduct and lament his immoralities, whilst he himself, a married man of ripe age, was partner with the boy in an intrigue with some married woman; who could accuse himself of all sorts of inconsistent things, grow querulous at the slightest cause, and ask pity on all kinds of false pretences; who could write sonnets on his own and his friend's disgraceful amours, and supply copies to their friends for the purpose of raising a laugh at their mutual
frailty—for such, in defiance of dates, facts, and all that we know of our Poet's life and character, or gather from his
works, is the Shakspeare of Messrs. Boaden and Brown's theory of the
Sonnets—and we have found the real man as he once lived, and loved his friend
Southampton, and showed an interest in his passion for Elizabeth Vernon; took sides with them when they were thwarted by the caprice of the Queen, and resented it very strongly; made the most ingenious defence, in play and in earnest, for his friend; fought for him against
'old Time,' and evil 'Fortune,' and 'all-oblivious enmity;' laboured to polish his virtues when they rusted, and lifted them up shiningly in the eyes of his beloved, and strove to shield them from the tarnishing breath of scandal; probably seeing many sad things and having many sad thoughts, but holding on to him faithful and loving to the end.
From his Dramas we obtain some few traits of personality and facts of Shakspeare's own life.
It is very interesting to watch the growth of his mind. And we can get no right estimate of the man unless we do this, and see how he worked, and how he waxed in energy.
Shakspeare did not come into this World ready-made, or bring his poetry with him.
He was one of the greatest Realists that ever wrote and he got his poetry out of life.
In doing this he had to begin at the beginning. Of course he had a most marvellous illumination of the seeing eye, a power of absorbing knowledge rather than acquiring it; a large and loving spirit that would brood over the meanest materials until the influence passed into them and quickened them.
And yet this man, so magnificent in resources, so lavish of his wealth, must have been a very miser in hoarding up the least fruits of life and experience; all life was picture and all persons portraits to him.
The difference betwixt the first sketch of Hamlet and the finished play alone makes the man mortal, imperfect, almost one of us!
The writer as well as the drama is enlarged to 'almost as much again' in the completer work.
Then, the early works are full of puns and comparisons, and are overrun with imagery.
Be played with words, says one writer, to 'please a quibbling age.'
And we feel that he despised himself for doing so. He had no heart in it.
No bitterer comment was ever made on the confirmed habit of jesting with meanings and playing with words than he himself supplies in one of his earliest plays,
'Love's - Labour Lost,' where 'my Lord Biron' is told to practise his witticisms for twelve months upon the sick and dying in an hospital.
The early plays contain the 'spring and foison' of
Shakspeare's poetic life, overrunning with leafy richness and the
luxuriant undergrowth of his poetry. And how the stature and strength of his work increases year by year, striking root yet deeper and broader in English earth, but lifting up its stately branches into airy regions.
What a growth from the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' to 'Lear;' from the slender sapling to the tree whose girth we may not span!
We can see how his expression chastens and grows rich with the most precious
plainness of speech; sublime with simplicity. We may see also in his early plays what were his personal relationships to the England of that memorable time which helped to mould him: see how the war stirred his nature: how he fought the Spaniard in feeling, and helped to shatter the armada.
We learn how these things made him turn to his country's history, and portray its past and exalt its heroes in the eyes of Englishmen.
How often does he show them the curse of civil strife, and read them the lesson that England is safe so long as she is united!
Thus he lets us know how true an Englishman he was; how full of patriot fire and communicative warmth.
Indeed, the mention of England's name offers one of our best opportunities, for a personal recognition.
There are times when he quite overruns the speech of a character with the fulness of his own feeling.
In one or two instances this is very striking; for example, in that speech of old Gaunt's in
II.,' at the name of England the writer is off, and cannot stop.
His own young blood leaps along the shrunken veins of grave and aged Gaunt; Shakspeare's own heart throbs through the whole speech; the dramatic mask grows transparent with the light of his own kindled face, and you know it is Shakspeare's voice that is speaking.
As he gets older and more perfect in his way of working, either his unconsciousness of self increases or else he grows more cunning in his concealment.
Again, we have but to read the speech of our King Harry V., on the night, or rather the dawn, of Agincourt, to feel how keen was the thrill of Shakspeare's proud patriotism.
Harry was a hero after our poet's own English heart, and he takes great delight in such a character.
We know, too, that Shakspeare was a dear lover of his native woods and wild-flowers, the daisy, the primrose, and the cowslip; but most of all, we think, he loved the violet.
This was his darling of all the wild-flowers; and how lovingly he has distilled or expressed the spirit of the violet into one of his sweetest women, and called her
Viola! His favourite birds also are the homely English singing-birds, the lark and
nightingale, cuckoo and blackbird, that sang to Shakspeare in his childhood, and still sing in the pleasant woods of Warwickshire.
He was also a sturdy outspoken Englishman. See the
character he draws of Henry VIII.; and hear him plead the cause of Catherine, well knowing that the King's daughter Elizabeth might be one of the listeners, and that it was her mother who had taken the poor Queen's place whilst it was yet warm.
He had an eye very keenly alive to the least movement of the national life.
When the new map of England is published he takes immediate note of it.
Maria, in 'Twelfth Night,' says, 'He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map with the
augmentation of the Indies.' And when the two crowns of England and Scotland are united in the person of James, Shakspeare alters the old doggrel,—
'Fi, fo! fum!
I smell the blood of an Englishman,'
'I smell the blood of a British man.'
He was undoubtedly monarchical in feeling, and had great loyalty to what we call the Constitution.
But he looked more to the joints of the armour of our national life than to any special piece of it.
He was a great upholder of the national honour, and seems to have suspected that the trading classes might not prove the truest bearers of the banner.
He may have foreseen the modern tendency to a dry-rot in the commercial spirit.
What he thought of the mob we may read in 'Jack Cade's rising.' He treats it rather like Marshal Lobau with his fire-engine.
He has especial delight in all the nobilities of nature and the personal influence of aristocracy.
Coleridge says rightly there is not one really vicious passage in all Shakspeare.
There are coarse things, for the customs and language of the time were coarse.
But there is nothing rotten at the root, nothing insidious in the suggestion.
Vice never walks abroad in the mental twilight wearing the garb of virtue.
You hear the voices of Wrong and Right, Truth and Error in his works, but there is no confusion of tongues for the confounding of the sense.
He has no softness for sentimental sinners, such as Goethe shows for his
'Faust,' and lets down no drawbridge at the last moment to help them over the dark gulf.
His lines are drawn as sharply as is the scriptural decree that the tree shall lie as it falls.
He has infinite pity for the suffering and struggling and wounded by the way.
The most powerful and pathetic pleadings on behalf of Christian charity that are to be found anywhere out of the New Testament have been spoken by Shakspeare.
He takes to his large, warm heart much that the world usually casts out to perish in the cold.
There is nothing too poor or too mean to be embraced within the circle of his sympathies.
He sees the germ of good in that which looks all evil to the careless passers by, for his eyes are large with love and have its
If there be only the least little redeeming touch in the most abandoned character he is sure to point it out.
After all, it is the best hearts that are the truest mirrors even of this world, for it is God's world, bad as we have managed to make it.
His luminous smile falls on the weed as well as the flower, thistle as well as the palm-tree, the poor hovel as well as the palace-home.
It lights the jewels of the hero's crown, and it lets the veriest motes dance in its sunbeams.
He does not fly into a passion with stupidity, or ignorance, or pretension.
He knows how large a part these play in the natural scheme of things; that they are fathers of families and respectable householders, and are represented in parliament.
He looks on many things which put the little ardent folk out of temper with his calm, slow, wise smile, as though he would say,
'If God can put up with all these queer creatures and ignoramuses, and simulations of human beings in his scheme of creation, there is no reason why I should fume and fret, or denounce them, or
argue with them. He finds room for them all in his plan; I'll make a place for them in mine.'
And no botanist ever culled his rarest specimens more lovingly than Shakspeare his samples of what some might Pharisaically call
'God's own unaccountables.'
How he listens to the long-winded garrulousness of the ignorant, whether simple or knowing.
Pearls might be dropping from its lips, or about to drop from them.
He does not say let no dog bark, or donkey bray in my presence. On the contrary, he likes to hear what they have to say for themselves, draws them out, and sometimes fools them to the top of their bent.
It is as though he thought Nature had her precious secrets hidden here as elsewhere, and with sufficient patience we should find it all out, if we only watched and waited impartially.
See the generous encouragement he gives to Dogberry. How he draws him out, and makes much of him.
You would say he was 'enamoured of an ass.’ But perhaps the glory of all his large toleration shines out in his treatment of that
'sweet bully' Bottom.
If ever old Time had a conqueror in this world, or found a match in mortal mind, it is in William Shakspeare; and it is exceedingly interesting to notice what a sense our poet has of the power of his grim antagonist.
He appears to watch him at his work, he measures his prowess, he taunts him, and continually flings hard names at him.
Allied to this feeling of Shakspeare's is his profound sense of mortality.
Some ghostly memory seems to haunt him when he stands near the grave or speaks of the charnel.
This feeling reaches its climax in those lines written for his tombstone, which lines we should believe were
Shakspeare's, if only on account of this feeling:—
'Good friend for Jesu's sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.'
We may also find in Shakspeare an appalling sense of the supernatural, the nearness of the spirit world, and its power to break in on the world of flesh when nature prays for help, or darkly conspires to let it in!
His working province was the world of human life. As a dramatist he had to give that life a palpable embodiment in flesh and blood, and endow it with speech and action.
But he knew that human nature was made of spirit as well as flesh, and that it is under the 'skiey influences.'
What an illustration of this is the teaching of Romeo's life and death!
It is a perfect dramatising of St. Paul's saying, 'the good which I would, I do not; and the evil which I would not, that I do.'
When he is the cause of his friend Mercutio's death, he 'thought all for the best;'
he meant well, and such is the end of our well-meanings so often!
It seems to us that one great reason why 'Hamlet' will always remain so perplexing a study to those who seek to divine
Shakspeare's intentions, is because his characters are so much a part of nature as to include what men call the supernatural, and in this case, whatsoever
'Hamlet' proposes, it is Fate, as we say, which disposes.
It is not Hamlet who finds the solution of his problem of life and death: it is Fate that catches him up in its surer grasp and swifter execution, so that when the final crash comes, Hamlet is one of the most weak and helpless victims in the higher hands.
Divine laws override our human wishes. The innocent suffer alike with the guilty, and things do not come about as they were foreseen.
Thus it is in life! And so it is in Shakspeare. He knew there was a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may.
He feels that this human life is all very wonderful in its play of passions, its pleasures and its pains, with all their crossing and conflicting lights and shadows, and he does what he can to shed a little light on the vast mystery.
But he feels how small is this little island of our human life, set in the surrounding ocean of eternity, and how limited is the light that he can throw upon it and upon the darkness that hems us
in. He knows there is an unfathomable sea where we can find no footing.
We must swim, if we are to keep up at all. In common with the rest of the universe, we have to repose upon
unseen foundations. We cannot ignore the spirit-world, and if we do not get help from it, we are pretty sure to get hindrance.
For example, in 'Macbeth,' Shakspeare shows us that looking, longing,
irresolute mood of mind, which is the Devil's especial delight, because with such he is quite sure of a nibble for his bait.
Here we have the perfect type of the wavering, undecided soul that will peer,
very cautiously of course, over the perilous precipice in such a way, that the Weird Sisters are evoked from the shadowy gulf below, and in such a tempting, balancing attitude, that it is quite easy for the Devil to steal behind and topple the peering spirit over.
The more we study the works of Shakspeare, the more do we feel how natural piety made a large part of the cheerful sunshine that smiles out in his philosophy of life.
And in great emergencies we may see the flash of a religious feeling, large as life and deep as death.
How frank and bold is that expression of faith where Banquo exclaims—
'In the great hand of God I stand?'
Again, when the fatal presentiment comes over Hamlet, what does he say?—
'Thou knowest not, Horatio, how ill is here about my heart; but
there is a special Providence even in the fall of a sparrow.'
What a world of meaning too there is in that saying of the rogue
Autolycus,—'As for the life to come, I sleep out the thought of it'!
What an illustration is that of the blind ostrich policy in spiritual matters!
He makes a frequent and fervent appeal to the world hereafter that is to make our
'odds all even,' and to Hint who is the 'top of justice.'
'Comfort's in heaven,' says old York, 'and we are on the earth.'
Reverence he calls that Angel of the World.' And we know how tender and gracious grows his language, in
'Hamlet,' at mention of our Saviour's birth.
How noble is the address to his soul in that solemn 146th Sonnet!
He was no positive philosopher who is put out by a Providence,—that incalculable force which for ever breaks through dead law with breathing life!
He may not have been what is called a 'professing' Christian, but he was a most practical one.
He had the root of the matter in him. We should apply to him his own description of Benedick
— 'The man doth fear God, howsoever it seems not in him by some large jests he will
It is pleasant to think of our great Poet so amply reaping the fruits of his prudence and industry so early in life, and spending his calm latter days in the old home of his boyhood, which he had left afoot and come back to in the saddle.
We know how he clung to his native place all through his London life, hear how he went back once a year, to the field-flowers of his
childhood—as Chaucer says, to 'get some green.' And at last he had come back to live and die and be buried at Home.
He had come back laden with honours and bearing his sheaves with him, wearing a crown such as few of his fell townsmen could see, but having also such possessions as they did appreciate.
They looked up to him now, and the son of poor John Shakspeare was a most respectable man.
He could sit under his own vine, and watch the ongoings of the country life and wait for the sunset of his own, live in the bosom of his own family, walk forth in his own fields, plant his mulberry-tree, compose several of his noblest dramas, and ripen for his rest in the place where he had climbed for birds'-nests, and, as they say, poached for deer by moonlight.
We think he must have enjoyed it all vastly. He entered into local plans, exacted his legal dues, and sided with his fellow-townsmen in promoting local objects.
He 'could not bear the enclosing of Welcombe,' he said. We find him (where we can trace him at all) acting as a sturdy, upright, matter-of-fact Englishman, and his character corresponds with the bust in the Church at
We suspect that Shakspeare felt prematurely aged before he left London finally for his own native air.
He had done so much work, such ardours had gone out of him; and in one of his Sonnets, the 73rd, he appears to indicate how largely his labours had drawn upon his life.
It is mournful and very touching, if we think of it as portraying our own Shakspeare when he could not have been much over forty!
It has a touch of the yellowish tinge that will come over the literary vision at times, when a bit of the best work has been lately done.
He must have recovered tone again, and his life put forth a new leaf in its Stratford privacy, for he grew some of his lustiest evergreens there; did some of his best work, bright with health, and created two of his most loveable women, 'Imogen'
and 'Perdita,' full of English sweetness to the core, with the pure breath of his country life breathing fragrantly through them.
We get a fact slightly touching Shakspeare's domestic life from the Chamberlain's accounts of the year 1614:—
'Item, for on quart of sack, and on quart of clarrett winne, given to a preacher at the New Place,
Mr. Dyce surmises that the poet may have lent his house for the occasion in compliance with the wishes of some of his family or neighbours, whom he was too like-minded to oppose, though he could have had little sympathy with a Puritan preacher.
Possibly the connexion may have been through Shakspeare’s daughter, Susanna, who may have lived at New Place.
Her epitaph tells of her being 'wise to salvation,' and a good Christian.
And we doubt not the poet was 'at home' to a friend of Mistress Hall; sat in his own seat, and presided at his own board.
The tradition runs that he caught his death through leaving his bed when ill, because some of his old friends had called on