A PERSONAL SONNET.
Which affords a clue to the dramatic treatment of subjects suggested by
Southampton who is to supply his "own sweet argument," and "give
"How can my Muse want subject to invent,
Whilst thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old Nine which rhymers invocate,
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date:
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise."
the interpretation now presented, the above Sonnet (which is a little out
of place) sounds the note of preparation for a change of method in
writing; it is the prologue spoken by Shakspeare in person to the Secret
Drama of the Sonnets.
If the reader will turn to the book of Sonnets—a copy of
which should be kept at hand, the reproduced Quarto being preferable for
specialists—it will be seen that we can read the first 26 straight on as
personal to Shakspeare himself, because the speaker of them is also the
writer. But with the 27th Sonnet comes confusion, and we soon
feel ourselves to be all at sea, where it is of no use trying to make
believe, either to ourselves or others, that we are not adrift. The most
intensely passionate Sonnets, those that are filled with facts, most
localized, most circumstantiated, are the least identifiable with
Shakspeare's life and character, and the most impersonal to him as their
speaker. This statement can be tested by a study of Sonnets 27, 28,
29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 40, 50, 51, 52, 75, 92, 93, 94, 97, 98, 99, 109, 110,
111, 123, 124, 125, which I consider to be dramatic. And it is the
Dramatic Sonnets that cause all the mystery. These refuse to be made
autobiographical, just because they were not personal to Shakspeare.
They cannot be understood until we can stand where he did, by putting
ourselves in his place.
No doubt it will be denounced as a flaw in my treatment if I
do not religiously keep to the arrangement (or want of it) to he found in
Thorpe's edition! and if it could be shown that Shakspeare had himself
printed the Sonnets, or had anything to do with their publication, that
would constitute an argument against the least alteration. But it
cannot, and the plea is sheer hypocrisy. There is evidence
absolutely incontrovertible, proof positive, that neither the poet nor the
initiated private friends saw the Sonnets through the press. There
are from forty to fifty errors which could not have passed if they had
been submitted to Shakspeare. In Sonnet 46 the word "thy"
occurs four times, and three times out of the four it is printed "their;"
it being the custom to abbreviate those words in writing, and the reader
for the press did not know which word was intended; "ruined" is spelled "rn'wd"
(73); "disposed" "dispode," Sonnet 88. "Shall" is "stall" (90).
Sonnet 116 is numbered 119. Line 14 in Sonnet 112 reads—"That all
the world besides me thinks y' are dead"—a most ingenious printer's
correction of the original, "That all the world besides methinks are
dead." That is printer's proof of what I state. And
such is the nature of our poet's promises made to Southampton, so careful
was he in correcting his other poems, that we must conclude he would have
superintended the publication, and not subjected his promises of
immortality to all the ills of printer's mortality, had he given his
sanction to it as it comes to us. Had he authorized the printing, Thorpe
would have said so; therefore he did not. That is publisher's
proof. We get no guarantee, then, from the author as to the
arrangement, and it is useless to talk about the duty of sacredly
accepting them exactly as they have been handed down to us. At least
we have the right to test the arrangement of an unauthorized work by an
appeal to internal evidence; for it is only by that the author himself
f can speak to us. If I could show that one single sonnet had
got out of place, there would be good cause to suspect they had not
reached us in perfect order, and that a part of the problem was hidden in
their dislocation. Whereas, I can give plenty of proof that the
printed is not always the written order.  No
one can justly doubt that I have identified the subject matter of Sonnet
107 as a congratulation to Southampton on his release from prison, at the
time of Elizabeth's death, in the year 1603. At that date Shakspeare
must have known the Earl some eleven or twelve years. The Venus
and Adonis had been dedicated to him ten years before. Yet this
Sonnet is printed next but two to the one (Sonnet 104) which speaks
of his having seen the youth for the first time three pears before
the date of writing it! Again: Sonnet 126 is a fragment, and printed
last of the Southampton series. In this the Earl is called a "boy,"
and this comes after the sonnet of 1603, at which time Southampton
was thirty years of age, married, father of a family, and a renowned
war-captain. Of necessity the Sonnet belongs to that earlier time
when Shakspeare did salute him as "sweet boy," and has got displaced.
Indeed, it is not a Sonnet at all, but consists of six rhyming couplets.
The idea of growing by waning has been re-wrought in Sonnet 11.
Sonnet 57 is one of those that contain puns on the name of "Will," which
are addressed to a woman of loose character. This fact had been
overlooked from the time of the first edition till pointed out by me.
By the original printing, as well as from internal evidence, it is
identified as belonging to the latter series of Sonnets which are spoken
by "Will" (not to "Will"!), and yet it is printed with 76 Sonnets
between it and its congeners! So with Sonnets 43 and 61: the second
is a palpable continuation of the first. The group to which these belong
is spoken by some one on a journey. We may fairly assume that
they would be written with some sort of sequence to be intelligible to the
reader for whom they were intended, yet those Sonnets which are spoken by
the person when at the remotest distance from the stay-at-home are
numbered 44 and 45, whereas the first of this series spoken
at STARTING on the journey is number 50.
We have but to turn to Sonnet 61 to see that it is one of those that are
spoken on the journey, or far from home, and has no connection with the
two Sonnets which precede and follow it. In fact, the greatest
confusion of all begins with Sonnets 27 and 28, following the 26 Sonnets
which are plainly personal. These two pertain to the journey and the
absence abroad that are spoken of in Sonnets later on. The toil, of
which the speaker is so weary, is travel, hence the other journey that
goes on in sleep. Like Sidney, he is "Tired with the dusty toils of
busy day" (A. S. 89),  and each day he is "further
off" from the person addressed, who remains at home. These two
Sonnets have strayed out of their place, and must be restored before they
can be understood. These are facts—facts in Shakspeare's own
handwriting, which tell us the Sonnets were printed with no key to the
written arrangement, and that no restriction can be imposed on any such
account. There is ample evidence to prove that some of the Sonnets
are out of place; there is ample warrant for me to collate them by the
internal evidence. Although I am bound, for my own sake, to alter as
little as ever I can.
In at least three instances the Sonnets have got out of
place, two by two. It is so with numbers 57 and 58, which belong by
nature and by the pun on the name of "Will" to the Latter Series. So
is it with numbers 27 and 28, which seems to show that in each instance
they were written on the two sides of the same leaf, and thus one loose
leaf, in going astray, would carry two Sonnets with it. On the whole
the groups have held together; but a few loose riderless horses may make
dire confusion in the ranks.
As already seen, there is a change of sex in the imagery,
which in a writer so true to nature as Shakspeare is known to be implies,
or at least suggests, a change of sex in the person addressed! That,
as before said, is now done which was previously denied whilst the writer
was speaking to a man. This change in the imagery, in the spirit of
the Sonnets, in the circumstantial evidence, and in the personal
character, which is obvious to all who are not characteristic-blind, also
suggests that there may be a change of speaker in Sonnet 27 and others
Till now the feeling was one of repose in the affection which
the Poet celebrated. Here the feeling has all a lover's
restlessness. In the previous Sonnets we have not been left in doubt
as to the sex of the person addressed; there were many allusions to its
being that of a man. We now meet with Sonnet after Sonnet, and
series after series, in which there is no mention of sex. The
feeling expressed is more passionate, the phrase has become more movingly
tender; far closer, more inward relationship is indicated, and yet the
object to whom these Sonnets are written never appears in person.
There is neither "man" nor "boy," "him" nor "his." How is
this? Surely it is not the wont of stronger feeling and a greater
warmth of affection to fuse down all individuality and lose sight of sex.
That is not the way of Nature's or of Shakspeare's working. Here is
presumptive evidence that the speaker is not addressing a man. The
internal evidence and poetic proof derivable from Shakspeare's other work,
are in favour of its being a woman. There is a spirit too delicate
for the ear of a man. The imagery is essentially feminine.
There is a fondness in the feeling, and a preciousness in the phrase that
tell of "Love's coy touch." There are secret stirrings of nature
which influence us as they might if we were in the presence of a beautiful
woman disguised: little tell-tales of consciousness and whisperings in the
air. Some of the Sonnets addressed by Shakspeare to the Earl are as
glowing with affection, and tender in expression as could well be written
from man to man, but there is a subtle difference betwixt these and others
that, as will be shown, are addressed to a woman. The conditions
under which the Poet created did not permit of his branding them with all
the outward signs of sex; but the difference exists in the secret spirit
of them. We continually catch a breath of fragrance, as though we
were treading upon invisible violets, and are conscious of a perfusive
feminine grace; whilst a long and loving acquaintanceship brings out the
touches and tendernesses of difference, distinct as those notes of the
unseen nightingale that make her song so peerless amongst those of other
birds. There is a music here such as could only have found its
perfect chord in a woman's heart. Once we shut our eyes to the
supposition that all these Sonnets were meant for a man, we shall soon
feel that in numbers of them the heart of a lover is going forth with
thrillings ineffable towards a woman, and, in the unmistakable cry, we
shall hear the voice of that love which has no like—the absorbing,
absolute, all containing Love that woman alone engenders in the heart of a
man. Not that Shakspeare is here wooing a woman in person. He
would not have done that and left out the sex if he were addressing his
own mistress. My proposed solution of the problem here is, that many
of the Southampton Sonnets were written dramatically or vicariously, and
cannot be read as personal utterances of the Poet. My endeavour will
be to show that the first of these dramatic ones were written upon
Southampton's courtship after he had fallen in love with Elizabeth Vernon;
and that it is not Shakspeare who speaks at times, but Southampton to his
This will account for the impassioned tenderness, and, at the
same time, for the absence of all mention of the sex of the person
addressed, which would be a natural result arising from the Poet's
delicacy of feeling. In such a case "Bondage is hoarse" or somewhat
muffled, "and may not speak aloud." It will likewise explain one of
the most remarkable characteristics of many Sonnets, that glancing
allusiveness to which the Poet was limited whilst writing for another!
Moreover, it may shed light on the noteworthy fact that in the personal
Sonnets the terms of "my love" or "lover" occur 24 times in 18 Sonnets.
In the more impassioned ones they occur only 5 or 6 times in 50 Sonnets,
and that when the person addressed has become the speaker's "best of
dearest," his "only care," his "home of love," his "cherubin,"
his "God in love," his "Rose," his "All": that is
when Shakspeare is the writer for another and is not speaking for himself!
There should be nothing very incredible or surprising in
making the proposition that the greatest dramatic writer in the world may
also have written dramatic Sonnets in the service of his friend
Southampton! In a letter just received, Howard Furness, the American
Editor, says, "Shakspeare was as much a dramatist in his Sonnets as in
his Plays, and wherein you acknowledge and enforce this you have the
whip-hand over all the Theorisers." But there are English
readers who seem unable to think even tentatively that the most
essentially dramatic-minded and objective of all our Poets could have
written Sonnets to represent any other character than his own; readers who
cannot rise to the conception that he may have worn the player's mask at
times when writing Sonnets for his friends. Such a suggestion makes the
Autobiographists become Autobiographobists. People who fancy they
hold a diamond in their grasp, naturally object to your wrenching their
hand open for the purpose of demonstrating that it is but charcoal!
And that is precisely what has to be done with those who imagined they had
grasped the facts of Shakspeare's biography in the revelations of the
Sonnets. I tell them the jewel is elsewhere; show them the live
sparkles of it (by aid of my dramatic interpretations), and they insist on
keeping the hand closed all the more strenuously on their bit of charcoal,
and will not look on the real gem for fear their treasure should prove to
be only graphite after all and not the precious diamond.
People who can build the "fabric of his folly, whose
foundation is piled upon his faith," will become the fanatical opponents
of those who found upon facts; whilst those who can rest on a basis of
false belief are beyond the reach of evidence. The capacity to
follow and comprehend the greatest of all dramatic Poets; the ear to
distinguish his voice from others where faces are concealed behind the
dramatic mask; the perception and sense of dramatic fitness; the insight
for recognizing Shakspeare's truth to nature within and without us,—these
have now to be put to the test. It is the supreme characteristic of
Shakspeare's mind that it was so essentially dramatic he never was his own
very self excepting when he wore the mask, and assumed the character of
somebody else. His was the direct opposite of the autobiographic
nature. Self-exhibition was most foreign to him. Outside the
Sonnets he has shown no single sign of tendency to write personal poems of
an elegiac, a melancholy, or confessional character. The Sonnet was
not adopted by him as a sort of droning spinning-wheel by the sound of
which he lulled his own personal sorrows; it was not taken up for himself
at all. When he does speak for himself in the early personal Sonnets
he says the least possible about himself. His friend and not himself
was his subject. Hence he begins by borrowing the matter of his
argument for marriage from Sidney. He could hardly be original when
limited to the personal standpoint! and so he imitates some one else.
But when we come to the Sonnets in which he represents the feelings, the
thoughts, the circumstances and characteristics of his friend Southampton
or others, the moment he gets on the mask, he is as freely and fully
himself as is the Shakspeare of the Plays.
Shakspeare can only be adequately known in his Sonnets by
those that are dramatic. In these alone does his energy reach the
full height, and his poetry attain the perfect flower. He seems to
have been unable to do justice to his genius when speaking in his own
person; this is shown conclusively in his two Poems. It is as if his
modesty required a mask and a complete detachment from the consciousness
of self for the free, full play of his intellectual powers. The
Sonnets are richer, stronger, more vital and inspired precisely in
proportion as they are dramatic. The impersonal Sonnets have twice
the force of the personal ones, and ten times the perplexity on account of
their matter not being personal. If Shakspeare had been speaking of
and for himself in such lines as the following, the nearer we might think
we were getting to the profoundest realities of his life and character,
the more remotely would the man recede from us in this unlikeness to all
we know of him from his other writings, or can learn of him from
contemporary history. The more definite these realities are to the
writer the more indefinite they become for the reader so long as we assume
that Shakspeare is speaking of or for himself, and thus fail to penetrate
the dramatic mood in which he speaks from behind the mask.
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eves,
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,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least. (29)
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame
Nor thou with public kindness honour me
Unless thou take that honour from thy name. (36)
have frequent been with unknown minds
And given to Time your own dear-purchased right;
I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight. (117)
If my dear love were but the Child of State,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered. (124)
Were it ought to me I bore the Canopy? (the Cloth
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more? (125)
In many of the Sonnets the speaker is certainly under a cloud, the shadow
of which is more or less to be felt over all the hundred that follow No.
26. But this cloud did not arise from his own evil fortunes, nor was
it created by his own bad character, nor by his disreputable public
manners. He is simply under the cloud of the dramatic mask that he
wears in his Sonnets as well as in the Plays.
As we shall demonstrate, two different speakers with entirely
distinct characters are to be heard in various series of the Sonnets.
It is impossible for both to be Shakspeare. This fact will enable me
to get in the thin end of the wedge that will rive the personal theory in
twain. We shall then have to ascertain which of the Sonnets are
personal to Shakspeare himself, and which of them are spoken by
Southampton or other of the "Private Friends."
If it can be demonstrated that there is more than the one
speaker who is the writer of the Sonnets, then the need for a dramatic
interpretation will be established. This can only be done
scientifically by the comparative method. Our base, or point
d'appui, is that rock of reality found in the Personal Sonnets where
the speaker is the writer. To this we must cling like the limpet to
the rock. That speaker is Shakspeare when he repudiates applying
effeminate imagery to his male friend (Sonnet 21); thence we argue that
the speaker is not intended for Shakspeare in other Sonnets where this
very thing is done, and, as would seem, somewhat extravagantly overdone.
Shakspeare is the speaker (Sonnet 105) who pleads that he may not be
looked upon as an idolator if he does religiously say the same things over
and over again like daily prayers. But in a later Sonnet the speaker
does the precise thing here repudiated, and calls the person addressed "A
God in love to whom I am confined." This, according to Shakspeare,
shows a change of sex as when Juliet calls the "gracious self" of her
Romeo the God of her Idolatry; or when Queen Katharine had "loved him (the
king) next heaven," and "been, out of fondness, superstitious to him" (King
Henry VIII., III. ii.). "I prythee be my god! I'll kiss thy
feet; I'll swear myself thy subject." This is the language that
Caliban drunk addresses to a drunken man, when it is from male to male;
and we have been asked to believe in sober earnest that Shakspeare
addressed the same to his friend. In Sonnet 21 Shakspeare says he
will not compare his friend with the sun or moon. But the speaker in
Sonnet 33 does use this lovers' language, and calls the person addressed
It is Shakspeare for certain who sums up his total lifetime
as a "'well-contented day" in Sonnet 32, which immediately follows
the sudden startling ejaculations of unhappiness and hopelessness.
He is happy in his life, his lot, his love; whereas the other speaker is
unhappy in most things and discontented with everything; he is in disgrace
with fortune and his disgrace is public. He is an outcast in exile;
a lonely, discontented, and dejected man.
We shall find there is an enforced absence caused by some
"separating spite" that has parted two different persons, and that
Shakspeare as the writer stayed at home whilst writing about, of, and for
his friend who had been banished and driven abroad. Now there must
be two speakers where one is wandering abroad who speaks amongst
foreigners on distant shores, whilst the other stays at home and writes
Sonnets about him here who doth "hence remain."
The man who is the speaker of Sonnet 29 is an outcast,
desolate and in disgrace publicly in the eyes of men—and so is driven
apart as a lonely banished man. That, as will be shown, is not
Shakspeare. This outcast banished man is the speaker of Sonnet 44,
who is on distant shores at "limits far remote." That is not
Shakspeare, who is then writing at home. "We may be sure," says Dr.
Nicolson, "that Shakspeare never was at sea for any length of time." 
In which dictum I cordially concur. But the speaker in at least two
different groups of Sonnets has often been at sea, "frequent been with
unknown minds," or abroad amongst foreigners. Again and again has he
"hoisted sail to all the winds" that would blow him the farthest away from
England. In Sonnet 44 he is on distant shores, at "limits far
remote," with vast spaces of earth and water between him and home.
This cannot be Shakspeare according to the external circumstances any more
than it is Shakspeare in personal character. The speaker of Sonnet
124 can speak of himself as one of the nobility, the fashion, "our
fashion," as he says, and as a soldier. That is not Shakspeare.
In Sonnet 125 he is a person who has borne the Canopy of state, as a Lord
in Waiting. That is not Shakspeare. He is one who can speak of
his love or affection as having been the child of state, subject to its
policy, but as suffering from it no longer. That is not Shakspeare.
But it is the same speaker who gives expression to the cries over a wasted
youth, to the complaints against a pursuing evil fortune, to the
confessions of weaknesses, of lapses, of blenches, and sensual sins, and
who bewails the guilt that has been attributed blindly to Shakspeare.
The simple explanation is that such Sonnets are not personal to the
writer, but are spoken in a character which can be otherwise identified.
These therefore are dramatic Sonnets. We have another mode of proof
or evidential illustration by comparison with the Plays. For
instance, when Demetrius in the Midsummer Night's Dream has
recovered his true sight once more, and thrown off the glamour of illusion
under which he had strayed from Helena in pursuit of Hermia, he says—
"But like (as) in sickness did I loathe this food;
But as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now do I wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it."
This is the
speaking likeness of a repentant lover who has been beguiled and misled.
With the perverted taste of sickness he had false longings for Hermia.
But with the recovery of his natural taste he returns to health and
Helena. The sex and situations in the play will help to show that it
must be lovers' language in Sonnet 118. Here the speaker has been astray
after other women; or at least he pleads that "false adulterate eyes" have
given salutation to his "sportive blood"; he has visited the "isles of
error," listened to the "sea-maid's music," and been deluded by the
siren's tears to dally on the wrong shore, and he now returns to the one
true love "rebuked" to his "content." He urges à la
"Like as to make our appetites more keen
With eager compounds we our palate urge,
As to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And sick of welfare found a kind of meetness
To be diseased ere that there was true needing:
Thus policy in love t' anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assured,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which rank of goodness would by ill be cured:
But thence I learn and find the lesson true
Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you," (118)
Here, as so
often, the autobiographists assume that Shakspeare would take the same
situation but reverse the sex in the Sonnet, and apply the same language,
images, and expressions to a male that he had previously applied to a
female in the plays, just as if there were no such thing as sex to be
recognized in poetry, and males could be given in marriage to males when
Shakspeare is the writer! I say no. My contention is that the
practice in the Plays offers some guidance for our interpretation of the
Sonnets; I maintain that Shakspeare was masking in his Sonnets as well as
in his Plays, and it is only by lifting the mask where he speaks in other
characters that we can read the true expression of his own face, or find
his very self in the Sonnets. Here are a few illustrations presented
in accordance with the comparative method—
CHARGE MADE BY ONE SPEAKER.
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.
All! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds. (34)
O in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise:
Naming thy name blesses an ill report. (95)
SHAKSPEARE AS WRITER AT HOME.
Oh, Absence! what a torment would'st thou prove
Were it not thy sour image gave sweet leave
To entertain the time, with thoughts of love;
And that thou teachest how to make one twain
By praising him here who doth hence remain. (39)
My glass shows me myself indeed
Beaten and chapped with tanned antiquity. (62)
Ah wherefore with infection should he live
And with his presence grace impiety? (67)
The Summer's flower is to the Summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed out-braves, his dignity.
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds. (94)
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that in guess they measure by thy deeds;
Then (churls) their thoughts although their eyes
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds,
But why thy odour matcheth not thy show
The solve is this—that thou dost common grow. (69)
That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
For Slander's mark was ever yet the fair. (70)
Let me 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. (116)
Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my Beloved as an Idol show! (119)
REPLY BY ANOTHER.
O 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 that wounded bosom fits.
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to lily sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies? (121)
THE SPEAKER WHO IS ABROAD.
Is it thy spirit that thou send'st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy? (61)
If the dull substance of my flesh were Thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then, despite of space I should be brought
From limits far remote (to) where thou dost stay. (44)
ANOTHER SPEAKER IN REPLY.
Why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood? (121)
Pity me then and wish I were renewed,
Whilst like a willing patient I will drink
Potions of Eysell 'gainst my strong infection. (111)
What potions have I drunk of siren tears
Distilled from Lymbecks foul as hell within. (119)
Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view.
O for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty Goddess of my harmful deeds. (111)
Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow. (111)
Accuse me thus;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
That would transport me farthest from your
And yet this time removed was Summer's time. (97)
A God in love to whom I am confined. (110)
Here there are at least two different persons involved who are as
identifiably engaged in a dramatic dialogue as any two characters talking
at or to each other in the Plays. These two are not to be set down
as Shakspeare making faces at his own face in the mirror of the Sonnets.
They are not to be explained as Shakspeare himself and the Double of
himself, nor as Shakspeare himself and Shakspeare beside himself.
The same charges are made by one Speaker that are
acknowledged and replied to word for word by the other. These
charges are formulated by the Speaker who stays at home, and they are
admitted and answered by the Speaker who is or has been the frequent
wanderer abroad, the dweller in infectious society, the Remover who has
hoisted sail to every wind that would blow him farthest from his home of
love, to wander hither and thither as chance or fortune might determine.
A very important repetition of two lines occurs in Sonnet 96.
When the lovers were parting (Sonnet 36) because an absence was enforced
upon them by some "separating spite," the Speaker says the friend must not
honour him with any "public kindness," or she (?) will be dishonouring
"But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report!"
were doubled in their pathos by repetition in Sonnet 96. For this time
they are spoken by the person to whom they were previously addressed. That
person refers to the gossip that is abroad, and the reports which are
current, and says—
"How many lambs might the stern Wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers might'st thou lead away,
If thou would'st 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!"
would be meaningless in Shakspeare's mouth, but is a pathetic reminder of
the lover's declaration of protective love that was made in the earlier
It has now been shown conclusively that (1) both sexes are
addressed in the Sonnets devoted to Southampton—the Latter series being
purposely excluded for the time being; that (2) there are two
speakers, the one being at home as the Writer, the other abroad as the
Speaker; that (3) these two speakers are the opposite of each other in
character, one being the accuser of another person, that other person
being the excuser of himself. Also the precise charges advanced by
one Speaker are the very sins which are confessed and bewailed by the
other. And in the first two quotations we have the charge and
counter-charge between the, two speakers. When once we have thus
demonstrated that the Sonnets are spoken by two or more speakers the
Personal Theory must go, because the dramatic hypothesis is made actual,
and concrete, and matter-of-fact for ever.
And now we are ready to apply the KEY-SONNET
quoted at the commencement of the present chapter.
It is my intention to show that after our Poet had written a
certain number of personal Sonnets to the Earl, his dear friend, advising
him to marry, and for the purpose of perpetuating his portrait in verse,
he, the Earl, did afterwards fall in love with the "faire Mistress
Vernon," as she was called, and that Shakspeare then began to write
Sonnets for Southampton as well as to him on the subject of the
Earl's love, and at his friend's own suggestion. The intimacy, as we
have seen from the Sonnets which are personal, was of the nearest and
dearest kind that could exist between the two men. Were there no
proof to be cited it would not be so great a straining of probability to
imagine the intimacy close and secret enough for Shakspeare to write
Sonnets on Southampton's love, in this impersonal, indirect way, as it is
to suppose it was close enough for them to share one mistress, and for
Shakspeare to write Sonnets for the purpose of proclaiming the mutual
disgrace and perpetuating the sin and shame. It might be argued also
that the intimacy being of this secret and sacred sort, would naturally
take a greater delight in being illustrated in the unseen way of a
dramatic treatment. It would be sweeter to the Earl's affection;
more perfectly befitting the Poet's genius; the celebration of the
marriage of two souls in the most inner sanctuary of friendship.
But, independently of this consideration, the dramatic method of treatment
would be imposed on the Poet by the impersonal nature of the subject.
Moreover, the only way in which Shakspeare could devote Sonnets to
Southampton's affairs, when he said in his dedication to Lucrece,
"What I have to do is yours," would be by his adoption of the
dramatic method. If he referred to his Sonnets in that dedication of
Lucrece, as I maintain he did, there is but one way in which the
allusion could apply. He would not have promised to write a book, or
a series of Sonnets, and speak of them as a part of what he had to do for
the Earl if they were to be mere poetical exercises or personal to
himself. Such must have been altogether fugitive—the subjects
unknown beforehand. Whereas he speaks of the work as devoted
to the Earl's service—something that is fixed, and fixed, too, by or with
the knowledge of the person addressed. This I take to refer to the fact
that, at his friend's suggestion, he had then agreed to write dramatic
Sonnets on the subject of Southampton's courtship; the secret method being
selected on account of the secret nature of the argument.
For all who have eyes to see, the 38th Sonnet tells us most
explicitly that the writer has done with the subject of the earlier
Sonnets. There was no further need of advising the Earl to marry
when he was doing all he could to get married. But, says the Poet,
he cannot be at a loss for a subject so long as the Earl lives to pour
into his verse his own sweet argument. The force of the
expression "pour'st into my verse," shows that this is in no
indirect suggestive way, but that the Earl has now begun to supply his own
argument for Shakpeare's Sonnets. This argument is too "excellent,"
too choice, in its nature for "every vulgar paper to rehearse."
Here is something "secret, sweet and precious," not to be dealt with in
the ordinary way of Personal Sonnets. This excelling argument calls
for the most private treatment, and to carry it out a new leaf is turned
over in the Books of Sonnets. If the result be in any way worthy,
the Earl is to take all credit, for it is he who has suggested the new
theme, supplied the fresh argument, and struck out a new light of
invention; he has "given Invention light," lighted the Poet on his
novel path, tells him what and how he is to write. Thus, accepting
the Earl's suggestion of writing vicariously on the subjects given, the
Poet calls upon him to be, to become the tenth Muse to him.
Obviously he had not so considered him whilst writing to the Earl;
but as he is about to write of or for him dramatically, he
exclaims, "Be thou the tenth Muse!" Shakspeare actually
creates another Muse to call upon in describing this new mode of being
inspired by the friend's invention, or imagination, and "own sweet
argument." This is echoed in Sonnet 76, where he tells his friend
that "You and love are still my argument." It is re-echoed in
Sonnet 79, when he writes—
"I grant, sweet Love, thy lovely argument
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen."
The argument is
the subject-matter, and this in Sonnet 38 is to be furnished by the friend
himself as something "too excellent for every vulgar paper to rehearse,"
the friend being treated by Shakspeare as the veritable author of future
and forthcoming Sonnets that are to be presented to him, or "stand against
his sight," when written in his own Book. Here we affirm that the
statements are as plain as the matter is important. And yet this
Key-Sonnet is passed over by the Autobiographists as if it contained
nothing particular, or as if its significance could be suppressed by their
Moreover, Shakspeare himself distinguishes between his
Personal and Dramatic Sonnets in a manner not to be mistaken if we do but
listen to his words. He distinguishes betwixt those that are the
result of his friend's invention and his own. He tells us (Sonnet
105) that his own invention is spent on one subject, that
being the constancy of his friend. He writes to one of one
who is constant in relation to him, and therefore his verse, his
invention, is confined to celebrating that constancy! Whereas
several groups are devoted to the theme of inconstancy. How
is that? These are claimed to be dramatic Sonnets; and the
inconstancy is in relation to some other person or persons than
Shakspeare. This writing vicariously involves other characters, and
it is identifiably the result of Southampton's suggestion when he began to
supply the subject-matter, his "own sweet argument," and "give invention
light" for Sonnets that the Poet does not attribute to his own invention,
but to that of Southampton, who had become the tenth muse in this 38th
"How CAN my
muse WANT subject to
Whilst thou dost breathe that pour'st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse."
The new matter
is not only to be manipulated, it is likewise to be recorded in another
way, and not to be written on common paper. The Dramatic Sonnets are to be
inscribed in the friend's own book, where they are to "stand against" his
sight. Also the "Private Friends" who are mentioned by Meres are
evidently alluded to in the two last lines—
"If my slight muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise,"
because he had
supplied the invention of the method and the subject-matter for Dramatic
It has been said that such amorous wooings as these of
Shakspeare's Sonnets, when personally interpreted, were common betwixt man
and man with the Elizabethan sonneteers. But where is the record of
them? In whose Sonnets shall we find the illustration? Not in
Spenser's nor Sidney's, Drayton's nor Daniel's, Constable's nor
Drummond's. Warton instanced the Affectionate Shepherd; but
Barnefield, in his address "To the curteous Gentlemen Readers" prefixed to
his Cynthia, &c., expressly forbids such an interpretation of his
"conceit," and states that it was nothing else than "an imitation of
Virgil in the 2nd Eclogue of Alexis." There is no precedent
whatever, only an assumption, a false excuse for a baseless theory.
The precedent that we should find if we sought for one is for such Sonnets
being written dramatically. It was by no means uncommon for a Poet
to write in character on behalf of a Patron, and act as a sort of
secretary in his love affairs, the letters being put into the shape of
Sonnets. In Shakspeare's plays we meet with various allusions to
courting by means of "Wailful Sonnets, whose composèd rhymes should be
full-fraught with serviceable vows." Thurio, in the Two Gentlemen
of Verona, goes into the city to seek a gentleman who shall set a
Sonnet to music for the purpose of wooing Sylvia. Gascoigne, who
died 1577, tells us, many years before Shakspeare wrote in this way for
his young friend, he had been engaged to write for others in the same
fashion. The author of the Forest of Fancy (1579) informs us
that many of the poems were written for "persons who had occasion to
crave his help in that behalf." Marston in his Satyres
(1598) accuses Roscio (Burbage), the tragedian, of having written verses
for Mutio, and he tells us that "absolute Castilio had furnished
himself in like manner in order that he might pay court to his Mistress."
And as he is glancing at the Globe Theatre, it is more than likely that by
"absolute Castilio" he meant Southampton, who was well known in the
Spanish wars, and who could be as high-heeled and haughty as any Spanish
Don. Drayton tells us in his 21st Sonnet that he knew a gallant who
wooed a young girl, but could not win her. He entreated the poet to
try and move her with his persuasive rhymes. And such was the force
of Poesy, whether heaven-bred or not, that he won the Mistress for his
friend with the very first Sonnet he wrote; that was sufficient to make
her dote on the youth beyond measure. So that in showing Shakspeare
to have written dramatic Sonnets for the Earl of Southampton, to express
his passion for Mistress Vernon, we are not compelled to go far in search
of a precedent for the doing of such a thing; it was a common custom when
he undertook to honour it by his observance, and carried it indefinitely
farther than others had done. In the Sonnet just quoted Shakspeare
accepts the Earl's suggestion that he should write dramatic Sonnets upon
subjects supplied by Southampton, who has thus "GIVEN
It is enough for the present to establish the fact that when
the change occurred in the mode of writing Sonnets thus dictated or
suggested by Southampton, who became the Tenth Muse that inspired the
Poet, and so gave invention light, this new departure from the earlier
practice of writing the Personal Sonnets implied the dramatic mode of
treatment, the result of which must be Sonnets that are not personal to
Moreover, the Sonnets now to be written under the changed
conditions suggested by the inspirer of the subject-matter and inventor of
the new method are not to be entrusted to common paper, but are to be
recorded in the lover's own Book, as befits the nature of the subjects.
We shall find this same Book again referred to.
Shakspeare writes the 77th Sonnet in the Book that
belongs to his friend. He calls it "Thy Book."
Whilst in the act of writing in it he invites Southampton to enrich it by
writing in it himself. Moreover, this book is a register in which
the lapse of time may be read; therefore it must have chronicled in its
course the various stories told by the Sonnets. "And of this
Book this learning mayst thou taste," because it shows "time's thievish
progress." The stealth seen on the dial and in the face of youth is
likewise reflected by group after group of the Sonnets.
In going through the Sonnets we shall find that numbers of
them are strung upon some historical thread, but that the historical
matter cannot be made personal to Shakspeare as the speaker, whereas it
can be identified with the life, the circumstances, and character of the
man who was to "give invention light" and breathe his "own sweet
argument" into Shakspeare's verse.
It will be shown that whether the Sonnets be addressed to the
object of them by Shakspeare himself, or spoken dramatically, it is the
character of Southampton and that alone, with its love of change, its
inconstancy, its shifting hues, its passionate impetuosity, its spirit
restless as flame, its tossings to and fro, its hurrying here and there to
seek in strife abroad the satisfaction denied to him in peace at home,
that we shall find reflected through a large number of them, and
Southampton only who is congratulated in Sonnet 107 on having escaped his
doom of imprisonment for life, through the death of the Queen; for, the
present interpretation of the Sonnets themselves will be corroborated all
through by the history of the time.
And I contend that there is not a character in the Plays more
fully portrayed from the heart of it, more definitely outlined in the face
of it, no more speaking likeness than this of Southampton in love, in
"disgrace with Fortune," in enforced absence, in being with his beloved
whilst far away from her, and finally in being a prisoner "impeached" for
treason, for the part he took in Essex's attempt at rebellion.
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Southampton when in "disgrace with Fortune" solaces himself
thoughts of his new love, Elizabeth Vernon.
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,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
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 remembered such wealth
That then I scorn to change my state with
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past;
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new-wail my dear time's
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dataless
And weep afresh love's long-since cancelled
And moan the expense of many a vanished
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new-pay as if not paid before:
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end. (30)
Thy bosom is endearèd with, all hearts,
Which I, by lacking, have supposèd dead;
And there reigns love, and all love's loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought burièd:
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear-religious love stolen from mine eye
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things removed, that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies  of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give,
That due of many now is thine alone:
Their images I loved I view in thee,
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me. (31)
Leaving the two stray Sonnets, Nos. 27 and 28, for the moment to be
gathered up in their proper place a little further on, we now come to the
opening act of the "Secret Drama." These three Sonnets are amongst
the most beautiful that Shakspeare ever wrote. A greater depth of
feeling is sounded in them; a new and most natural stop is drawn, which
has the power to "mitigate and suage with solemn touches troubled
thoughts," and make the measure dilate into its stateliest music.
The poetry grows graver and more sagely fine. Point by point, note
by note, the most special particulars are touched, and facts fresh from
life and of the deepest significance are presented to us, yet we are
unable to identify one of them as belonging to the life and character of
Shakspeare. The music is full of meaning—the slower movement being
necessary because of the burden it bears—but we do not know what it
means. If we suppose Shakspeare to be speaking, the more pointed the
verity, the greater the vagueness. We cannot tell what he is talking about
in so sad a tone. It is possible that he may have lost dear friends,
although, so far as we know, when these Sonnets were written he had not
even lost a child. Also, it is possible that, full of winning
cheerfulness and sunny pleasantness, and "smiling government" of himself
as he was, he had his night-seasons of sadness and depression; that he
experienced reverses of fortune at his theatre, and sat at home in the
night-time whilst his fellows were making merry after work, and nursed his
hope and strength with cordial loving thoughts of his good friend.
But we cannot picture Shakspeare turned malcontent and miserable; looking
upon himself as a lonely Outcast, bewailing his wretched condition;
nursing his cankering thoughts prepensely, and rocking himself, as it
were, over them persistently. This cannot be the man of proverbial
sweetness and smoothness of disposition, the incarnation of all
kindliness, the very spirit of profound and perennial cheerfulness, who in
Sonnet 32 calls his life a "well-contented day!" If
Shakspeare had at times felt depressed and despondent for want of
sympathy, it was surely most unlike him to make such dolorous complaints
to this dear friend whom he had just addressed as being more to him than
all the world beside, and whose love had crowned him with a crown such as
Fortune could not otherwise confer. In making the Poet his friend,
he had honoured Shakspeare (his own words) beyond the power of the world's
proudest titles; enriched him with a gift of good that Fortune could not
paragon. How then, into whatsoever "disgrace" he had fallen, could he pour
forth his selfish sorrow to this friend who was his supremest source of
joy? How could he talk of being friendless and of envying those who
had friends when he was in possession of so peerless a friend? How
should he speak of "troubling deaf Heaven with his bootless
cries," when Heaven had heard him and sent him such a friend, and his was
the nature to straightway apprehend the Giver in the gift? How could
he "curse his fate," which he held to be so blessed in having his friend?
How should he speak of being "contented least" with what he enjoyed most
when he had said this friend was the great spring of his joy? How
should he exclaim against Fortune when he had received and warmly
acknowledged the best gift she had to bestow? Whence came this
wretchedness, and the right to express it in this way to the man who alone
had a true cause of complaint against Fortune, and a real right to utter
every word that has been ascribed to Shakspeare himself in these
exclamatory Sonnets, with their wistful looks, and dolorous ejaculations,
and tinge of lover's melancholy? We may rest assured that Shakspeare
was the last man to have made any such mistake in Nature and in Art.
He had too keen a perception of appropriateness, and was too refined in
feeling. If he had his sorrows he would have kept them out of sight
whilst his friend was suffering; he who has nearly kept himself out of
sight altogether, and who comes the closest to us just for the sake of
smiling up into the face of this friend, and of showing us that this was
the man whom he once loved, as he told us, the only times he ever spoke in
prose, and proclaimed that his love for him was without end.
Milton had good cause to complain when he stated with much
dignity in his desolate condition that he had fallen upon "evil days and
evil tongues." Not so Shakspeare. Nothing is known of evil
days befalling him; and the worst tongues that assailed him were those of
Nash and Greene, which only elicited a laughing reply. Supposing he
had a failure or two with his Plays, his was not the nature to turn
Byronic or abuse the public, or, like Ben Jonson, curse his fate, or moan
over the disgrace. He was not the man to turn malcontent and sit
with folded arms frowning back at Fortune's frown. He was buoyant
with inspiration, full of hope, overflowing with energy, and power of
Instead of magnifying his trifling misfortune into a great
misery, or sitting down to bewail his "dear time's waste," he would be up
and at it again, writing another new play or possibly two. Precious
little time did Shakspeare waste when he once got to work in London!
He was not at all this beclouded moody kind of man. If he were the
speaker here he would lay himself open to the reproof of Friar Laurence,
or rather to his own rebuke—
"Happiness courts thee in her best array,
But like a mis-behaved and sullen wench
Thou pout'st upon thy Fortune and thy Love!"
This same Play will furnish us with a test. In the original story of
Romeo and Juliet as told by Brooke there is no Mercutio except the mere
name. This character is entirely created and added by Shakspeare.
Mercutio with his rapier wit and radiant vivacity, as the vitalizing soul
of the Play, is pure Shakspeare, the plus or overplus that he gave to it
of his own abounding life and quickening spirit. Again Jacques says
"Will you sit down with me? and we two will rail against our mistress, the
world, and all our misery." Orlando replies, "I will chide no
breather in the world but myself: against whom I know most fault."
That speaks for Shakspeare, who was no melancholy-sucking Jacques.
Moreover, Fortune appears to have smiled very steadily on Shakspeare's
labours for the theatre by which he made his fortune!
We may safely assume, in accordance with the Poet's sense and
use of the word "Fortune" in his Plays, that he never could have
considered himself to be in disgrace with her ladyship, much less subject
to her deadliest, extremest, bitterest spite. He positively exults
in Sonnet 25 that he is beyond the reach of Fortune in any such sense.
He lives and loves, does his work, and is "well-contented" with his life
and lot. He "loves and is beloved where he may not remove nor be
Shakspeare was not crippled by the grievances or excessive
spite of a pursuing evil Fortune. Neither was he poor or despised.
And if he had been he was not the man to complain and whine about it in
Sonnets to his dear generous friend, for whose pleasure and delight the
Sonnets were written. The word "outcast" is very exceptional and
strong! Shakspeare has only employed it twice throughout the Plays.
In this Sonnet it is used as if to be an "outcast" were the common
condition for him who is in such disgrace with Fortune and the eyes of
men. The sentiment of the speaker is not that of Shakspeare envying
the superior art of any rival writer for the stage. After the death
of Marlowe in the middle of 1593 he reigned supreme. It is the
feeling expressed by Cordelia, who says—
"I wood that glib and oily
Art to speak and purpose not. "—Lear, I. i.
The personal reading is altogether wrong; it does not touch these Sonnets
at any one point, much less fathom the depth of their full meaning.
The character expressed is in heart and essence, as well as in every word,
that of a youthful spirit who feels in "disgrace with Fortune," and the
averted eyes of men, and whose tune is "Fortune, my Foe, why dost thou
frown," because for the present he is condemned to sit apart inactive, or
This talk about "Fortune" was to some extent a trick of the
time, and a favourite strain with Sidney and Essex. Perez, the
flashy foreign friend of this Earl, also indulged much in it, calling
himself "Fortune's Monster," which was the motto he inscribed on his
portrait. It is the young man of action doomed to be a mere
spectator. He has seen his fellow-nobles, the "choicest buds of all
our English blood," go by to battle with dancing pennons and nodding
plumes (as Marston describes them), floating in feather on the land as
ships float on the sea, or, as Shakspeare may have described them—
"All furnished, all in arms,
All plumed like estridges that wing the wind,
Bated like eagles having lately bathed;
Glittering in golden coats, like Images;
As full of spirit as the month of May,
And gorgeous as the sun at Midsummer."
Some are off to the aid of the French King; others to the Low Countries to
help the Dutch; others are away with Raleigh and Hawkins, going to do good
work for England, and strike at the Spaniard a memorable stroke. The
land has rung from end to end with the fame of Grenville's last great deed
and glorious death. A few years before Cavendish had come sailing up
the river Thames with his merry mariners clad in silk; his sails of
damask, and his top-masts cloth of gold; thus symbolling outwardly the
richness of the prize they had wrested from the enemy. The spirit of
adventure is everywhere in motion, sending
"Some to the wars, to try their fortune there;
Some to discover islands far away."
The hearts of the young burn within them at the recital of their fathers'
deeds, the men who conquered Spain in 1588, when all her proud embattled
powers were broken. The after-swell of that high heaving of the
national heart catches them up and sets them yearning to do some such work
of noble note.
He, too, is anxious for active service and warlike "chevisaunce,"
wearying to mount horse and away. The stir of the time is within
him, and here he is compelled to sit still. He shares the feeling of
his friend Charles Blount, afterwards Lord Mountjoy, who, twice or thrice,
stole away from Court, without the Queen's leave, to join Sir John Norris
in Bretagne, and was reproached by her Majesty for trying to get knocked
on the head as "that inconsiderate fellow Sidney had done." He hears
the sounds of the strife, the trumpet's golden cry, the clash and clangour
of the conflict, and his spirit longs to be gone and in amidst the din and
dust of the arena—he who is left by the wayside, out of harness and out of
heart. He feels it as a dishonour to sit there alone doing nothing
but wasting precious time, and looks upon himself as a lonely Outcast.
He wishes that he were of a more hopeful disposition, so that he could
look on the bright side of things and see the silver lining to his cloud.
But, his love being the "Child of State," he can neither be married nor
get leave to go away. He must not quit without the Queen's
"I have considered well his loss of time,
And how he cannot be a perfect Man
Not being tried and tutored in the world."
If he only had friends like this one at Court to get the ear of the Queen;
or if he had but the Courtier's art of that one who seems to obtain all he
asks for; or if he shared but the other's scope and free-play for his
sword to clear a space for himself and win a prouder name for his beloved
to wear! For he is deeply in love, which makes his spirit more than
ever restless, and doubles his sadness with its delicious pain. The
thought of her is a spur to his eager spirit; for her sake he would be
earning name and fame, and here he is compelled to wait wearily, watch
wistfully, wish vainly, and weep over this "dear waste" of his best time.
Yet he almost despises himself for having such thoughts, when he thinks of
her whose love he has won. However poor his prospect, he has the
love of her within his soul, and is really richer than the whole world's
wealth could make him. She is a prize precious above all those that
glitter in imagination, and, however out of luck, self-tormented, and
inclined to read "his own fortune in his misery" of the moment, he sits in
her heart; that is his throne, and he would scorn to change condition with
It is the time, too, of the lover's life when sweet thoughts
bring a feeling of sadness, and he is apt to water his wine of love a
little with tears, and find it none the less sweet. The heart, being
so tender to this new present of love, grows more tender in thinking of
the past, and seems to feel its old sorrows truly for the first time.
The transfiguring touch of this fresh spring of love adds a new green to
the old graves of the heart; this precious gain of the lover's enriches
also his sense of loss, and to the silent sessions of sweet thought it
calls up the remembrance of things past, the old forms of the loved and
the lost rise from their grave of years in "soft attire," and he can weep
who is unaccustomed to shed tears. All his troubles come gathering
on him together, and he grieves over "grievances foregone;" wails over the
old long-since cancelled woes anew, and pays once more the sad account of
by-gone sorrows. Like another of Shakspeare's characters who speaks
"Raining the tears of lamentation,
For the remembrance of my Father's death"
(Love's Labour's Lost),
the speaker here is one who has been bereaved of his dearest and most
precious friends, friends in the closest kinship. Their loss is the
sorrow of a life-time, the relationship the nearest to nature, and the
deaths occurred years ago. They are friends whom the speaker has
greatly lacked and needed in his life. His love for them is "dear
religious love," the tenderness and tears are reverential, the affection
is high and holy. We cannot attach these friends or this feeling to
Shakspeare himself by any known facts of his life. And had there
been any such facts in his experience, to sing of which would interest his
patron, we also are concerned to know them. In Southampton's life
alone can we identify the facts and find the counterpart to these Sonnets.
In that we have the fullest and most particular confirmation; it matches
the Sonnets perfectly, point by point, through all the comparisons; it
accounts for the feeling, and sets the story sombrely aglow, as if written
in illuminated letters on a ground of black; gives it the real look of
life and death. The Earl's father had died October 4th, 1581, when
Henry Wriothesley was two days short of eight years old; and about four
years afterwards his elder brother died. Here are the precious friends
whom he lacked so much; here is the "dear religious love" that made him
weep such "holy" and funeral tears; here is the precise lapse of time.
And in this new love of the Earl for Elizabeth Vernon he finds his solace.
She comes to restore the old, to replace what he has lost, to reveal all
that Death had hidden away in his mortal night. She is the heaven of
his departed "loves;" in her they shine down on him starrily through a
mist of tears. "Love's long-since cancelled woe" is something very
expressive but hardly applicable to this new love. How can such a
loss, such a woe, have been cancelled at all? I answer, only
in one sense, which warrants the legal expression, and only in
Southampton's case. The "woe" was the loss of his father, who died
when Southampton was eight years old, and it was "cancelled" "long
since" by the re-marriage of Lady Southampton to Sir Thomas Heneage, who
became an affectionate stepfather to the young Earl, and, as such, as well
as from his relationship to the players, was thought worthy of the
In applying the comparative method we shall find the likeness
to these Sonnets, the dramatic position, the personal relationships of the
speaker reflected in the Play of All's Well that ends Well, where
Bertram, like Southampton, is left fatherless. In the opening words
of the Play the Countess says—"In delivering my son from me I bury a
second husband." Bertram replies, "And I in going, Madam, weep
o'er my Father's death anew, but I must attend his Majesty's command, to
whom I am NOW IN WARD, EVERMORE IN SUBJECTION."
And in speaking to the king Bertram says of his dead father—
"His good remembrance, Sir,
Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb;
So in approof lives not his epitaph
As in your speech."
Helena also writes—
"I, his despiteful Juno, sent him forth
From courtly friends with camping foes to live,"
and one of the lords remarks—"How mightily, sometimes, we make us
comforts of our losses: and how mightily, some other times, we drown our
gain in tears!" which paints the very replica of Sonnets 30 and 31,
now assigned to young Southampton as speaker.
Leigh Hunt had the Poet's true perception of nature in these
Sonnets without knowing they were written vicariously when he observed
that "the gladdening influences of a lover's thoughts, the cheering light
of a pure affection, were never depicted with truer feeling than in this
In these Sonnets we may perceive a touch of Shakspeare's art,
which peeps out in his anxiety to see his friend married. How
steadily he keeps in view of the Earl, this star of his love that tops the
summit and gilds the darkest night; this calm influence that is to clear
his cloudy thoughts; this balm of healing for his troubled heart; this
crown and comfort of his life. Also in these, the first Sonnets
spoken by the Earl, the Poet gives us a suggestive hint of his friend's
character, and reveals a presaging fear that fortune has a spite against
him, of which we shall hear mere yet, and which was amply illustrated in
his after life. A proof that the love of Shakspeare for his friend
was tender enough to be tremulous with a divining force.
Let me sketch the position now with Southampton as the
speaker. In glancing forward for a moment to Sonnet 124, the speaker
"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."
This it has been; this it is no longer. The "love" of the speaker
had also been subject to state-policy, which it has at last defied by a
policy of its own, and thus has made itself independent. My
explanation is that Southampton is also the speaker of that Dramatic
Sonnet. His love was the Child of State. In consequence of his
being left fatherless, he was made the ward of the wily old statesman
Burleigh, and brought up under the Queen. The fatherlessness is
glanced at allusively. Having no father, his affairs were taken in
hand, his love included, by the diplomatist, acting under the Queen.
The match was made which Southampton broke, because his heart was not in
it, and consequently the young Earl fell into "disgrace with fortune and
men's eyes." Sooner or later he was in love, but this was with
Elizabeth Vernon, and not with the Lady de Vere. The Queen opposed
his wish to marry her cousin. If he would not have the one chosen
for him he should not possess the one he had wilfully chosen for himself.
This opposition was long and bitterly determined. It was the curse
of his early life. Southampton persisted and fought it out to the
end. In this long struggle Shakspeare stood beside him, and tried to
help him man the gap. He sides with him and does battle for him all
through the fight against the persecution of outrageous fortune and the
prolonged and potent tyranny of Time.
"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,"
the thwarted lover sits alone bewailing his outcast state, "troubling deaf
heaven" with his "bootless cries," cursing his fate, and then despising
himself for his own weakness in wishing himself like others who have
friends at Court, desiring the scope of this one, the art of the other,
"The art o' the Court, whose top to climb
Is certain falling, or so slippery that
The fear's as bad as falling,"—
Shakspeare is with him, whispering at the heart of him with comforting
words of good cheer, and thinking happier thoughts for him; looking
through his eyes to see things a little brighter and more hopeful than he
could see them for himself. When the Earl is in love, and his
wretchedness is doubled on behalf of the beloved, because of the "spite"
which separates them and will not let him marry, Shakspeare tries to keep
his look directed toward the fulfilment and fruition of this love.
Busy as a bee that will suck and secrete some honey even from most bitter
flowers, the Poet extracts all the sweetness he can from the lover's
bitter lot. To give him solace and to light and lead him on, he
kindles starry thoughts of his lady and her love, with which he glorifies
the darkest heaven overhead. What are all his losses when compared
with this great gain? Her love is not only precious and blessed in
itself, all the love that he has ever lost and lacked has its resurrection
now. In her "all losses are restored, and sorrows end." The
remembrance of her ought to bring such wealth to him that he would scorn
to change his outcast state with kings. Then as the proud, impetuous
spirit of the thwarted and ill-treated lover gets wilful and
devil-may-care, and breaks out more and more to make him the subject of
public scandal, we find the affection of Shakspeare grows more fatherly in
its graver mood. When he is wasting his youth in bad company and
infectious society, Shakspeare expresses profound regret—
"Ah, wherefore with infection should he live."
Keep your youth, O young man, he says, for love of me, and for love's
sake,—for her sake, if not for your own.
He portrays himself as looking far older than he is whilst
playing this paternal part, and assuming the right of paternal affection
to protect, to warn and to admonish. When Southampton wades deeper
and deeper in the dividing stream that gets wider and wider between him
and his mistress, he paints her standing with her lamp of love as the
beacon shining on the far shore, to keep his heart heaving high above the
biggest billows. He is with him in spirit amid the deepest waters on
the darkest night, trying to aid the strength of the swimmer. All
through the courtship he is the living link unbroken betwixt the two
It is here, and here only, in the Dramatic Sonnets that we
can get to the heart of the whole matter; the heart of the friendship; the
honeyed heart of the poetry; the true and tried and trusty heart of the
man Shakspeare. All true lovers of the Poet, especially women, who
enter the secret inner presence-chamber opened with this key, will indeed
want to lay down my book and "love him over again," as if they had not
held him half dear enough till now. Those who can give up the
personal reading where the Sonnets are dramatic will find the nature of
the poetry incalculably enriched, and themselves amply rewarded for
letting go the untrue interpretation.
As before said, our foundations are laid in the Personal
Sonnets, where the speaker is the writer. The 25th is personal to
Shakspeare. In this he tells us indirectly that his young friend is
not in favour. He says—
"Let those who are in favour with their Stars,
Of public honours and proud titles boast!"
Clearly the person addressed was not one of these, or the comparison would
have been most personally inappropriate. This is Shakspeare's recognition,
made in his allusive manner, of the fact that his friend is not in favour
with Fortune, nor the recipient of public honours; and at the time of
writing he has no reason to boast of being a man of title. The context
shows that the loss of favour and good fortune is in relation to the
Court, where he had been saluted as the "World's fresh Ornament." The
Poet, in solacing himself with the great honour conferred on him by this
friendship, also tries to solace his friend with the reflection that those
who are in favour may soon come to their fall:
"Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread,
But as the Marygold  I at the Sun's eye;
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die."
Southampton had already lost the royal favour, his conflict with fortune
had begun, and the Poet comes all the closer to him. The same position is
here most delicately indicated by Shakspeare in a personal Sonnet that
Southampton occupies as the speaker of Sonnet 29, who is in "disgrace with
Fortune" and the eyes of men, where the language becomes perplexing in its
decisiveness because of its dramatic character. The personal and the
dramatic treatment, however, present the obverse and reverse of the same
The Sonnet next to the three that head this chapter is
personal to Shakspeare (No. 32). It divides two groups of the
dramatic ones as it stands in Thorpe's Collection. It is in this
that the Poet calls his life a "Well-contented day," in direct
opposition to the Malcontent who speaks in Sonnet 29.
A PERSONAL SONNET.
"If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceasèd Lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be out-stripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme
Exceeded by the height of happier men;
Oh then vouchsafe me but this loving thought,
Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died and Poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I'll read,
his for his love. (32)
[28.](page 90) Sonnet 81 is demonstrably out
[29.](page 91) The
Herbertists never scruple to upset the arrangement when it suits their
purpose. Mr. Tyler places Sonnets 90 to 96 later than the groups to
which Nos. 138 and 144 belong! Such a dislocation being necessary to
give even a look of possibility to Shakepeare's having known "Will"
Herbert for 3 years when Sonnet 104 was written!
[30.](page 95) Trans. New Shakspere
Society, 1881, pp. 42-3.
[31.](page 103) Southampton's lather had
been dead some twelve years; his brother eight years.
[32.](page 103) "Hung with the trophies."
An allusion to the ancient custom of hanging wreaths upon monumental
statues. Here the dead have bequeathed their crowns to adorn this
present image of past love.
[33.](page 110) The Sunflower.