Shakspeare to Elizabeth Vernon—their Final Reconciliation:
with Shakspear's Sonnet in allusion to their Marriage.
never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify!
As easy might I from myself depart,
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie;
That is my home of love: if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged—
So that myself bring water for my stain:
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my Rose! in it then art my all. (109)
Alas, 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made myself a Motley to the view;
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap, what is
Made old offences of affections new:
Most true it is, that I have looked on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love:
Now all is done, have what shall have no end!
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On never proof to try an older friend,—
A God in love to whom I am confined:
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving
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, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then, and wish I were renewed;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of Eysel 'gainst my strong infection
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction:
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,
Even that your pity is enough to cure me. (111)
Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon gay brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'ergreen my bad, my good allow?
You are my All-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steeled sense or changes, right or wrong:
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices,  that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stoppèd are:
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides methinks are
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind,
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape, which it doth catch;
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud'st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour, or deformed'st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow or dove, it shapes them to your feature:
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue. (113)
Or whether doth my mind, being crown'd with you,
Drink up the monarch's plague, this flattery,
Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchymy,
To make of monsters and things indigest,
Such Cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
Oh, 'tis the first, 'tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up;
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is 'greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
If it be poisoned, 'tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin. (114)
Accuse me thus; that I have scanted all
Wherein I should your great deserts repay;
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with Unknown minds,
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:
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate,
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your waken'd hate;
Since my appeal says, I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.' 
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,
Aad, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseased, ere that there was trite needing:
Thus policy in love, to 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)
What potions have I drunk of Syren tears,
Distilled from Limbecs foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it both thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been
In the distraction of this maddening fever!
Oh, benefit of ill! now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater:
So I return rebuked to my content,
And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent. (119)
That you were once unkind, befriends me now,
And for that sorrow, which I then did feel,
Needs must under my transgression bow,
Unless my nerves were brass or hammer'd steel:
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you've pass'd a hell of time:
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffer'd in your crime:
Oh that our night of woe might have remember'd
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tender'd
The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must
ransom me. (120)
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being.
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
Not by our feeling, but by others' seeing:
For why should others' false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No.—I am that I am; and they that level
At my abuses, reckon up their own:
I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel;
By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;
Unless this general evil they maintain,—
All men are bad, and in their badness reign. (121)
Thy Gift, thy Tables, are within my brain
Full charactered with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain,
Beyond all date, even to eternity:
Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy Record never can be missed :
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:
To keep an adjunct to remember thee,
Were to import forgetfulness in me. (122)
Whatsoever Shakspeare intended to put into the Sonnets may be found in
them. Whatsoever character he meant to portray will assuredly be
depicted there. Such was the constitution of his mind that his work
is sure to be dramatically true, no matter what the subject may be.
In the Sonnets that are personal, there will be found nothing opposed to
what we know, and have reason to believe, of the Poet's character.
Nothing but what is perfectly compatible with that wise prudence, careful
forethought, uprightness of dealing, stability of spirit, contentedness
with his own lot, proverbial sweetness and lovableness of disposition,
which we know, not by conjecture, but because his possession of these
virtues is the most amply attested fact of his life. Moreover, the
Personal Sonnets always illustrate that modesty of his nature which was
great as was his genius. But, in this group of Sonnets, the
character delineated is the exact opposite in every respect to that of
Shakspeare; separated from his by a difference the most profound.
This is a youngster speaking—as in Sonnet 110—whereas Shakspeare
continually harps on his riper age, or, as we have read it, his elder
brotherhood to the youth who is his friend. And this scapegrace, who
is the speaker here, has been headstrong and wilful, imprudent and
thoughtless; unstable as wind and wave, and easily made the sport of both;
he is choleric and quickly stirred to breaking out and flying off at
random. Again and again has he given pain to those that loved him
most, who have had to turn from his doings with averted eyes. Again
and again has he left the beloved one, and gone away as far as wind and
wave would carry him. He has heedlessly done things which have made
him the mark of scandal—
"A fixed figure of the time,  for
To point his slow unmoving finger at;"
made a fool of
himself, as we say, and as he also says, publicly, to the view; "gored his
own thoughts" and made the heart of others bleed for him. He has
been forgetful of that "dearest love" to which "all bonds"
draw him closer and tie him tighter day by day; he has been wanting in
those grateful offices of affection wherein he ought to have repaid the "great
deserts" of the person addressed.
These Sonnets are very dramatic; intensely personal to the
speaker; the feeling goes deep enough to carry the writer most near to
nature, therefore they are certain to be representatively true. They
are pathetic with a passionate pleading; filled with real confessions;
self-criminating, and quick with repentance. But they are not true
to the nature of our Poet, they have no touch of kinship, no feature of
likeness to him. They are in all respects the precise opposite to
what we know of Shakspeare, and to all that he says of himself, or others
say of him. If ever there was a soul of ripe serenity and capacious
calm, of sweet and large affections, wise orderliness of life, and an
imagination that had the deep stillness of brooding love, it was the soul
of Shakspeare. His was not a mind to be troubled and tossed by every
breeze that blew, and billow that broke; not a temperament to be ever in
restless eddy and ebb and flow; not a nature that was fussy or fretful,
but steady and deep. He was a man who could possess his soul in
patience, and silently bide his time; who did not babble of his
discontents with either tongue or pen.
Then, if Southampton be the friend who is addressed when
Shakspeare speaks personally, his character should be to some extent
reflected from Shakspeare's words; we should at least see his features,
although in miniature, in Shakspeare's eyes. We know his character.
It can be traced quite distinctly on the historic page. He was a
brave and bounteous peer. A noble of nature's own making,
munificent, chivalrous, full of warlike and other fire. But he was
one of those who have the flash and outbreak of the passionate mind; and
when stirred, the fire was apt to leap out into a world of dancing sparks.
He was quick and sudden in quarrel; his hand flew as swiftly to his
sword-hilt as the hot blood to his face; lacking in prudence and patience,
and unstable in most things save his ardent friendships. Even these
he must have sorely tried. His mounting valour was of the restless
irrepressive kind, which, if it cannot find vent in battles abroad, is
likely to break out in broils at home. He was easily swayed, and
frequently swerved aside by the continual cross-currents of his wilful
blood; one of the chosen friends and kindred spirits of the madcap and
feather-triumph Earl of Essex! But he was also one of those
generous, self-forgettive souls whose vices are often more amiable than
some people's virtues. All this we may read in the records of the
time. All this we may gather from the Sonnets which are addressed to
him. And all this is figured in the liveliest form and colour in
those Sonnets which are spoken, BY the Earl of
Southampton. These paint the past history of the speaker, and they
render the Earl's character, actions, quarrels, wanderings, to the life.
But this is not the character of the person here addressed, independently
of whom the speaker may be, therefore the person here addressed
cannot be the Earl of Southampton. This person is the quiet centre
of the cyclone of emotions, exclamations, pleadings, protestations.
This person is the stay-at-home—the "home of love" from which the other
has so often ranged. This person sits enthroned God-like in love, "enskied
and sainted," high over the region of storm and strife, the
wild whirl of repentant words, having the prerogative to look down with
sad calm eyes; the regal right to forgive! The person here addressed
is of such purity and goodness that the speaker feels he needs to be
disinfected before he can come near. This cannot be Southampton, as
we know, by his character and conduct. And if Southampton be not the
person addressed, it follows that Shakspeare is not the speaker; this we
know likewise from his character and conduct. He was a man too wise
and prudent to have done the foolish things that are here confessed.
The soul that gathers wealth in still repose,
Not losing all that floats in overflows,
with a large content in the quiet brimfulness of its force. His mind was
too steadfastly anchored in the firm ground of a stable character, for him
to be continually going to and fro about the world. He was not a
wanderer time after time from his "home of love" far as fortune would let
him range; hoisting sail to every wind that blew; turning and tossing as
it were in the distraction of a "madding fever"; listening to the song of
the syrens; not bound on board with ears safely stopped, but landing to be
flattered and fooled by their treacherous tears. This speaker is a
traveller who has often been amongst foreigners ("unknown minds"), which
Shakspeare certainly was not—even if he ever went out of England at
all—any more than he could have been the man who had so blamefully looked
"on truth askance and strangely" to wilfully roam about the world, and
make acquaintance with all the error he could meet. And if the
supposed facts had been true; if his had been the nature to have these
many mournful breakings-out and flyings-off at random; if his errors and
wilfulness had been so grievous to his friends; if his light love had been
this plaything, this weather-cock of change; if he had so shamefully
trampled his acknowledged sacred obligations under-foot, and proved so
faithless to his professed friendship; if he had committed these "wretched
errors" of the heart; why, then, the arguments would be all fatally false.
For it is not possible that Shakspeare should confess all these sins and
shames on his part, and afterwards urge that all these "worse essays" were
merely made to try the Earl's affection, and prove him to be the "best of
love;" that all the "blenches" and ungratefulness and wanton inconstancy
were only meant to test the virtue and constancy of the Earl's friendship.
He could not plead that he had turned to vicious and immoral courses on
purpose to purge his stomach of the Earl's "sweetness," on which he had
over-fed, and urge that the true way of growing healthier was to become
thus badly diseased! He could not wilfully wander away from this
dear friend—leave "for nothing" all his "sum of good"—and then ask him to
quarrel with Fortune as the cause of his roving on account of his being
a player or manager of a theatre, whose place and duty were to keep
quietly at home and work steadily; as we know our Shakspeare did.
He could not plead that these sad experiences had given his heart another
youth, for the one that had been let run to waste; he who was nearly ten
years older than the Earl, and always gives him the utmost benefit of the
difference in their years and personal appearance. All such excuses
from such a man who had been such a sinner would be insultingly absurd.
And it is most grossly improbable that Shakspeare should have spoken to
his noble friend as in Sonnet 120, and have to regret that he had not been
as generous or quick in forgiveness as that friend had been to him on a
previous occasion, when we remember the modesty of the man. Still
more gross is the idea that Shakspeare should offer to his patron and dear
friend the worn-out remnant of his affections, like the broken-down rake
in Burns's poem, who, having foundered his horse among harlots, gave "the
auld nag to the Lord." Telling him that he would "never more grind
his appetite on newer proof, to try an older friend." It is
impossible to suppose that our Poet, who was so alive to all natural
proprieties, could use such language in addressing a male friend.
Equally impossible is it to think of Shakspeare, the man of staid habit
and grave masculine morality; the husband of good repute and the father of
a family; the shrewd man of the world, conversant with men and affairs;
the man who speaks of himself not only as ripe in years, but somewhat aged
before his time; who, when he catches a glimpse of his own face, does so
with an arch gravity or a jocose remark on the signs of age and the wear
and tear of life; who is weather-beaten, chapped and tanned, in Sonnet
73,—it is impossible that this man, of sober soul and grave wise speech,
should afterwards be found pleading with his boy-friend that the cause of
his lapses and frailties is that sportive wild blood of his which will
have its frisky leaps and lavoltos, and asking, with an almost infantile
innocence, "why should false adulterate eyes" give it salutation?
This is ineffably foolish to any one who is at all grounded in the
qualities of Shakspeare's character, or acquainted with such of the
Sonnets as are explicitly personal. Bad as they have tried to make
him, Shakspeare did not think adultery good, nor lust altogether
admirable—if we may trust the 129th Sonnet, which is somewhat emphatic on
the point and very much to our, purpose. Yet such a theory, so
blindly misleading and perniciously false, has been accepted, or allowed
to pass almost unchallenged, by men who profess to love and believe in
One of these Sonnets has been held to indicate Shakspeare's
disgust at his player's life. The image being drawn from the stage
gave some countenance to this view. But it is not fitted to the
relationship of poet and patron, and it is quite opposed to all that we
learn of Shakspeare's character. It is not true that he had gone
here, there, and everywhere to make a fool of himself, when he was quietly
working for his company and getting a living for his wife and family in an
upright, honest, prudent way. Nor could he with any the least
propriety speak of making a fool of himself on the stage, which was the
meeting place of himself and the Earl; the fount of Shakspeare's honour,
the spring of his good fortune; the known delight of Southampton's
leisure, he who often spent his time in doing nothing but going to
plays. Nor have we ever heard of any "harmful deeds," or
doings of Shakspeare, occasioned in consequence of his connection with the
stage. Nor do we see how his name could be branded, or "receive
a brand," from his connection with the theatre, or from his acts in
consequence of his being a player. What name? He had no name
apart from the theatre, and the friendships it had brought him. His
name was created there. He had no higher standard of appeal.
He had not stooped to author ship, or the player 's life. His
living depended on the theatre; he met and made his friends at the
theatre; he was making his fortune by the theatre; how then should
he exclaim against the theatre? How could he receive a brand
on his name from the theatre? How could he have felt dishonoured by
the honourable gains which he had acquired so honourably? Even
supposing him to have had a great dislike to the life and work, it would
have been grossly out of place, unnatural, and inartistic to have thus
expressed it point-blank to the generous friend who had exalted the "poor
player" and overleaped the Actor's life and lot, to shake him by the hand,
and make him his bosom friend, however much the world might have looked
down upon him! But we may altogether doubt that he had any such
dislike to his lot. He neither pined in private nor complained in
public, but his thrift and prosperity were in great measure the result of
his content. John Davies might and did regret that Fortune had not
dealt better by Shakspeare than in making him a player and playwright; but
even he held that the stage only stained "pure and gentle blood," of which
our Poet was not, although "generous in mind and mood," and one that
"sowed honestly for others to reap." 
Ben Jonson might kick against the "loathed stage," and Marston bitterly
complain, but Shakspeare's was a career of triumph; he was borne from the
beginning on a full tide of prosperity; the stage gave him that which he
so obviously valued, worldly good fortune. He could not have been
querulously decrying that success which his contemporaries were envying so
much. Moreover, he was at heart a player, and enjoyed the pastime;
this is apparent in his works, and according to evidence in Sonnet 32, he
lived a "well-contented day" as a player; and as Spenser sings, "the
noblest mind the best contentment has." Therefore he did not despise
the art in which he delighted, and which was bringing him name, friends,
and fortune. We have no proof whatever that he felt degraded by
treading the stage, and we have proof that he did not forget or overlook
his old theatre friends after he had left it. He considered himself
their "fellow" in 1616, when he remembered them in his will.
A kindly thought and just like him, but quite opposed to the personal
interpretation of the Sonnet. Beside which, if he had looked upon
himself as the victim of Fortune, if she were responsible for his being a
player, what motive would he have for self-reproach? Wherein had he
"played the knave with Fortune"? Why should he cry "Alas!" and ask
to be pitied, and call for some moral disinfecting fluid, no matter how
bitter, and seek to do "double penance" when he was honestly getting his
living according to the lot which had befallen him? He could not be
both the helpless victim of Fortune and the headstrong cause of his own
misfortune; and that is the mixture of character implied! There is a
strong sense of personal wilfulness in doing "harmful deeds." Do you
"o'ergreen my bad," and pity me, and "wish I were renewed;" his life, not
his means of living!
I have no doubt that Shakspeare had been far more intent on
getting his theatre renewed, and if the Earl, as has been suggested, gave
our Poet assistance towards the building of the "Globe" on Bankside, the
personal interpretation of this Sonnet would afford a singular comment on
the Earl's generosity and Shakspeare's gratitude. Our Poet, in all
likelihood, was thinking how tolerably well Fortune had so far provided
for his life. He had not gone about here and there making a fool, a
"proclaimed fool," of himself. He had stuck to the theatre and his
work. And we may consider it pretty certain that his name never did
"receive a brand" on account of his "public manners" bred in him through
being a player. His brow never was branded by public scandal.
And so evidently public are the person, the acts, the scandal of
these Sonnets, that we must have heard of them had they been Shakspeare's,
just as we hear of the loose doings of Marlowe, Green, and the lesser men.
It is no answer to my argument for any one to urge that Shakspeare may
have done this or the other privately, and we have not heard of it.
These are not private matters. It is no secret confession of hidden
frailty. The subject is notorious; the scandal is public; and if
Shakspeare were speaking, he would have done something for all the world
to see it branded on his brow. If his manners had been such
as to warrant the tone of these Sonnets, his contemporaries must have seen
them, and without doubt we should have heard of them.
There is one expression in this Sonnet which has been
identified as positively personal, because the speaker says that Fortune
did not better for his life provide than public means. But
that is the result of a preconceived hypothesis. It does not seem to
have been questioned whether a player of Elizabeth's time would speak of
living by "public means," when the highest thing aimed at by the players
was private patronage! except where they hoped to become the sworn
servants of Royalty. If the Lord Chamberlain's servants were
accounted public, it would be in a special sense, not merely because they
were players; and certainly scandalous public manners were not likely to
be any recommendation for such a position, or necessary result of it!
 In our time the phrase would apply, but the
sense of the words, coupled with the theatre, is a comparatively modern
growth. Even if it had applied, it was an impossible comment for our
Poet to make on what he had been striving to do, and on what Southampton
had in all probability helped him to accomplish. For the truth is,
the "Globe" was built in order that the players might reach a wider
public, and Shakspeare was one of the first to create what we call the
play-going public! The "Blackfriars" was a private theatre,
chiefly dependent on private patronage; the nobility preferred the private
theatres; the "Globe" was meant to appeal to the lower orders—or, as we
say, the general public. With what conscience, then, could the
successful innovator in search of the "public" complain of having to live
by "public means"? Here, however, the meaning, as illustrated in the
context, is that the speaker has to live in the public eye in a way that
is apt to beget public manners. He lives the public life which
attracts public notice. The opposition is between public and private life,
 rather than between riches and poverty, or modes
of payment—the public means of living his life, rather than the public
means of getting a living—that he wishes "renewed." His public is
the only public of Shakspeare's time; the Court circle and public officers
of the State. And the person of whom Shakspeare wrote thus must have
been a public character in such sense. He must have moved in that
circle, and been of far greater importance than a player could possibly
be, either in his own estimation or that of the world at large. Such
an one, for example, as is spoken of in Sonnet 9 (p.
70),—should he die single, the "world will be his widow," and bewail
him "like a makeless wife," he is so public a man in the Elizabethan
sense. In Love's Labour's Lost it is said—"He shall endure
such public shame as the rest of the Court shall possibly desire."
"Our public Court," as the Duke calls it in As You Like It.
Antony was a public man who sues Cæsar to let him live as a "private man
in Athens." So Cranmer was a public man, and when ordered to the
Tower is spoken of as being a private man again. "What infinite
heart's-ease must kings neglect that private men enjoy!" That is our
Poet's view of the "public man." And Sonnet 25 will tell us exactly
what Shakspeare did not consider "public," for he therein expressly says
that Fortune has debarred him from "public" honours, and, as he was
a player then, the same fortune must have debarred him from "public"
shame, resulting from living a player's life.
The innermost sense in which the Poet spoke of the public man
in Sonnet 111 I take to be this. Shakspeare's great anxiety was to
get his dear friend married. That is the Alpha and Omega of the
Southampton Sonnets. He looked to the wedded life as a means of
saving his friend from many sad doings and fretful fooleries. But he
was a public person, whom a monarch could and did forbid to marry; who
could not wed the wife of his heart without a sort of public permission;
who had to get married by public means. 
Shakspeare looked to this fact as the cause of the Earl's public manners;
his broils in Court, his breakings-out of temper, his getting into such
bad courses and lamentable scrapes, as made Mistress Vernon and other
friends of Southampton mourn. The Poet considered that his friend
had been irritated and made reckless by the obstinacy of Elizabeth the
Queen in opposing his marriage with Elizabeth his love. And he holds
Fortune to be in a great measure responsible for the Earl's harmful
doings. This view is corroborated in Sonnet 124, where the Earl is
made to speak of his love as having been the "Child of State."
Shakspeare did not consider himself a public man living by public means,
nor fancy himself of public importance. Of this there is the most
convincing proof in many personal expressions. In these Personal
Sonnets he does not propose to speak of himself as one of the public
performers on the stage of life, but like Romeo going to the feast at
Capulet's house, he will be a torch-bearer, and shed a light on the
many-coloured moving scene rather than join in the dance. He'll be a
"candle-holder and look on." He will conceal himself as much as
possible under the light which he carries, and hold it so that the lustre
shall fall chiefly on the face of his friend who is in public, and whom he
seeks to illumine with his love from the place where he stands in his
privacy apart. As for Shakspeare's "manners," we know little of them
in any public sense, but, from all printed report, we learn that
his manners were those of a natural gentleman of divine descent, whose
moral dignity and brave bearing ennobled a lowly lot, and made a despised
profession honourable for ever. It was his manners quite as much as
his mental superiority that silenced his envious rivals. It was his
"manners" especially that elicited the apology from Chettle, "his
demeanour being no less civil than he excellent in that quality he
professes"—as a player. It was his manners that inspired Jonson with
his full-hearted exclamation, "He was indeed honest, and of an open and
free nature." And so far as the word public can be applied to
Shakspeare and his "manners," so far John Davies, in his Humour's
Heaven on Earth, speaks of him precisely in that sense, for he speaks
of Shakspeare as he saw him before his own public in the theatrical world,
and the theatre, says Dekker's Gull's Horn-Book, is "your Poet's
Royal Exchange." Davies compliments him, in the year 1605, as
not being one of those who act badly "by custom of their manners,"
not one of those whose ill-actions in life make them ill-actors
on the stage. He speaks of Shakspeare as one who is of good
wit, of good courage, of good shape, of good parts,
and good altogether; consequently his manners, public and
private, must have been excellent.
We may conclude, then, that Shakspeare did not speak of
himself as a public man living by public means, nor bewail his public
manners; that he did not look on himself as the "fool of Fortune," or the
sport of Fate; that he did not draw the image from the stage, and thus
mark the platform on which he stood—the place where he was making his
fortune—for the purpose of saying how degraded he felt there, and of
flinging his defiance at public opinion and private malice; scattering his
scorn over critics and flatterers, and insulting his patron in the most
reckless way; that he did not lower and abase his brow to receive the
brand of vulgar scandal, and then coolly ask his insulted friend to efface
the impression—the stamp of scandal and dirt of degradation—with a kiss of
loving pity; that a man who felt degraded by his calling, and branded on
the brow because of his being a player, could not have occasion to stop
his ears and be deaf as an adder to flattery. Shakspeare was neither
a flatterer nor the object of flatteries. And if he had done that
which branded his brow with the stamp of common scandal, he could have had
no need to stop his adder's sense against flattery. Of course the
speaker is one who could be flattered because of his birth and position,
in spite of loose public manners, as a peer might be, but not a player.
The personal interpretation derived from the expression "public means" is
at war with the whole feeling of these Sonnets, and the feeling here, as
elsewhere, is the greatest fact of all; in short, it is not Shakspeare who
is speaking; and the personal theory puts everything 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. He did nothing of the kind. I shall prove that he
wrote these Sonnets with a perfect adherence to literal facts, and that
his art in doing so is exquisite, as in his plays. 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 Shakspearean
In this group of Sonnets we read a reply to much
that preceded them, from the same speaker who was the absentee in various
earlier ones. Those absences are acknowledged. But he pleads
against being considered "false of heart," although absence seemed his
"flame to qualify." He admits having ranged about the world as a
traveller, but like the traveller he returns again to his home of love.
Still speaking of these absences which occur in preceding Sonnets, he
says, Alas, it is true that he has gone here and there during these, and
played the fool or made a fool of himself publicly.
The speaker is one in character and environment with him who
had left his Mistress for the journey in the earlier pages, and whom we
see far from home on distant shores ("limits far remote "), with
"injurious distance" of earth and sea between him and his beloved, to whom
his thoughts were sent in tender embassy of love, and came back to him
with assurances of her "fair health." The same speaker as him of
Sonnet 97 (p. 178), who had again
been absent through the spring, summer, and autumn of the year. And
here he speaks of those absences; says what a traveller he has been;
acknowledges having hoisted sail to every wind that would blow him
farthest from her sight; and been frequently with "unknown minds," or in
foreign countries, when he ought to have stayed with her at home. It
is the same person whom Shakspeare addresses in Sonnet 70 (p.
153) as the mark of slander and envy, one of those who attract the
breath of slander and scandal naturally as flames draw air. And in
these Sonnets he speaks of having been slandered, and of vulgar
scandal as branding his brow; he being a noble, this supplies the
antithesis. It is the same as him of whom Shakspeare wrote—"Ah,
wherefore with infection, should he live?" (Sonnet 67). Also
in Sonnet 94—
"But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity."
And here, in
pleading with his Mistress, this ranging sinning Lover is willing to drink
"potions of Eysel 'gainst his 'strong infection!'" It is one
with him of Sonnet 69, whose mind the Poet said the world measured by his
ill deeds, and who had grown common in the mouths of men.
Here he bewails those harmful deeds of his which have made him grow
common, and the subject of vulgar scandal. This is the same victim
of his fate that we have before met, who was in disgrace with Fortune
(Sonnet 29); made lame by Fortune's dearest spite, in Sonnet 37 (p.
139); had suffered the spite of Fortune once more, in Sonnet 90 (p.
174); and who now pleads in mitigation of his offences that Fortune is
the guilty goddess of his harmful doings, she who has so driven him about
the world. He confesses to all that had been mourned in previous
Sonnets; acknowledges that "sensual fault" of his nature which Elizabeth
Vernon had before spoken of (p.
112); makes what excuses he can, and begs that all errors and failings
may be blotted from the book of her remembrance.
It is the plea of a penitent Lover praying his Mistress to
forgive his sins against true love; his full confession of all that he has
done, and his reply to what others have said on the subject of his doings.
He asks her not to say that he was false at heart. He could just as
easily part from himself as from his soul, which dwells in her breast; so
deeply rooted in reality is his love, in despite of surface appearances.
Her bosom is his home of love, to which he returns as a traveller; that is
the port of his pleasure and soft rest of all his pain. He comes
back, too, true to the time appointed, and not changed with the time.
Moreover, he brings water for his stain; comes back to her in tears.
But though he is stained or disfigured by many frailties, she must not
believe that he could be so stained, so disfigured from the shape she
first knew and loved, as to leave for nothing all that sum of good, the
summit of glory which he attains in her, for he counts as nothing the
whole wide universe compared with her who is creation's crown, his Rose!
his All! Alas! he admits it is quite true what she says of his
wanderings, his flyings-off at random, his making a fool of himself in
public. He has gone here and there, a motley to the view. It
is most true that he has shied at the truth, flinched from it, looked at
it coyly, reservedly, as though it were a stranger, and has not made the
beloved his wife as he ought to have done; but these starts and
far-flights from the path of right have given his heart another youth, his
affection a fresh beginning, and his worst attempts have proved her to be
his best of love. Now all is done; his wanderings and voyagings are
over; he begs her to accept what shall have no end, his devoted undivided
love, which shall be henceforth lived in her presence. He has come
home, as we say, for good and all, and if she will but forgive him this
one little last time, he will never do so any more. He will not
again sharpen his old appetite for arms and adventure on any newer,
further proof to try this dear friend, who was his before his war-career
and wanderings began—this "God in love" to whom, or this divine love to
which, he is so bounden. "Then give me welcome to the best place
next heaven, thy pure and most, most loving breast." And "do not
think the worst of me; quarrel a little with Fortune. She is guilty
of much that I have done. She placed me in a public position, in the
power of a Queen who so long tried to hinder me from making you mine own;
made me live so much in the public eye, and drove me to do things which
have been so talked about by the public tongue." Thence it arises
that his name has been made the mark of scandal, and his nature has been
almost subdued to what it works in, like the dyer's hand. And
here we come upon a striking example of the way in which the "pith and
puissance" of the Sonnets have been unappreciated and unperceived.
They have been read as imagery alone, images painted on air and not
figured out of facts, without any grasp of the meaning which the images
were only intended to convey and heighten, whereas the value of
Shakspeare's images lies in their second self, and this has so often been
invisible to the reader. The image of the dyer's hand is well known,
and considered to be fine, yet that which it symbols has never been seen.
The perfection of its use, the very clasp of the comparison, the touch
which makes the image absolutely vital, lie in the fact that the speaker
is a man of arms, a soldier, a fighter, apt to carry his public profession
into the practice of his private life; and thus he speaks of his nature as
being subdued to what it works in, and his hand as wearing the colour of
blood—dyed in blood! Therein lies the likeness to the dyer's Land!
So in King John we have the soldiers'
Dyed in the dyeing slaughter of their foes."
"Dyed even in the lukewarm blood."—3 King Henry VI., I. ii.
"Pity me then on this account, and wish me better—my life renewed. I
would willingly drink 'potions of Eysel' for what I have wilfully done.
I should think no bitterness bitter that would disinfect me, no penance
too hard for my correction. But pity me, dear friend, and your pity
will be enough to cure me. Your love and pity suffice to efface the
mark which common talk stamped on my brow. What do I care how their
tongues wag, or reck what they say of me, so that your tenderness folds up
my faults as the green grass hides the grave, or the ivy's embrace
conceals the scars of time. You are my all-the-world, the only voice
I listen to. To all others I turn a deaf ear, and in fact all the
rest of the world are dead to me."
Then follows a bit of special pleading, only pardonable to
one who, in regard to the report of others, feels more sinned against than
sinning. Some "carry-tale," some "putter-on, some "please-man," has
been busy with his name and his amusements, or some babbling gossip of a
woman has falsely interpreted his doings. Against such he can make a
better defence. The spies on his frailties are themselves frailer
than he is. The Court lady who has spoken of his loose conduct has
herself looked on him with wanton wooing eyes. Whoever they are, he
scorns to be measured by their rule. They desire to think bad and
speak ill of that which he thinks good. Possibly this is an allusion
to his fondness for the theatre. Did not Rowland White report to Sir
Robert Sidney in his letter of October 11, 1599, that "my Lord of
Southampton and Lord Rutland come not to Court, but spend their time in
London merely in going to plays every day"? In speaking of him, they
do but reckon up their own abuses. He may be straight, though they
be crooked—that may be why the estimate is wrong, the measurement
untrue—and his doings must not be judged by their rules. The
summing-up of his reply says that he is not so bad as they would have him
seem, and no worse in a general way than others are. He goes on to
show her how she can put the case against him more justly: "Accuse me
thus: that I have come short in all I owe to your love and worth; forgot
to call upon your most active love, in the name of husband, to which all
bonds especially that nearer tie of life-in-life—do bind me closer daily;
that I have given to Time your rights, which were purchased by you so
dearly at the cost of long-suffering and sore heart-ache and many tears;
that I have, hoisted sail to every wind that blew, which would waft me the
farthest away from you, been abroad frequently, and spent my time amongst
foreigners instead of being with you at home; book both my wilfulness and
errors down, all that you know and can suspect, and bring me within sight
of my doom; take aim, but do not shoot at me in your awakened hatred.
My appeal then says these things were done to prove your constancy, and
test the virtue of your love, or, to put it another way, such have been
the effects of your constant love. As we whet the appetite and urge
the palate with 'eager compounds,' and 'sicken to shun sickness' when we
purge, so did I turn to bitter things because I was so filled with your
sweetness. I was so well that there was a sort of satisfaction in
being ill." The lover finds a kind of fitness in "being diseased ere
that there was true needing." But this policy of his love, which
anticipated by inoculation the ills that were not, grow to "faults
assured." There was something wrong in the virus that he had not
bargained for. And he suffered much in recovering the healthy state,
which "rank of goodness" must needs be cured by ill. He lost faith
in his vaccine. His experience has taught him that his medical
course was not altogether a success; he finds the drugs poison him who had
fallen sick of her. But what deadly doses he has swallowed in his
circuitous course in search of health! H e has sailed the seas, and
listened to the songs of the sirens, and been flattered and fooled by
their tears; he has drunk potions distilled from lymbecks foul as hell
within. He has played the game in which the winner loses most.
He has committed the most wretched errors of the heart whilst he was
thinking himself never so blessed. What a blind fool he has been!
How his eyes have been flitted out of their proper spheres in the
distraction of this maddening fever, engendered of war and wandering.
But there is this benefit in evil, that it serves to show the good in a
clearer light; makes the best things better. And love that has been
rent asunder may be joined anew, like other fractured articles, the
newly-soldered part becoming the strongest, even firmer than at first.
So he returns from his evil courses, his erratic wanderings, his visionary
pursuit of pleasure, his futile imitation of the boy and butterfly,
humbled and sobered, to the home of his heart and the seat of his content,
a sadder and a wiser man; sufficiently so to gain by his experience
three-fold more than he has spent in his folly; having discovered how
sweet are the uses of adversity.
The last argument urged for the making up of this
love-quarrel contains a reference to an old falling-out, in which the lady
had accused her lover wrongfully. "That you were once unkind to me
is fortunate for me now! When I think of what I suffered on that
occasion, it makes me feel doubly what I have caused you to bear; for if
you have been as much pained by my unkindness as I was by yours, then you
suffered a hell indeed for a time; and I, a tyrant, did not think how you
were suffering, even in remembering how I myself once suffered by the
wrong you did to me. I wish now that our dark night of sadness had
reminded me how hard true sorrow hits; what cruel blows the hand of love
can give; and that I had come to you as quickly and tendered to you as
frankly the balm that befits a wounded heart, as you then came to me with
healing, reconciliation, and peace! But let your fault of the Past
now become a fee; my wrong ransoms yours; your wrong must ransom me!"
We shall see by referring to the life of Southampton that he
went abroad three years running after meeting with Mistress Vernon.
In the year 1596 he hurriedly left England to follow the Earl of Essex,
who was gone on the expedition to Cadiz. Being too late for the
fighting in that year, I conjecture that he joined his friend Roger
Manners, Earl of Rutland, who was then making a tour of France, Italy, and
Switzerland. In the year 1597 he was with Essex on the Island
Voyage, in command of the Garland. And in the following year
he left England to offer his sword to Henry IV. of France, and was again
absent some months. He had thus been in foreign countries, mixed
with "unknown minds"—people who do not speak our language. This he
had done in a reckless mood, and "given to Time;" he had spent the time
away from his Mistress, that which was hers by right, and dearly purchased
It will be seen that the speaker of the second of these
Sonnets has made himself a Motley to the view with that
self-exhibition." His language is identical with Saul's, when he
says, "I have sinned; behold, I have played the Fool, and have erred
exceedingly." Saul does not mean that he had worn motley. If
the speaker had worn the Fool's coat of many colours, he would not have
been necessarily making a fool of himself. The image is not used in
that sense. If he had been playing the Fool's part on the stage, it
would be Fortune that had made him a Motley to the view, not himself.
He would have been an "allowed Fool." Here, however, the
speaker has made a fool of himself, not by wearing the player's motley.
He does not mean that he has played the Fool in jest, but that he
has been a fool in sad earnest, by his wanderings about the world, his
absence from the dear bosom on which he yearns to pillow his head at last,
his manifold offences to this affection, his starts from rectitude, his
look in, on truth with a sidelong glance; and, most of all, his quarrels
in public, in the camp, in the Court, in the street, whereby he has made
himself a Motley in public to the view, and become the subject of public
scandal. He has been the fool who had not the privilege of bearing
the Clown's bauble and wearing the many-coloured coat. "I wear not
Motley in my brain," says the Fool in Twelfth Night; this was
exactly how the young Earl had worn it. It was the public nature of
his "ill deeds," his follies, that gives the peculiar appropriateness to
the "Motley"; he had exhibited his folly, done it "to the view,"
and gone about doing it. All the literalness is in the fact,
not in the mere image; it is Southampton to the life, not Shakspeare
patiently following his profession.
Then the confession of Sonnet 119 can only have been made to
a woman. It would have no meaning from a man to a man. It is a
confession to a woman that the speaker has been beguiled by the siren
tears of other women, who were false and foul. He is penitent for
those wretched errors which he has thus committed, still losing when he
fancied he was the winner. He asks forgiveness for this among his
other wanderings. He makes a comparison, and appeals from the false
love to the true, which he now sees in the truer light, and vows to be
eternally true. It is out of nature for Shakspeare to plead in this
way, which would have been most extravagantly abject if taken as personal
to him. He could not have left the Earl, nor come back to him; could
not protest the truth of his love in any such sense as is here implied.
Besides which, if the dark story had been well founded instead of false,
he would not then have left his friend to follow the sirens. His
passionate outpourings on that occasion would be in reproach of the Earl
for having left him, and for being lured away by the woman. It would
be the Earl who was represented as going astray, not the Poet.
Position and effects would be quite different from those supposed to have
been represented in those earlier Sonnets, and the confession here has no
fitting relationship to the past in that way; no meaning as from man to
In the life and character of Southampton alone shall we
discover the subject of this group of Sonnets, spoken by the Earl to his
much-enduring mistress, Elizabeth Vernon. There only will be found
the opposition of Fortune, the breaking-out and "blenches" of rebellions
blood, the harmful doings that were the cause of common scandal, the
absences abroad, and all the trials of that true love here addressed.
Also, in the Earl's case only are the excuses on the score of Fortune at
all admissible. Shakspeare was really a favourite of Fortune, both
in his life and friendship; she smiled on him graciously. Nor is there a
single complaint against her in the whole of the personal Sonnets; neither
can we see that he had any reason to complain. He does not accredit
Fortune with any spite towards him, nor show any himself. But, as we
have seen, Fortune was against the Earl, his friend, 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 did not have to mount the steps. He was also a soldier of
Fortune, not only fighting under the English Crown, but seeking service
and glad of any fighting that could be got. As a soldier so
circumstanced, and a man of so fiery a spirit that it led him into brawls,
he could fairly say—
"Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand;
Pity me then and WISH I
Poor fellow! he
was continually "in for it." No doubt there were many things known
to Shakspeare and Mistress Vernon that have not come down to us, besides
the proposed duels which the Queen had to prohibit, and the hubbub in
Court, for which "vulgar scandal" stamped the Earl's brow, and Elizabeth
Vernon effaced the impression with her "love and pity"; but we know quite
enough. Thus, in Southampton's life, we can identify every circumstance
touched upon in this group of Sonnets; veritable facts that quicken every
figure and make every line alive.
Rowland White in his letters, and Shakspeare in these lines,
chronicle the same occurrences and paint companion pictures of the same
character, whilst the Sonnets as clearly and recognizably reflect the
image and movement of the young Earl's mind, the impetuous currents of his
nature, as Mirevelt's portrait presents to us the features of his face.
In all respects the opposite to the character in whose presence we feel
ourselves, when Shakspeare personally speaks, and we hear the ground-tone
of a weightier intellect, and the feeling has a more sober certainty, the
thought a more quiet depth; the music tells of no such jarring string.
The comparative process applied to the Plays will go far in
determining the sex of the person addressed in these Sonnets.
Compare the outburst of the returned wanderer
Southampton addressing his Mistress, with Othello's greeting to his young
wife on landing at Cyprus after his stormy passage—
"O my soul's joy,
If after every tempest come such calms,
May the winds blow till they have wakened death."
calls Stella his "Soul's joy." The sexual parallel to the "god in
love'' of Sonnet 110 is to be found in Iago's description of Desdemona's
power over Othello. The speaker of the Sonnet says—
"Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined."
affianced years before he was married.) And Tap says of Othello and his
infatuation for Desdemona—
"His soul is so enfettered to her love,
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function."
The confessional pleading of the whole group of these Sonnets as spoken by
the ranging wanderer Southampton to his much-tried and forgiving Mistress
is briefly summarized by Antony to Octavia, when about to marry her on his
return from Egypt—
Read not my blemishes in the world's report:
I have not kept my square; but that to come
Shall all be done by the rule."
"Next my heaven, the best," Southampton calls his Mistress in Sonnet 110.
Antipholus in the Comedy of Errors calls Luciana
"My sole earth's heaven and my heaven's claim."
"Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed," pleads Southampton with his
Mistress in Sonnet 111 (p. 184) ; and in Leonatus' letter to Imogen, he
writes" You, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me with your
"Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of Eysel,"
Southampton; and Imogen's husband says to her—
"Thither write, my queen,
And with mine eyes I'll drink the words you send,
Tho' ink be made of gall. "—Cymbeline, I. ii.
Southampton, in absence, spoke of those "swift messengers" returned from
"Who even but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me."
So Imogen, on
receiving a letter from her husband, says—
"Let what is here contained relish of love,
Of my lord's health, of his content."
Southampton, musing over his absent Mistress, had said how careful he was
to lock up his treasures on leaving home—
"But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief!"—Sonnet 48.
whether the "filching age" may not steal his choicest treasure, the jewel
of his love. And Iachimo says to Posthumus, speaking of the absent
"You may wear her
in title yours; but you know, strange fowl light upon neighbouring ponds.
Your ring may be stolen too. A cunning thief, or a
that-way-accomplished courtier, would hazard the winning."
—Cymbeline, I, iv.
"But mutual render, only me for thee," is the love of Southampton to his
wife, in Sonnet 125 (p. 203), the very language in which Posthumus
addresses his wife—
As I my poor self did exchange for you."
Shakspeare's own testimony to the female nature of the person addressed in
this group of Sonnets.
Sonnet 116 is a personal one; the speaker in it is the writer
of it. And it is sufficient evidence that the Sonnets which we have
called confessional do not, cannot, refer to Shakspeare's doings, portray
his character, or express his feelings. If they had, this Sonnet
would be an amazing conclusion, and contain his own utter condemnation,
spoken with an unconscionable jauntiness of tone. He would have been
a sinner in each particular against the law and gospel of true love, which
he now expounds so emphatically. "Love's not Time's fool;" yet, on
his own confession, he would have cruelly and continually made it the fool
of Time and sport of accident. Love is "an ever-fixèd mark," he
says, and he would have wilfully and wantonly cut himself adrift from its
resting-place. "Love alters not;" but he would have been moved
lightly as a feather with every breath of change. If he had been the
speaker in the foregoing Sonnets, he could not now say, "Let me not
to the marriage of true minds admit impediments." He could
not call himself true, if so false. He could not have
uttered his own condemnation with so airy and joyous a swing, so lusty a
sense of freedom. He could not thus exult in the genuine attributes
of true love, and say, "If this be error and upon me proved, I
never writ, nor no man ever loved." It would have been proved only
too clearly that he was in error, or else that he was a brave hypocrite—if
he were the guilty one who had before confessed! But the line, "I
never writ, nor no man ever loved," almost divides the subject into its
two parts, and points out the two speakers. It shows Shakspeare to
be the writer on a subject extraneous to himself except as writer.
And here the poet is commenting upon a matter quite external, the
particulars of which do not, and the generalities cannot, apply to him
personally. The comment, also, is on the very facts confessed by the
scapegrace of the previous Sonnets. Those were the confessions of a
love that had not been altogether true; this is the exaltation of the
highest, holiest love. It is Shakspeare's own voice heard in
conclusion of the quarrelling and unkindness; his summing-up of the whole
matter. His own spirit shines through this Sonnet. It is a
perfectly apposite discourse on the loves of Southampton and Elizabeth
Vernon. The confessional Sonnets were written in illustration of the
last full reconciliation of this couple, whose love did not run smooth
outwardly, which is so apt to beget ripples inwardly. They were
married in the year following that in which the hubbub in Court and the
consequent scandal had occurred, and this Sonnet is in celebration of the
[Top of page]
A PERSONAL SONNET.
Shakspeare on the Marriage of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon.
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:
Oh, no; it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken!
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken:
Love's not Time's fool, though 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.—(116)
This is a Marriage Service of the Poet's own—I do not say it is an
Epithalamium—with an obvious reference to that of the English Church.
He gives his answer, he who knows all the circumstances of the case, and
is acquainted with all his friend's failings, to the appeal as to whether
any witness knows of sufficient cause or impediment why these two should
not be joined together in the holy matrimonial bond. The Poet knows
of their quarrels and of the Earl's wild or wanton courses; but he says
firmly, Let me not admit these as impediments to the marriage of true
minds. If my friend has done all these sad things which have been
confessed, yet is it not the nature of true love to alter and change when
it finds change in another; because one has wandered and removed
literally, that is not sufficient reason why the other should waver and
fly off in spirit. Appearances themselves are false where hearts are
The supreme object of Shakspeare's Sonnets was to aid in
getting the Earl, his friend, married, and see him safe in Mistress
Vernon's arms, encompassed with content. He woos him towards the
door of the sanctuary with the most amorous diligence and coaxing words.
He tries by many winning ways to get the youth to enter. He rebukes
him when he flinches from it; and the last effort he makes for the
consummation so devoutly wished almost amounts to a visible push, from
behind. He has attacked all the obstacles that stood in the way;
scolded the Earl for his "blenches" from the right path; no mother ever
more anxious about some wild slip of rebellious blood; and now, when he is
safe at last, with the rosy fetters round his neck, and the golden ring is
on the finger of the wife, their Poet grows jubilant with delight; a great
weight is off his heart, and he breathes freely on the subject of the
Earl's courtship for the first time; can even speak with a dash of joyful
abandon. The writer is in his cheeriest mood, and the Sonnet has a
festal style. The true love that is apotheosized in this
wedding strain, the ever true love here expressly besung and crowned, is
not the affection of Shakspeare; not the love of the Earl, his friend; but
the steadfast, pure, and unestrangeable love of Elizabeth Vernon!
This is the love that has not been the fool or slave of Time; the love
that altered not with his brief hours and weeks, though the rosy lips and
cheeks might fade and whiten with pain; but has borne all the trials, been
true to the very "edge of doom," and kept her heart firmly fixed even
when, as Rowland White hints, her mind threatened to waver and give way.
She did not alter when she found an alteration in him; did not "bend with
the remover (the traveller and wanderer) to remove." She was "the
ever-fixèd mark;" the lighthouse in the storm, that "looked on tempests
and was never shaken," but held up its lamp across the gloom. Her
true love was the fixed star of his wandering bark, that shone when the
sun went down; this was his glory in disgrace; his fount of healing when
wounded by the world, or his own self-inflicted injuries; the bright,
still blessedness that touched his troubled thoughts; his resting-place,
where the Poet hoped he would at last find peace, and hear in his
household love the murmurs of a clearer music than he could make in any
There is in this Sonnet one of those instances of
Shakspeare's mode of vivifying by means of an image, which are a
never-ending surprise to his readers. But it takes all its life from
the love-story now unfolded. It is the astronomical allusion to
Elizabeth Vernon as the star whose worth was unknown although its height
was measured—meaning that there yet remained the unexplored world of
wedded love; the undiscovered riches of the wedded life. Although
the distance between them had been taken, the best could not be known
until he has made that star his dwelling-place, his home of love, and
knows its hidden worth as well as he knew its brightness and its
faithfulness as a guiding light in the distance.
The Queen's opposition to the marriage of Southampton and
Elizabeth Vernon is apparent all through these Sonnets devoted to them.
The burden of the whole story is an opposition which has to be borne
awhile. This is figured as the spite of Fortune and the tyranny of
Time. In Sonnet 36 the spite begins by separating the two lovers,
and stealing sweet hours from love's delight: this enforced parting is the
first shape taken by Time's tyranny. In his absence the lover speaks
of his Mistress as his locked-up treasure kept by Time. In Sonnet 44
he "must attend Time's leisure" with his moan. Sonnet 70 recognizes
how much the Earl is tried by this waiting imposed upon him by Time.
Moreover, the promises of immortality are expressly made to right this
wrong of Time. Against all the powers of Time and "Death and
all-oblivious Enmity" shall Love "pace forth." And in this
Marriage-Sonnet the true love is crowned by Shakspeare because it has not
been the fool or slave of Time; has not given in to the adverse
circumstances, or succumbed to the opposition, but "borne it out even to
the edge of doom,"—the love of Elizabeth Vernon, who is Lady Southampton
at last. The Poet here plays the part of Hymen in As You Like It,
who enters leading Rosalind by the hand, when he says to the happy pair,
"You and you no cross shall part."
"Then is there mirth in Heaven,
When earthly things made even
Good Duke, receive thy Daughter,
Hymen from heaven hath brought her,
Yea, brought her hither;
That thou might'st join her hand with his,
Whose heart within her bosom is."
the language of the lover in Sonnet 109—
"As easy might I from myself depart,
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie.'
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Southampton in the Tower, condemned to death
or to a life-time
No; Time, thou shall not boast that I do change!
Thy Pyramids, built up with newer might,
To me are nothing novel—nothing strange—
They are but dressings of a former sight:
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist, upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told:
Thy Registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present, nor the past,
For thy Records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste!
This I do vow, and this shall ever be,
I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee. (123)
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
No, it was builded far from accident!
It suffers not, in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thrallèd Discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our Fashion calls:
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
To this I witness call the fools of Time
Which die for goodness who have lived for
Were it ought to me I bore the Canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring?
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent?
For compound sweet forgoing simple savour;
Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent!
No! let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee!
Hence, thou Suborned Informer, a true soul
When most impeached stands least in thy
discussing the subject-matter of the present group it will be necessary to
glance at Sonnet 107, which is somewhat out of place
where it stands.
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 control,
Supposed as forfeit to a Confined Doom!
The mortal Moon hath her Eclipse endured,
And the sad Augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties 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 Tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.—(107.)
interpretation of this Sonnet, which I find has been generally accepted,
is that Shakspeare thus addresses Southampton upon his release from the
Tower, at the time of the Queen's death in 1603. And from the
secure standpoint of this Personal Sonnet I proceed to show that these
three Sonnets are Dramatic ones, spoken by the Earl when he was in prison,
where he could congratulate himself on his bondage being preferable to
that of all the flatterers and sycophants at Court who bear the canopy of
State outside, and strive to sun them in the royal favour. If in
prison, he is assuredly in the Tower. Hence the Pyramids of Time
built up with newer might. The name of the Pyramid being employed as
a permanent type of time, age, strength, and duration. It is quite
certain the old Pyramids had not been either rebuilt or more newly built,
or built with "newer might." The Pyramids represent the prison-house
of Time; and "Thy Pyramids, built up with newer might," is an obvious
allusion to the Earl's fresh imprisonment when it has just occurred.
He had been in prison before, two years earlier, when he was committed for
contempt of Court because he had married Elizabeth Vernon in defiance of
The Earl of Southampton, as is well known, was tried for
treason, along with the Earl of Essex, and condemned to die. His
share in the wild attempt at rebellion was undoubtedly owing to his
kinship, and to his friendship for the Earl. His youth, his friends,
pleaded for him, and his life was spared. He was respited during the
Queen's pleasure, after having been left for some weeks under sentence of
execution. The sentence being at length commuted, he was kept a
close prisoner until her Majesty's death. These three Sonnets give
us a dramatic representation of the situation. They are spoken by
the Earl to his Countess; and they illustrate the facts and circumstances
of the time with literal exactness and truth of detail. The Earl is
in the Tower, and the shadow of the prison-house creeps darkly over the
page as we read. The imprisonment is personified as that of Time.
So in King Richard II. imprisonment is spoken of in the same way—
"I wasted time, but now doth time waste me,
For now hath Time made me his numbering clock."
Time has the
speaker in his keeping, and plays the part of jailer over him. This
is a perfect image, of imprisonment in Shakspeare's most subtly allusive
manner; and we shall find these Dramatic Sonnets are full of such hints,
most delicate and refinedly covert! But, safely as Time holds him,
surely as he has got him in his grip, the Earl defies Time still, and
says, in spite of this newest, latest, strongest proof of his power, Time
shall not boast that he changes. He will still be true to his love.
"Thy Pyramids, built up with newer might, to me are nothing
novel, nothing strange!" That is, this latest proof of Time's
power—he has had many in the course of his love—shall not impose on him in
spite of its towering shape and its arguments drawn from remotest
"Thy Pyramids built-up anew over my head, with this
display of might which has shut me up within them, are only a former sight
freshly dressed: I recognize my old foe in a novel mask. You are my
old enemy, Time, the tyrant! You have given me many a shrewd fall;
you have chafed my spirit sorely; but I still defy your worst. In
vain you hold me as in a chamber of torture, and show me the conquests you
have made, the ruins you have wrought. In vain you point with lean
finger to all these emblems of mortality and proofs of change, and foist
upon me these signs of age. I see the place is rich in Records
of times past, and the Registers of bygone events. I know our
dates are brief compared with these enduring memorials, but your shows and
shadows do not intimidate me; they will not make my spirit quail. I
shall not waver or change in my love, however long my imprisonment may
last. I defy both yourself and your taunts of triumph. I am
not the slave of Time, and it is useless to show me your dates. I
wonder neither at the present nor the past. I stand with a firm foot
on ground that is eternal, and can look calmly on these dissolving views
of time. Whatsoever thou may'st cut down, I shall be true, despite
thy scythe and thee!" Thus the Earl meditates, shut up in the
Tower of London, the dull, gloomy, and ghostly atmosphere of which may be
felt in the first Sonnet. The reader will perceive how perfect is
this interior of the prison-house—this garner of Time's gleanings—if it be
remembered that the Tower was then the great Depository of the public
Records and national Registers; the Statute Rolls, Patent
Rolls, Parliament Rolls, Bulls, Pardons, Ordinances, Grants, Privy Seals,
and antique Charters, dating back to the time of William the Norman.
In no place could Time look more imposing and venerable, or be dressed
with a greater show of authority, than in the old Tower, standing up grey
against the sky, with its thousand years of historic life, and two
thousand years of legendary fame; full of strange human relics, and guilty
secrets, and awful memories, and the dust of some who are noblest, some
who were vilest among our England's dead.
The Poet makes only a stroke or two—the "pyramids" or turrets
without; the "Registers," "Records," and ancient dates within; but there
we have the Tower, and no picture could possess more truth of hoary local
It will give an added force to the speaker's tone of defiance
if we remember what a grim reality the Tower was in those days, and what a
lively terror to the Elzabethan imagination. A personification of
living death! It was the grim abode of Torture, of Little-Ease and
the Scavenger's Daughter, the vaulted chambers, the rack and screws and
other would-be murderers of the mind and wringers out of life, slow, pang
by pang, drop after drop.
We have Shakspeare's description of the Tower in King
Richard III. (Act III. Scene i.)—
Prince. Did Julius Cæsar build
that place, my lord?
Glo. He did, my gracious lord, begin
succeeding ages have re-edified.
Prince. Is it upon record?
Buck. Upon record, my gracious lord.
Prince. But say, my lord, it were not register'd.
And in Sonnet
123 the Tower—that stronghold of Time—the new Pyramids, which are but
"dressings of a former sight," that is, comparatively modern
representatives of the old ones—is the ancient Record and
Register of Time!
The speaker being identified as Southampton, who had at last
married Elizabeth Vernon in spite of the Queen and in defiance of all
State Policy, we know how the matter stood historically. The
marriage was only effected just in time to make his child legitimate.
If he had not done what he has done, and now rejoices over having done it;
if he had not defied the Queen and her Policy, his child would have been a
bastard born. If the reader can but accept the position here
assigned to the speaker, he will get another rare glimpse of Shakspeare's
method of working behind the mask. We have already traced an
allusion to the same circumstances in previous lines where the Poet
describes the teeming womb of autumn, big with the burden of its rich
increase, and says—
"Yet this abundant issue seemed to Die
But hope of orphans and unfathered fruit!"
Mothers! What a pathetic reminder! And now the speaker admits
that if he had not been married before this imprisonment occurred; if, he
says, he had not effected his purpose in spite of the spite of the Queen,
if his "love" had remained merely the "Child of State," the creature of a
Court, subject to its policy or the Queen's caprice, it would, now he is
taken away, have been the veriest bastard of Fortune—a child without a
father, or love's unfathered (illegitimate) fruit. If we bear in
mind the condition of Elizabeth Vernon previous to the stolen marriage, we
shall see the dual meaning of this illustration!
Such is the inclusive way in which the writer uniquely drew
his imagery from the natural facts and reapplied it allusively to further
facts in the life of his private friends, leaving his readers as outsiders
standing gazing upon the shadows. But now Southampton can rejoice
that his wife is no longer one of the tormented maids of honour, his child
is not a bastard, as it must otherwise have been had his love continued to
be only or but the "Child of State"; and he can defy Time, the jailer in
his chief prison-house, because by his marriage he has built beyond the
reach of accident, including the terrible one that has lately befallen the
friends of Essex. He does not fear Policy—that is Statecraft—but can
congratulate himself on his own hugely politic course which he had taken
first. His beloved may be out in the world alone, but she wears the
name of wife—nay, she is gathered up into his bosom by that grand
inclusive way in which the Sonnet personifies the "love" in its oneness.
"It was builded far from accident"—the marriage made that sure! and now,
as things are, it "suffers not" in the falsely "smiling pomp" of
Court favour; is not compelled to seek Court preferment, is no more
exposed to the changeful weather, the sun and shower of royal whim; nor
does it fall under—cannot come within reach of—that "blow of thralled
Discontent" to which the "inviting time" calls "our Fashion"; the young
nobles, England's chivalry, who at that very moment were being summoned to
the aid of Mountjoy in Ireland.
No apter image of Ireland in the year 1601 could be conceived
than this of "thralled Discontent."
Camden says the affairs of that country were in a "leaning
posture," tending to a "dejection," and the Spaniard seized the occasion
to make one more push, and, if possible, topple over English rule in
Ireland. It was proclaimed that Elizabeth was, by several censures
of the Bishop of Rome, deprived of her crown. The spirit of
rebellion sprang up full-statured at the promise of help from Spain; and "thralled
Discontent" once more welcomed the deliverer. Rumour came flying in
hot haste, babbling with all her tongues. It was an "inviting time"
indeed to the young gallants—the Earl's old comrades—who were fast taking
horse and ship once more. The prose parallel to the Sonnet will be
found in a letter to Mr. Winwood from Mr. Secretary Cecil, Oct. 4, 1601. 
He writes, "On the 25th of last month there landed between five and six
thousand Spaniards in the province of Munster, commanded by Don Juan
d'Aguila, who was general of the Spanish army at Bluett. The Lord
Deputy (Mountjoy) is hasting, with the best power he can make, and her
Majesty is sending over six thousand men, with all things thereto
belonging, which, being added to eighteen thousand already in that
kingdom, you must think do put this realm to a wanton charge." Of
course the Sonnet does not make the Earl exult that he cannot follow to
join his old friends in the two campaigns which ended in Mountjoy's
leading captive the rebel Tyrone to the feet of Elizabeth. That
would have been undramatic, unnatural. He only says that, shut up in
prison as he is, his love does not "fall under the blow" whereto
the time calls so invitingly. It has no fear of Policy, that heretic
in love and love-matters; which, after all—and here is an ominous hint,
perhaps of the Queen's age works on a short lease, or a lease of
No other word could so suggestively, accurately, or adequately sum
up the character of Elizabeth for dissimulation, tortuous insincerity, and
consummate hypocrisy is this of "Policy"; she who never went by the
straight road if there was a crooked one to be found or a by-way that
could be wormed through in the devious fashion of her chosen course.
Policy elsewhere personified is opposed to conscience.
In the play of Timon Shakspeare writes—
"Men must learn now with Pity to dispense,
For Policy sits above Conscience."
But I am not sure that the heresy is to be limited to love-matters.
Elizabeth was the Arch-Heretic of the Catholic world, and Southampton's
father had been a follower of the old faith.
Shut up in prison, the speaker sits at the centre of the wild
whirl around him—or rather he is just where things stand still—and "hugely
politic" it is too! His love "nor grows with heat, nor drowns with
showers" of the Court world. But it has an inward life of its own;
is firm as the centre; steadfast and true to the end. To the truth
of his assertions he calls his witnesses, and weird witnesses they are;
for, being where he is, we get a glimpse of Tower Hill through the window
bars, and see the solemn procession; the sawdusted stage with its black
velvet drapery; the headsman in his mask, the axe in his hand, and all the
scenery and circumstance of that grim way they had of going to death.
The speaker calls for witnesses, the spirits of those political plotters,
whose heads fell from the block, and whose bodies moulder within the old
walls. The "fools" who had been the sport of the time, he calls
them, who lived to commit crime, but died nobly at last—made a pious end,
as we say.
Shakspeare had evidently remarked that, as a rule, those who
were condemned to die on the scaffold died "good," no matter what the life
had been: it was the custom for them to make an edifying end. Stowe
relates how Sir Charles Danvers mounted the scaffold and "put off his gown
and doublet in a most cheerful manner, rather like a bridegroom than a
prisoner appointed for death, and he then prayed very devoutly." The
allusion is no doubt more particularly directed to Essex and his
companions, who had died so recently; Essex having been executed within
the Tower. The "fools of time" may give us the Poet's estimate of
Essex's attempt. He was one of those who had lived to reach the
criminal's end, but who "died for goodness" in the sense that he, like
Danvers, died devoutly, and took leave of life with a redeeming touch of
nobleness. Essex was also popularly designated the "Good Earl."
But the manner of the death is still more obviously aimed at—the dying in
public, lifted up for the view of the gaping crowd, and making sport for
the time, by giving a bloody zest to a vulgar holiday.
We find a parallel to the "fools of time" when the dying
Rebel Hotspur exclaims—
"Thought's the slave of life, and life, Time's fool."
The next Sonnet
still carries on the idea of imprisonment, and the external image of
bearing the Canopy is in opposition to his present limitation in the
Tower. Confined as he is, and limited to so narrow a space for
living, he asks, were it anything to him if he bore the Canopy outside,
"honouring the outward" with his externals, filled the world with the fame
of his doings, made the heavens, as it were, his arch of triumph, or "laid
great bases for eternity," as some do, and prove them to be "more short
than waste or ruining." As a matter of course he speaks of honouring
the outward because he is a prisoner WITHIN!
That is the external aspect of the imagery, but there is also
the inside view. Shakspeare moralizes two meanings in one metaphor
in a most allusive manner that is common to no other man.
Southampton as a lord-in-waiting had often borne the Canopy or cloth of
State when in attendance on the Queen in her progresses. That this
is also meant may be gathered from the allusions to the obsequious
courtiers, the favourites, the dwellers on form, ceremony, and favour,
lords-in-waiting who had borne the Canopy and proved how vain their "WAITING"
and looking and longing were; the "pitiful thrivers, in their gazing
spent;" Essex, the great favourite, for instance, just dead. Queen
Katharine calls herself
"A poor, weak woman, fallen from favour."
"O how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favours."
"O place! O form!
How often dost then with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming!"
—Measure for Measure, II, iv.)
"Throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty."
—(King Richard II, III. ii.)
that depend on Greatness' favour, dream as I have done; wake and
find nothing." That is a prison-thought of Posthumus', and most like to
Southampton's. Has he not seen how it went with many who sought
Court favour and fickle fortune—the royal waiters, the noble
footmen, "dwellers on form and favour"—has he not seen how they lost all,
and more; foregoing the simple savour of life for "compound sweet."
He is not one among these foolish flatterers. He only wishes to be
obsequious in the heart of his wife; her favourite alone.
There is a parallel passage in Othello, where we read of
"Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave,
That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,
Wears out his time. Others there are
Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves;
And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,
Do well thrive by them. "—(Othello, I. i.)
These Sonnets express the feelings and contain the words of one standing
apart, thrust aside, who can watch how the game goes, with its tricks and
intrigues, its fervours and failures. He can see how much reality
the players miss for the sake of their illusions; see what they trample
under-foot in their visionary pursuit, and how they stumble into the
ditch, with foolish eyes fixed on their stars! The pitiful
thrivers in their gazing spent! No. He is ambitious for
none of those things. Let his beloved but accept the humble
offerings of his love, he cares for no other triumph. His love for
her is mixed with no secondary ambition. Cooped up as he is, thrust
out of service, he has all if he have her safely folded up in his heart:
she is his all-in-all, and he asks for a "mutual render, only me for
thee!" The Sonnet ends with a defiance which clenches my conclusion.
Camden tells us that amongst the confederates of Essex, one of them,
whilst in prison, turned Informer, and revealed what had taken place at
the meetings held in the Earl of Southampton's house, though he, the
historian, could never learn who it was. In the last two lines of
the Sonnet, the Earl flings his disdain at the "Suborned Informer,"
and comparing himself with so base a knave, he feels that he is truer than
such a fellow, although the world calls him a traitor; and when most
impeached (for treason), he is least in such a loyalist's
control. The difference betwixt their two natures is so vast, not to
be bridged in life or death. We have only to remember how recently
the Earl of Southampton had been impeached as a traitor, and those
two lines must speak to us with the power of a living voice! He
concludes his prison-thoughts by hurling his defiance at the man whose
treachery led to this imprisonment.
We are now able to identify quite confidently the man thus
marked by Shakspeare as the "black sheep" of the Essex flock of friends.
This hireling spy was undoubtedly Lord Monteagle. He was known to be
in the conspiracy: there were damning proofs against him. As shown
by the examination of Augustine Phillips, he was one of the three persons
who bespoke and paid for the "deposing and killing of King Richard the
Second,"  on the eve of the insurrection; and yet
he was not even put on trial for his life. It is said that when Coke
rose with certain evidence in his hand, he dropped the name of Monteagle
from the sworn depositions of Phillips the player, and inserted that of
Meyrick in its stead. Lord Monteagle was fined; Meyrick was
executed. This, coupled with Lord Monteagle's subsequent conduct in
the "Gunpowder Plot," shows that he was the secret spy of the Government;
the traitor to Essex and his friends; the "Suborned Informer of
There is also a passage in King Lear very like in
substance to some of the matter in this group of Sonnets where we have
"No, no, no, no ! Come, let's away to
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:
So we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of Court news; and we'll talk with them too—
Who loses, and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And we'll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sects of great, ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon."
Much of that is incongruous imagery for Lear to use. What Court,
what "great ones," what "gilded butterflies," should the proud,
broken, aged king care to hear of? It passes, of course, as the
pathetic, wild, and wandering talk of the garrulous old man, but there's
more than that in it. If that "moon" be, and I would take my
Shakspearean oath it is, the "mortal moon" that suffers eclipse in
the 107th Sonnet, then Shakspeare is talking to, or for, his friend
Southampton, in those lines, whilst poor Lear babbles to Cordelia;
and the passage was written before the death of Elizabeth, whatsoever
inferences to the contrary may have been drawn from Harsnett's
Discovery of Popish Impostures. There was no moon that any great
ones did or could "ebb and flow" by in the time of Shakspeare save
Elizabeth, the "mortal moon."
Now, Shakspeare might have been the speaker in the three
foregoing Sonnets without any conflict with some of the historic
circumstances to which they refer—such as the Earl's imprisonment and the
Irish war. But if he had been the speaker in those Sonnets which
confess a changing, ranging, false and fickle spirit, that had so often
and so sadly tried the person addressed, he could scarcely have been as
heroic in asserting his unswerving steadfastness of affection, and hurled
at Time his defiant determination to be eternally true. Time might
not "boast," but Shakspeare would be boasting with huge swagger at a most
sorrowful and unseasonable period. He might fairly enough defy Time,
and State policy, to alienate him from his friend. But his "dear
love," his friendship, was not the "Child of State" in any shape or way,
therefore he could not speak of its being only the "Child of
State." Shakspeare generally uses State in the most regal sense.
Hamlet the Prince was the first hope and foremost flower of the State.
So, in King Henry VIII., we have "an old man broken by the storms
of State." Nor was State policy likely to be exerted for any
such purpose in his case. He might, as most probably he did, have
visited the Earl in the Tower, and there moralized on the doings of Time,
and told him, to his face, he was an old impostor, after all, who tried to
play tricks with appearances on those who were close prisoners there in
his keeping. But his "love" could not be an "unfathered bastard of
Fortune" in consequence of being only the "Child of State."
It could not have been builded far from "accident" when so sad a one had
just occurred to his friend. He might have been inwardly glad that
Southampton could not get away to the Irish wars, and within range of the
impending blow of "thralled Discontent." But he could not have
congratulated the Earl on his imprisonment being the cause why the
friendship did not come under that blow. Moreover, it will be
observed that there is a self-gratulatory tone in these three Sonnets! Nor
could his love, his friendship have suffered in "smiling pomp"; and
if it might, it was not for Shakspeare to say such a thing to his fettered
friend, doomed to a life-long imprisonment. Nor could he, by his own
showing, have said that his love feared not Policy, the Heretic, for in
the 107th Sonnet he tells us how much he had feared. He was
filled with fears for the Earl in prison, and trembled for the life
supposed to be forfeited to a "Confined Doom." Clearly, then, he
could not be thus loftily defiant of the worst that had happened, or could
happen, on behalf of another, and that other his dear friend who was
sitting in the deepening shadow of death! The defiance and the
boasts would have been altogether unnatural from Shakspeare's mouth.
How could his love stand "all alone" and be "hugely politic"?
One would have thought, too, that his love would have been ready
enough to "drown with showers," had he been speaking to his beloved friend
in such perilous circumstances. Also, it would be exceedingly
strange for Shakspeare to call the "fools of Time" as his witnesses.
What for? save to show what a fool he was in making such a singular
declaration of his enduring love. He could have made no such vast
and vague a public appeal to prove the truth of his private affection.
Than, with the Earl bound hand and foot and in great mental agony; as he
must have been, it is not to be supposed that Shakspeare would fix his
gaze on himself and his own limiting circumstances. "Were it aught
to me I bore the Canopy?" Why, what would it be to his friend, the
Earl? Such reference to himself—such a "look at me"—would have been
the veriest mockery to his poor friend; such a discourse on the benefits
of being without a tail would have been a vulgar insult. If
Shakspeare were speaking thus of himself, the reader's concern would be
for Southampton! But enough said: it is not Shakspeare who speaks in
The nature and quality of the speaker are still more marked
than his environment, and Southampton alone could belong to "OUR
Fashion"; that is, young men of rank, courtiers and soldiers; as Hotspur,
for example, was "the mark and glass, copy and book that fashioned
others," or, as is illustrated by Plantagenet in his disdain of the
"I scorn thee and thy Fashion, peevish boy."
Southampton could speak of his "love" being the "Child of State"—his child
a "bastard of Fortune"—subject to Time's love or hate—out of the pale of
the law—(for a gloss on which hear Faulconbridge—
"He is but a bastard to the time,
That doth not smack of observation,
And so am I whether I smack or no.")
Only Southampton could have suffered in the "smiling pomp" of Court
favour, or fallen under the blow of "thrallèd discontent," i.e. of
the rebels up in arms in Ireland; only he could have defied all State
policy on account of some course taken by himself which he considers yet
more politic; and only he could have hurled his supreme disdain at the
hireling spy who had been suborned to inform against him, and thus led to
his impeachment for treason.
The speaker is the same as he who has so long sustained the
fight with "Time" and "Fortune," which have overthrown him at last,
although when prostrate on the ground he will not yield. The speaker
who, in Sonnet 29, feels himself to be in "disgrace with Fortune," and
men's eyes are turned from him. He who in Sonnet 37 is made
lame, is disabled, or shut out of service, by Fortune's "dearest" or most
excessive spite. He who in Sonnet 90 is the same person still
pursued by the malice of Fortune, which is bent on crossing his deeds.
It is the same speaker, the unlucky scapegrace, the noble
"ne'er-do-weel," who, in Sonnet 111, asks his much-suffering, more-loving
lady to chide this "Fortune" that has been to so great an extent the
guilty goddess, the primary cause of his harmful doings and his
"blenches," or starts from rectitude. It is the same person on whose
behalf Shakspeare makes such a prolonged fight with Time and evil Fortune
and in some of the Personal Sonnets speaks so proudly of the power of his
verse to give him an immortality that shall right this wrong of time.
At first sight a reader might fancy some of those Sonnets to have been
written after a visit to the Tavern, when the canary had added a cubit to
the Poet's stature, and he talked loftily for so modest a man. But
he had a stronger incentive; a wilder wine was awork within him when he
made these sounding promises. Not flattery nor the spirit of the
grape were his inspiration, but a passionate feeling of injustice and
wrong, and a determination to make his friend triumph over time and
enmity, and all the opposition of a malevolent fortune.
It is Southampton then, not Shakspeare, who speaks in the
foregoing Sonnets, and it will be seen that the personal theory has not
the shadow of a chance when compared with the dramatic one. It
cannot gauge these Sonnets; does not go to the bottom in any one of the
deeper places. The dramatic version, with Southampton for speaker,
alone will sound the depths, and make out the sense.
The Personal and Dramatic Sonnets present the obverse and
reverse of the same facts; and if we would listen to the words of
Shakspeare himself speaking to his friend in prison, we shall hear him in
the 115th Sonnet:—
Shakspeare to the Earl of Southampton in prison.
Those lines that I before have writ do lie;
Even those that said I could not love you dearer!
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer!
But reckoning time, whose million'd accidents
Creep in 'twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas! why, fearing of Time's tyranny,
Might I not then say, "Now I love you best"?
When I was certain o'er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?—(115)
tell us that Shakspeare had before said he loved his friend so much it was
impossible for him to love the Earl more dearly. Because, at the
time of saying so, he could neither see nor foresee reason why that flame
of his love should afterwards burn clearer, or soar up more strongly.
He did not know what surprise was yet in store for him. But this new
and more perilous position of his friend, one of time's million accidents,
serves to make him pour forth his love in a larger measure, and he now
sees why he ought not to have said he could not love him more. The
shadow has fallen on his friend; the waters of affliction have gone over
him, and he loves him more than ever in this his latest calamity. He
feels that he ought not to have boasted of his love even when he felt most
certain over uncertainty, because the Earl had been so marked a victim of
"Time's tyranny." Even when the present was crowned by the Earl's
marriage, he ought still to have doubted of the rest, and not made any
such assertion. The lines have an appearance of Shakspeare's taking
up the pen once more after he had looked upon the expression of his
affection in Sonnets as finished when he had rejoiced over the marriage of
Southampton. Now he has found a fresh cause for speaking of that
love, to which a stronger appeal has been made. The reason, as here
stated "love is a babe," sounds somewhat puerile, but it is the Poet's way
of making light of himself; the Personal Sonnet being sent merely in
attendance on the three dramatic ones, which were the messengers of
importance, whilst this was only their servant. He does not seek to
make the most of this occasion, and give adequate expression to such
feelings as he must have had when Southampton was condemned to die.
His friend in relation to the Countess, not himself, was his object.
Thus, while he makes many of his Personal Sonnets into pretty patterns of
ingenious thought, the others are all aglow with dramatic fire and
feeling, only to be fully felt when we have learned who the speakers are,
and what it is they are speaking about. Here his own warmth of heart
is suppressed, to be put into cordial loving words for the forlorn and
desolate wife of his dear friend.
It was one of Boaden's arguments, still repeated by the
Irresponsible Echoes, that these Sonnets cannot have been addressed to the
Earl of Southampton, because the Poet has not written in the direct
personal way on the passing events of the Earl's life. He
asks, with a taunt, how did the Poet feel upon the rash daring of Essex?
Had he no soothing balm to shed upon the agonies of his trial, his entence,
his imprisonment, bitter as death? Could his eulogist find no call
upon him for secure congratulation when James had restored him to
liberty?" We should expect Shakspeare to tell him, in a masterly
tone, that calamity was the nurse of great spirits; that his afflictions
had been the source of his fame; that mankind never could have known the
resources of his mighty mind, if he had not been summoned to endure
disgrace, and to gaze undauntedly on death itself." Here, however,
the critic has only copied from the example of Daniel. These are
that Poet's sentiments expressed in the direct personal way.
Shakspeare being a great Dramatic Poet, and a close personal friend of the
Earl, wrote in his own way, or according to that friend's wish, expressed
years before. It did not suit him, nor the plan of his work, to wail
and weep personally. He wrote Dramatic Sonnets on these subjects
instead of personal ones, and these contain the very matter that Boaden
called for and could not read, because he was on the track of a wrong
It suited all the persons concerned that he should use the
Earl's name, and try to infuse into the Earl's nature something of his own
impassioned majesty of soul, so that the friend might unconsciously feel
strengthened in Shakspeare's strength. Thus, the Poet could instruct
his friend, and stand over him as an invisible teacher, when the Earl only
saw the writer of Sonnets labouring for his amusement; and to us he speaks
over the shoulder of his friend. This was Shakspeare's dramatic way
with all whom he has taught—all whom he yet teaches.
There are, however, some important allusions in this Sonnet!
The reference to Time changing "DECREES or
KINGS" no doubt includes the change in that decree
made when Southampton's sentence of death was commuted to a life-long
imprisonment. Also, it is plainly apparent that the attempt of Essex
to create a revolution, or some great change, is unmistakably meant in the
line that speaks of Time diverting "strong minds to the course of altering
things!" If so, it also shows, something of the amazement with which
Shakspeare had witnessed so futile a diversion on the part of a
strong—probably he thought head-strong—mind to the course of altering
things that were found to be firmly fixed. He looks upon the
futile, foolish assault as a mental aberration, and one of the
accidents—not to say wonders—of Time! This line is jewelled with one
of those personal and precious particulars with which the Sonnets abound,
and for which the rest were written. They are too solid to be
dissipated into that vapour of vague generalities which some of the
subjective and idealizing interpreters so much delight in, but in which
thin air the rich poetic life of Shakspeare could not have breathed.
Sonnet 107 will show us that, in spite of
the dramatic method adopted by Shakspeare in writing of the Earl, he
did find a call for secure congratulation when James had restored the Earl
to his liberty.
Shakspeare to Southampton, on his release from prison.
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 control,
Supposed as forfeit to a Confined Doom!
The Mortal Moon hath her Eclipse endured,
And the sad Augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties 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 Tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.—(107)
There need be no mistake, doubt, or misgiving here! This Sonnet
contains evidence beyond question — proof positive and unimpeachable —
that the man addressed by Shakspeare in his Personal Sonnets has
been condemned in the first instance to death, and afterwards to
imprisonment for life; only escaping his doom through the death of the
Queen; and that fact must cast reflections backward on other Sonnets.
It tells us that the Poet had been filled with fears for the
fate of his friend, and that his instinct, as well as the presentiment of
the world in general, had foreshadowed the worst for the Earl, as it
dreamed on things to come. He sadly feared the life of his
friend—the Poet's lease of his true love—was forfeited, if not to
immediate death, to a confined doom, or a definite, a life-long
imprisonment. Like Cleopatra, he, in common with others, had a
A triumphal case can be made out for this Sonnet, but it does
not differ one whit from fifty others in its allusions to historic facts
that are personal to Shakspeare's friends. Facts underlie the other
Sonnets as well as this, although they may be indirectly and, so to say,
These Sonnets offer a perfect example of the Poet's covertly
allusive method in figuring forth facts from life which were only intended
to be rendered by suggestive hints for those who had the key. Our
difficulty in apprehending his method is doubled where the treatment is
dramatic. Those readers who will remain self-committed to
imprisonment in a false theory, who WILL insist that
Shakspeare must be the speaker all through, find the Sonnets to be full of
facts that cannot be made personal to him, and so they seek to read the
imagery as non-literal. It was the Poet's work to render the facts
of the secret drama in poetic figures, and it is our work to re-convert
the figures into the original facts, otherwise there only remains a
shadowy imagery which is but a thin impalpable reflection of the substance
that is out of sight.
An eminent critic, who is also a Shakspearean editor, in
writing to me on the subject of Sonnet 107, says: "I have always thought
that Sonnet one of those from which those who, like yourself, attach high
value to identifying the underlying facts, should be able to deduce solid
inferences, and your explanation has a very probable air. On the
other hand, the line about Peace—
'And Peace, proclaims olives of endless age,'
appears to me
rather too definite for the accession of James I., and to point to some
single political event. A friend of mine kindly consulted the
Astronomer Royal as to whether any conspicuous lunar eclipse had occurred
about the time" (that is, of Elizabeth's death). This was entirely
without success. Besides, the "eclipse" in Shakspeare's Sonnet is
"mortal," not lunar:—
"The MORTAL moon hath her eclipse endured."
shone in the human or mortal sphere—was subject to mortality. Just
in the same vein, he calls the eyes of Lucrece "mortal stars";
Valeria, in Coriolanus, is called the "moon of Rome"; and Cleopatra
is spoken of by Antony as our "terrene moon." The Queen was the
earthly or mortal moon. And as it was this that was eclipsed
in death, there was no need to look for a lunar eclipse. In
Love's Labour's Lost the King says of the Princess, who is possibly
meant for Queen Elizabeth, "My love, her mistress, is a gracious moon;"
she—that is Rosalind, whom I claim to be Stella, Lady Rich—"an attending
star." In reply to this letter it may be pointed out that King James
came to the English throne as the personification of Peace—peace in
himself and his policy; peace "white-robed or white-liver'd;" peace at
home and abroad; peace anyhow so that he might not be scared with the
shadow of his ante-natal terror, a sword.
In his Essays Bacon tells us, "It was generally believed that
after the death of Elizabeth England should come to utter confusion." 
Elizabeth herself prognosticated that her death would be followed by the
overthrow of the Protestant religion and ruin of the realm. As
Froude says, "Sometimes in mockery she would tell the Council that she
would come back after her death and see the Queen of Scots making their
heads fly! She advised Hatton to buy no land and build no houses.
When she was gone she said there would be no living for him in England."
A curious parallel to this 107th Sonnet on the death of
Elizabeth may be found in a passage of contemporary prose. This is
the first paragraph of the dedicatory epistle to King James, still to be
seen at the beginning of our English Bibles:—
"For whereas it
was the expectation of many, who wished not well to our Sion, that upon
the setting of that bright occidental star, Queen Elizabeth, of most happy
memory, some thick and palpable clouds of darkness would so have
overshadowed this land, that men should have been in doubt which way they
were to walk, and that it should hardly be known who was to direct the
unsettled State; the appearance of your majesty, as of the sun in its
strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists, and gave
unto all that were well affected exceeding cause of comfort; especially
when we beheld the Government established in your Highness your hopeful
seed by an undoubted Title, and this also accompanied with peace and
tranquillity at home and abroad."
We look out of
the same window on precisely the same prospect in both Sonnet and
Dedication. Let me point a few of the parallels—
"It was the expectation of many."
"Upon the setting of that bright Occidental Star.
"The appearance of your Majesty, as of the sun in
"That men should have been in doubt—that it should
be hardly known."
"Accompanied with peace and tranquillity at home
"Mine own fears" and "the prophetic soul of the
wide world dreaming on
things to come."
The Mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time"
(i.e. the dews of this new April dawn).
"Incertainties now crown themselves assured."
"And Peace proclaims olives of endless age."
impossible to have any reasonable doubt that the same spirit pervades the
two; that the same death is recorded; the same fears are alluded to; the
same exultation is expressed; the same peace identified. The Sonnet
tells us in all plainness that our Poet had been filled with a
"prophesying fear" for the fate of his friend, whose life was supposed to
be forfeited to a "confined doom," or, we say, "his days were
numbered;" that the instinct of the world in general had foreboded the
same, but that the Queen is now dead and all uncertainties are over; those
who augured the worst can afford to laugh at their own predictions.
The new king smiles on our Poet's friend, and calls him forth from a
prison to a palace to richly receive the "drops" or sheddings of his
bounty; and with this new reign and release there opens a new dawn of
gladness and promised peace for the nation—
"Peace proclaims olives of endless age."
in Henry VIII., points out the peace for James I., which is one of
the assured blessings of Elizabeth's reign, "Peace, Plenty, Love shall
then be his, and like a vine grow to him."
Shakspeare himself gives us a hint, in his dramatic way, that
he was present at the trial of the Earl, for he has, in a well-known
speech of Othello's, adopted the manner and almost the words with which
Bacon opened his address on that memorable occasion—"I speak not to simple
men," said Bacon, but to "prudent, grave, and wise
peers." And this is obviously echoed in Othello's "Most potent,
grave, and reverend signiors." And we may be sure that
our Poet was one of the first to greet his friend at the open door of his
prison with that welcoming smile of pure sunshine, all the sweeter for the
sadness past, and press his hand with all his heart in the grasp. We
may likewise be sure that Shakspeare had Southampton's good word in
securing the patronage of James, and the privilege accorded by Letters
Patent to his own theatrical company, directly after the King had reached
London. In this Sonnet we have his written gratulation of the Earl
on his release. It proves his sympathy with him in misfortune, and
it proves also that he had been writing about the Earl. For we
cannot suppose this poor rhyme" to mean this single Sonnet, but the series
which this Sonnet concluded, and upon which it sheds its
Professor Dowden has suggested jauntily that
"the moon is imagined as having endured her eclipse and come out none the
less bright" But if only a passing illness of the Queen had been
figured by an eclipse of the Mortal Moon, that would not account for
Shakspeare's lease of love being renewed, which was supposed to have been
forfeited to a "confined doom." That would not account for death
in the Sonnet—Death subscribing to Shakspeare—nor for his defiant
allusion to "Tyrants' crests and tombs of brass."
The lease of his love for Southampton was supposed to have
been forfeited by a definite doom, i.e. by an
imprisonment for life or an expected death; instead of which the Poet
triumphs over death—"Death to me subscribes"—because the "Mortal
Moon hath her eclipse endured." Moreover, the recovery of the Queen
from an illness after the rebellion would be bad for Shakspeare's private
friends, as proved by the death of Essex, the imprisonment of Southampton,
the banishment of Herbert and Lady Rich.
Bacon, I think, had no doubt of this Sonnet being written at
the time of the Queen's death. Hence his borrowed description in the
history of Henry VII.: "The Queen hath endured a strange Eclipse."
The Queen now dead, the Mortal Moon thus eclipsed, had been
frequently addressed as such by the name of Cynthia. Cynthia was one
of Gloriana's most popular poetical titles. An image of maiden
purity to her Majesty, in which some of the Wits also saw the symbol of
changefulness. Change of moon brings change of weather too!
His love is refreshed by the drops of this most balmy time, the tears of
joy; his lease of love is renewed for life. Those who had prophesied
the worst can now laugh at their own fears and mock their unfulfilled
predictions. The new King called the Earl from a prison to a seat of
honour. As Wilson expresses it, "the Earl of Southampton, covered
long with the ashes of great Essex his ruins, was sent for from the Tower,
and the King looked upon him with a smiling countenance." "Peace
proclaims olives of endless age." Our Poet evidently hopes that the
Earl's life will share in this new dawn of gladness and promised peace of
the nation. He can exult over death this time. It is his turn
to triumph now. And his friend shall find a monument in his verse
which shall stand when the crests of tyrants have crumbled and their
brass-mounted tombs have mouldered out of sight.
This, Sonnet is a pregnant instance of Shakspeare's
twin-bearing thought, his inclusive way of writing, which could not have
been appreciated hitherto, because the Sonnets have never been "made
flesh" by means of the facts. The Sonnet carries double. It blends
the Poet's private feeling for his friend with the public fear for the
death of the Queen. The "Augurs" had contemplated that event with
mournful forebodings, and prophesied changes and disasters. The
natural fact, of which this mortal "eclipse" is the applied figure,
is illustrated in King Lear. "I am thinking, brother," says
Edmund, "of a prediction I read the other day what should follow these
eclipses." The prediction having been made by his father,
Gloster: "These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us,"
&c.: (Act I. sc. ii.). As we shall see later on, the natural
eclipses here referred to had occurred in the year 1598. The coming
eclipse of the "Mortal Moon" was also the cause of presaging fears
and possible disasters. But it has passed over happily for the
nation as joyfully for the Poet. Instead of his friend yielding to
Death, Death—in the death of the Queen—"subscribes," that is, submits to
There can be no doubt that the Sonnet chronicles a death, and
hints at burial in a tyrant's tomb. The death refers to the eclipse
of the "Mortal Moon," i.e. Cynthia, or Queen Elizabeth, and her
death is a subject of rejoicing to Shakspeare. It is not necessary
to say that he rejoiced personally, but he does so dramatically. Her
demise was a cause of exultation on behalf of his late imprisoned friend
who was set free in consequence of that death. He may have begun to
"find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny" (Lear,
I. ii.), which gave him hints for the wilful spirit of injustice and
self-blinding royal rage dramatically portrayed and pursued to its bitter
end in Lear. But it is enough for the Sonnet that death
submits to the writer in favour of the friend. Had he summed up on
the subject in a balance-sheet, as Chatterton did on the death of Lord
Mayor Beckford, he would have been glad the Queen was dead, by the gain to
and of Southampton. But I do think Shakspeare looked upon the Queen
as a tyrant in all marriage matters, and not without cause. Her
Majesty appears not only to have made up her mind to remain single
herself, when getting on for sixty, but also to prevent her maids from
being married. What the Queen's treatment was of her maids that
wished to marry, we may gather from the letter of Mr. Fenton to John
Harington,  in which, speaking of the Lady Mary
Howard, he tells us that the Queen will not let her be married, saying, "I
have made her my servant, and she will make herself my mistress," which
she shall not. Moreover, she "must not entertain" her lover in any
conversation, but shun his company, and be careful how she attires her
person, not to attract my Lord the Earl. The story runs that the
Lady Mary had a gorgeous velvet dress, sprinkled with gold and pearl.
The Queen thought it richer than her own. One day she sent privately
for the dress, put it on, and appeared wearing it before her
ladies-in-waiting. It was too short for her Majesty, and looked
exceedingly unsuited to her. She asked the ladies how they liked her
new-fangled dress, and they had to get out of their difficulty as best
they could. Then she asked Lady Mary if she did not think it was too
short and unbecoming. The poor girl agreed with her Majesty that it
was. Whereupon the Queen said if it was too short for her, it was
too fine for the owner, and the dress was accordingly put out of sight.
Sir J. Harington relates how the Queen, when in a pleasant mood, would ask
the ladies around her chamber if they loved to think of marriage.
The wisely-wary ones would discreetly conceal their liking in the matter.
The simple ones would unwittingly rise at the bait, and were caught and
cruelly dangling on the hook the moment after, at which her Majesty
enjoyed fine sport. We might cite other instances in which the
attendants congratulated themselves in the words of Mr. John Stanhope,
who, in writing to Lord Talbot  on the subject of
Essex's marriage, and the Queen's consequent fury, says, "God be thanked,
she does not strike all she threats!" Mr. Fenton tells us that her
Majesty "chides in small matters, in such wise as to make these fair maids
often cry and bewail in piteous sort." The beautiful Mrs. Bridges,
the lady at Court with whom the Earl of Essex was said to be in love, is
reported to have felt the weight of her Majesty's displeasure, not only in
words of anger, but in double fisted blows. Elizabeth Vernon appears
to have been driven nearly to the verge of madness, and a good deal of
Southampton's trouble arose from the Queen's persistent opposition to
their marriage. Some recent writers seem to think that there ought
to have been neither marrying nor giving in marriage, if such was her
Majesty's pleasure. Shakspeare did not think so; he looked on life
in a more natural light. It was his most cherished wish to get the
Earl married, and the Queen had been implacable in thwarting it; this made
them take opposite sides. I like to find the Poet standing by the
side of his friend, even though he speaks bitterly of the Queen as a
"heretic"; does not express one word of sorrow when the "Mortal Moon"
suffers the final eclipse of death, and lets fly his last arrow in the air
over the old Abbey where the royal tyrants lie low—"Bloody Mary," for
instance, was buried there!—with a twang on the bow-string resonantly
vengeful and defiant.
We know that the Poet was publicly 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-tongèd Melicert
Drop from his honied Muse one sable teare
To mourn her death that gracèd his desert,
And to his laies opened her royall care,
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.
The 107th I take to be the last of the Southampton Sonnets,
as they have come to us. Shakspeare's warfare with Time and Fortune
on his friend's behalf is ended; the victory is won, he has found peace at
last. There is a final farewell touch in the concluding iteration of
the immortality so often promised. The Earl shall have a monument in
the Sonnets now finished, when the Abbey tombs have crumbled into dust.
When he wrote these last lines, the Poet could not have contemplated
leaving the monument without a name. Hitherto, however, his friend
has only found an undistinguishable tomb.
To summarize the whole matter in the briefest manner : there
are certain key Sonnets on which the truth of my total interpretation of
the Southampton series may be staked, and I am willing to stake that
interpretation on the 16th Sonnet being written by Shakspeare's "Pupil
Pen"; on the 26th being sent to the "lord of his love," in whose service
he wrought privately before he dedicated to him in print; on the 53rd
referring to that friend as the living figure from which he painted his
Adonis; on the rival poet of Sonnet 86 being Marlowe, the spiritualist or
master of the Black Arts, and the author of Dr. Faustus; on Sonnet 83
identifying the Poet's debt to Southampton; on Sonnet 38 showing that the
friend supplied his own subjects for Dramatic Sonnets; on the evidence
that some of these Sonnets are spoken by a person who cannot be the writer
of them; on the proof that in many of them it is a woman who is addressed;
that the game of "Barley-break" shows one of the speakers to be a woman;
on Sonnets 123, 124, and 125 being spoken
in prison by one who was the "Child of State," one who had borne the
Canopy of State, one who belonged to the Court circle, a noble of the
military fashion ("our Fashion"), who had been made the victim in State
matters of a "Suborned Informer"; and lastly on Shakspeare's personal
address (Sonnet 107) to this same Prisoner when he was set free from a
"Confined Doom" on the death of Queen Elizabeth.
FRAGMENT OF A PERSONAL SONNET.
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Doth hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle-hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein showest
Thy lovers withering as thy sweet self growest!
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As then goest onwards, still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace, and wretched minutes kill:
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure:
Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.—(126) 
[57.](page 183) "Here is my journey's end
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail."—Othello, V. ii.
[58.](page 183) "A God in love." An
expression beyond sex, indicating the strength of feeling that needs the
most masculine utterance, akin to that which made Elizabeth a prince
and a governor, and hailed Maria Theresa as a king in the Magyar Assembly.
So in the Bible, Man is used to express the sum total of sex. A "God
in love" is really only warranted by its being addressed to a woman.
Also a "Goddess in love" would not have suited, because it is the
greatness, the divinity of the love, rather than of the person, that is
meant to be conveyed (Drayton applies the epithet godlike to his Cynthia).
The expression, addressed to a woman, is suggestively illustrated in the
Comedy of Errors. Antipholus of Syracuse replies to Luciana,
"Sweet Mistress—what your name is else I know not," and he asks—
"Are you a God? would you create me new?
Transform me then, and to your power I'll yield."
"My heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my Lord. "—Othello.
[60.](page 184) Ambrose Willoughby's, for
instance, whose "report," according to Rowland White, led to the "unkindness"
betwixt Southampton and his mistress.
[61.](page 184) See the extract from Mr.
Chamberlain's letter for a very natural gloss on this line.
What dearly-purchased right to Shakspeare's companionship could the Earl
of Southampton have had which the Poet had "given to Time"? The
speaker here is the person addressed by Shakspeare himself in Sonnet 70,
as "being wooed of Time."
"All thy vexations
Were but my trials of thy love, and thou
Hast strangely stood the test. "—Tempest.
[63.](page 185) "Flitted." The Quarto reads
"fitted," but I cannot think that Shakspeare's omnipresent vision and
wakeful humour would allow him to say the eyes had been fitted out
of their spheres, when, if they had been fitted at all, it would
have been in their spheres. It must, I apprehend, be a misprint for "flitted", the word that, above all others, signifies a "moving" or
removal to the Scotch mind. Spenser makes use of the word "flit"—
"For on a sandy hill that still did flitt,
And fall away, it mounted was full hie."
Tasso (5, 58) has it—
"Alas, that cannot be, for he is flit
Out of this camp."
In Psalm Ivi. we find, "Thou tellest my 'flittings."' And
Puttenham calls the figure Metastasis the "Flitting Figure," or the
"Remove." The meaning of the line is, how have my eyes been moved
out of their spheres.
"Blessed may you be,
That after this strange starting from your orbs,
You may reign in them now."—Cymbeline, V. v.
[64.](page 186) Surely this is the true
reading of the above two lines—the "of" and "for" having changed
places? Othello cannot mean that he is made into a clock or a dial, but
the laughing-stock of the time? Beside which, the finger of Time on a dial
is always moving!
[65.](page 189) Scourge of Folly.
[66.](page 191) The title of "the King's
Servants" was only conferred on Shakspeare's company of players by the
Privy Seal of 1603.
[67.](page 191) In a letter written by the
Earl of Southampton to Sir Thomas Roe, December 24th, 1623, he expresses
himself to be in love with a country life.
[68.](page 191) The affair with Willoughby
would not have given rise to public scandal but for its having
occurred at Court.
[69.](page 201) "Even to the edge of doom;"
so in All's Well that Ends Well, to the "extreme edge of hazard;"
and in Macbeth, the "crack of doom," i.e. the breaking up of
nature. How perfectly do these lines, with their hint of the sunken
cheek, and waning red of the lip, and the burthen of mental suffering,
coincide with the words of White!
[70.](page 206) Winwood's Memorials,
vol. i. p. 351.
[71.](page 209) Domestic State Papers
(Elizabeth), Mrs. Green's Calendar, 1598-1601, p. 575.
[72.](page 215) Works, 1856, vol. i.
Harington's Nugæ Antiquæ, vol. i. p. 233.
[74.](page 218) Lodge's Illustrations,
1838, ii. 422.
[75.](page 220) This is not a complete
Sonnet, but an unfinished fragment belonging to the earlier time, and
containing an idea that was worked up elsewhere. Compare Sonnets 11
and 104. It serves, however, to mark off the Southampton series from
the latter Sonnets, although at the same time it tends to confuse the
"Sweet Boy" of that earlier time with another sweet youth of a later
period, and to confound Henry Wriothesley with Master Will. Herbert.