Elizabeth Vernon to her Lover the Earl of Southampton.
The Dark Story: or Elizabeth Vernon's jealousy of her cousin Lady Rich.
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with, heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my Sun one early morn did shine
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow,
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region-cloud hath masked him from me now:
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when Heaven's sun
Why didst thou promise such, a beauteous day
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o'ertake me on my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss;
The offender's sorrow lends, but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence's cross
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love
And they are rich, and ransom all ill,
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sun,
And loathsome cankers live in sweetest bud:
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorising thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss;
Excusing their sins more than their sins are;
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,—
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,—
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence;
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
That I an accessory needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs
from me. (35)
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits
When I am sometime absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art:
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed
And when a woman woos, what woman's son
Will sourly leave her till she have prevailed?
Ah me! but yet thou might'st my Seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a two fold
Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me! (41)
That thou hast her, it is not all my grief;
And yet, it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
A loss in. love that leaches me more nearly:
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye!
Thou dost love her, because thou know'st I love
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my Friend for my sake to approve her;
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
And losing her, my Friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both, for my sake, lay on me this cross
But here's the joy; my Friend and I are one,
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone. (42)
ELIZABETH VERNON TO HER COUSIN LADY RICH.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my Friend and me!
Is it not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st Friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou, harder, hast engrossed;
Of him, myself, and thee, I am forsaken;
A torment thrice three fold thus to be crossed!
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom's ward,
But then my Friend's heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe'er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Then canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me. (133)
So, now I have confessed that, he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I'll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore, to be my comfort still;
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous and he is kind;
He learned but surety-like to write for me
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind:
The statue of thy beauty thou will take,
Thou usurer that putt'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend 'came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse!
Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me;
He pays the whole, and yet I am not free. (134)
Take all my loves, my Love, yea, take them all,
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No Love! my Love, that thou may'st true love call,
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more:
There if for my love thou my Love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But, yet, be, blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest:
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty!
And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief
To bear love's wrong, than hate's known injury:
Lascivious Grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites! yet we must not be foes. (40)
As the reader
will perceive, two of the "Latter Sonnets" have here been brought
forward; but in grouping these Sonnets together I am not trying to steal
any advantage over my opponents, nor am I loading the dice on purpose to
play falsely. I was not the first to recognize a relationship in
these Sonnets which proves that there has been a change of places. Gervinus, followed by others, admits the relationship of these groups,
only he would drag Sonnets 40-2 into the back slums of the Latter
Sonnets,—not knowing what else to make of them; whereas I bring two of
the Latter Sonnets (three altogether) forward, and am able to offer the
best of reasons for so doing. The comparison already made points to
their alignment with plays that were far earlier than the time of the
Latter Sonnets (see p. 43).
We are in agreement then with Gervinus as to their relationship, although
differing completely as to the story they have to tell.
According to the Autobiographical interpretation, it has been
assumed that Shakspeare having a wife at Stratford, also kept a mistress
in London, this being the bestializing Circe who is described in the
Latter Sonnets as an adulteress in the very "refuse of her deeds;" foul
with all unfaithfulness in marriage, the breaker of her own "bed-vow," who
had "robbed others' beds' revenues of their rents," and who was so public
a prostitute that she could be called the "bay where all men ride," the
"wide world's common place." This is the woman who, as they say,
seduced Shakspeare's young friend from his side and thus caused the Poet
to suffer a "hell of time" in purging fires. Mr. Furnivall asserts
that in Sonnets 40—2 "Will has taken away Shakspeare's mistress,"
although he tells us a few lines later on, that in Sonnets 66—70, "Shakspeare
is SURE he is PURE,
and excuses him!"  This "Will," as
previously shown, is an impostor of their own manufacture. It is a
lying delusion to assert or suppose that any person named "Will" is
addressed in the Sonnets from the first to the final one. And if the
young friend of the Poet did steal his mistress, it must of necessity have
been the man whose poet he was, the man who "made the dumb on high to
sing," the living original of Shakspeare's Adonis, that is, the Earl of
Southampton, as already established by data the most definite and
indubitable. However, this is a fact the autobiographists will not, dare
not, look in the face.
Now, if there were any grounds for such a story, we are bound
not to shirk it. We ought not to lie about Shakspeare because
we love him. We should have no right to alter any known fact of his
life. It might have been pleasant too could we have proved that he
had such failings and errors as afforded a satisfactory set-off to his
splendour—the foil which should render his glory less dazzling to weak
eyes. There are tastes that would have appreciated his fame all the
more for a taint in it! Besides, we all know what mad things love
has done in this world; that while it can see so clearly on behalf of
others, it is so often blind for self. We know how this passion has
coloured some lump of common earth; how it has clothed spiritual deformity
with splendour and grace; how it has discrowned the kingly men and made
fools of the wise ones; snatched the empire of a world from Antony; made
great heroes lay down their heads and leave their laurels in a wanton's
lap; set the wits of many a poor poet dancing like those of a lunatic.
As Armado reminds us, "Sampson was so tempted, and he had an excellent
strength; Solomon was so seduced, and he had a very good wit."
Shakspeare with his ripe physical nature, fine animal spirits, and
magnificent pulse of rich life, might have been one victim more. It might
have been possible for this soaring spirit to be sensually subdued by some
witty wanton, and transformed for a time into one of the wallowers in her
So many apparent possibilities go to make up the world of
might-have-been! Let us admit the possibility. He might have
been. But was he, and has he left the evidence for a conviction? Has
he written Sonnets to record the mutual shame of himself and that friend
whom he professed to love with a love "passing the love of woman," and
strove to image forth for endless honour? Did he play the pimp to
his own dishonour, as the personal reading of this group of Sonnets would
imply? Was he such a stark fool in his confessions as the
one-eyed, folk assume who cannot distinguish his mask from his face, nor
his personality from the part he played? Men may do such things as
have been surmised of Shakspeare and his friend, but only Cretins assume
that he would have put them into Sonnets to "please these curious days."
But what we are called upon to question here is not
Shakspeare's falsehood, to wife or self or friend, or that friend's
falsehood to him when he, the friend, was devotedly in love with Elizabeth
Vernon; such hypothetical trifles may be thrown in. What we are concerned
with first and foremost is the falsehood to nature that would be
perpetrated by this our greatest of all human naturalists, in making pleas
so second-childishly puerile and excuses so false and foolish, if this
were a matter between man and man, and he and Southampton were the two
Let us for the moment suppose the lying story true. How
then should Shakspeare be the first to attack his friend when he had been
the foremost to go astray? How could he blame him for permitting the
"base clouds" and "rotten smoke" to hide his morning
brightness, taunt him with sneaking to westward with "this disgrace," hold
him responsible for the "base clouds" overtaking himself, and tell him
that tears of repentance would be of no avail, that HIS
shame could not "give physic" to Shakspeare's grief, for no one
could speak well of such a "salve" as that which might heal the wound but
could never "cure the disgrace"? How could he thus throw such
puerile and petulant exclamations at the Earl, his young friend, had he
been the older sinner? But for his own connection with the woman,
his friend would not have been brought within reach of her snares.
It would be his own baseness that made the Earl's deception possible.
It was he who had let the base clouds overtake both. The
youth could only have loosely "strayed" where the man of years had first
deliberately gone. The friend would see what a pretty comment this
was on that "husbandry in honour" which the Poet had urged so eloquently,
if he thus admitted that he was living in such dishonour. The
falsehood of falsehoods would be Shakspeare's own, his would be the
baseness, black beyond comparison, the disgrace that was past all cure.
After the death of Tybalt, Romeo, fearing the effect on
"Does she not think me an old murderer,
Now I have stained the childhood of our joy?"
this blot of blood on the newly-turned leaf of his life has soaked
backwards through the whole book. So must the Poet have felt if the
Earl had discovered any such black stain in his character; if he had found
that all the professions of love, sole and eternal, whispered in private
and proclaimed in public, were totally false; if he had proved his vaunted
singleness in love to be a most repulsive specimen of double-dealing.
With what conscience could the poet turn round when caught by the friend,
who had only followed his footsteps, and upbraid him for the disgrace to
himself, the treachery to their friendship? If he had not had a
mistress he would not have lost a friend. Or how could he reproach
his friend with breaking a "two-fold truth"—
"Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee;
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me,"
his own breach of the moral law and the marriage tie? The Earl would
know what a double-dyed sinner he was; he would see through the moral
blasphemy of his solemn twaddle. He would appreciate the value of his
arguments for marriage, and his consecration of their friendship, when
thus illustrated. He would see how apposite was the exclamation, "Ah me,
but yet thou might'st, MY Seat, forbear," and
chide him for the "pretty wrongs" committed when he was "sometime
absent" from the Earl's heart, IF this
absence was for such a purpose. If the story had been true, then
the position taken by the Poet would be utterly fatal, and the arguments
foolishly false. It would be the hardened sinner obviously playing
the part of the injured innocent; every charge he makes against his friend
cuts double-edged against himself. How could he dare to speak of the
Earl's "sensual fault," and talk of bringing in sense, to look on this
weakness of his friend's nature in a sensible way, if he himself had been
doing secret wrong to his own reputation, his dear friendship, his wife,
his little ones? How could he thus patronize his frail friend who
knew that the speaker was far frailer? How should he say, "no more
be grieved at that which thou hast done," and try to make excuses for him,
if he himself had done that which was infinitely worse? The Earl
might weep, and the Poet might speak of the tears as rich enough to ransom
all his ill-deeds; but they would not redeem the character of Shakspeare;
the friend, with all his repentance, could never have cured the married
man's disgrace. He might affect to speak of the Earl's doings as "pretty
wrongs" that befitted his years, but his own sins could not be looked on
as "pretty"; these could not in any sense befit his own years.
How should Shakspeare ask—
"Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak?"
It is not
possible for any man to ask such a question under the circumstances
supposed. It would be too barefaced a bit of hypocrisy! His
cloak! Why, he would have been travelling forth in the cloak of a
hideous and disgusting disguise. He would be a lecher cloaking
himself in a demure morality. Shakspeare, were he the speaker, could
not have travelled forth without his cloak, it would have clung only too
near to nature. Such a method of treating the whole matter would be
a blunder worse than the crime.
"And yet thou might'st MY
Do you think,
now, men or women, that Shakspeare, all alive as he was to an incongruity,
the quickest part of whose self-consciousness was his active sense of the
ridiculous, would, in the circumstances postulated, claim that "seat" of
baseness as his very own, and his only? He would be the last
man to overlook the fact that he could claim no private or personal
proprietorship in a woman so notoriously public as the Latter Sonnets
paint her. She has been false to her husband's bed (152), not in relation
to one person merely, for she has "robbed others' beds' revenues of
their rents" (142). She is described as being all too common for one
man to claim or re-claim her as his own. Shakspeare was somewhat
learned in the law of property, and quite familiar with the distinction
betwixt that which was several and common property. And the
question is very naturally asked (Sonnet 137)—
"Why should my heart think that a several plot,
Which my heart knows the wide world's common place?"
And therefore why write Sonnets to claim it as several? Why
resent the intrusion of a friend to the grazing-ground on a world-wide
common? Also, it is ludicrously impossible for a woman so
notoriously public and depraved to have abused one friend by suffering the
other to test and prove her, or her truth to him! (Sonnet
42.) And therefore why blubber about it, and stand in tears
self-pilloried in public for the amusement, disgust, or scorn of those who
were to read the Sonnets which were written in the friend's album to
please those "curious days"? Shakspeare is supposed to be speaking
of or to the same woman in the following manner—
LOOK ON THIS PICTURE!
That sweet thief. (35)
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief. (40)
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits. (41)
Thou might'st My seat forbear! (42)
Sweet flattery, then she loves but me alone. (42)
AND ON THIS!
As black as Hell, as dark as night. (147)
Robbed other's beds' revenues of their rent. (142)
In act thy bed-vow broke. (152)
The bay where all men ride. (137)
Which my heart knows
The wide world's common place. (137)
Surely if the
speaker had been a married man, there could have been no need of charging
himself with that one least fault in the world, an overmuch charity in
construing; "himself corrupting" by his large liberality towards
his friend. He need not have sought for so far-fetched a fault as
that of straining a point in excusing his friend's sins, because "all men
make faults," and "EVEN I in this," that is in being
so very charitable; the only fault of which the speaker is conscious!
A married man could not charge the single one with his shame for what he
had done being inadequate to give physic to his grief. Nor could he
make that appeal to the public, "for no man well of such a salve
can speak," if he were known to be a married man who had been found out in
keeping a mistress. It would not be the salve of which men would
speak, but the moral sore! The attitude, the arguments, the personal
consciousness, are all wrong when applied to a man who would be himself
compromised; they are only possible to an innocent woman. Nowhere do
we meet the blinking glance of conscious guilt; but at every turn of the
subject the clear straight-forward look of honest love. Whatsoever
the exact meaning or amount of the charges, there is no hint here of the
speaker's being guilty of the like or of any kindred offence against
morality. The speaker is the victim and not the cause of shame, and
consequently has the just right to censure and condemn. There is not
one word of contrition or self-reproach; no single reference to his own
breach of the moral law, or marriage tie, in all the sage and solemn
personal Sonnets which show us Shakspeare's own soul. How could our
Poet, who had so warmly advocated husbandry in honour for the Earl, have
written Sonnets for the purpose of picturing the married man and his
boy-friend as rivals for the embrace of a mistress; and thus publicly
proclaimed his own dishonour? How could he have been sensitive to
the least whisper of ill-fame that was breathed against the Earl, if he
himself had been in the stews with him, and done his best to perpetuate
the fact by recording the most damning testimony? How could he have
charged his young friend with deception, baseness, and ill-deeds, when, if
such things had been true, he would have been first in doing these very
offences—ten-fold worse in doing them, and a thousand-fold worse in
writing of them? How could he remonstrate with the Earl on his evil
courses, warn him about his health, and tell him that he has grown
common, and that is why men speak ill of him? How should he exclaim—
"Ah, wherefore with Infection should he live?"
indeed, if Shakspeare and his mistress had been the primary cause of the
contamination? How could he think his beloved would show "like an
Idol," if he had laboured so sedulously to flaw the image he had set up,
and so befouled it with dirt? How would he be able to say at least
years after the supposed occurrence—
"To no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell."
How could this be so if he and the Earl had been actors in the dark drama
conjectured, and the Poet had written for the purpose of exposure?
His songs could not have been "all alike" devoted to the praise of his
unchangeable truth and wonderful constancy, if he had denounced his
deception and raged in rhyme against his falsehood. It could not
have been "all alike" on either side if there had been so marked a change
in word and deed. The Earl could not have been constant in his
kindness if the reproaches had been aimed at him by the Poet; nor would
the verse have been confined to expressing the constancy; nor could "fair,
kind, and true" be all his argument if he had passionately proclaimed the
Earl as being foul, unkind, and false. Such Sonnets would contain a
lie in each line, known to the Earl as such, and be most astounding
specimens of stupendous effrontery.
Such a view of Shakspeare's character is insanely absurd.
And from all we know and hear of the man—gather from the aim and object
of the Sonnets—see of his knowledge of human nature, his instinct for
law, his sincerity and fidelity to his friends—we are compelled to
indignantly spurn a theory that demands such a sacrifice of truth and
probability. Any one who can think that our Poet would be guilty of
such a sacrilege to that sacred sweetness of friendship which he had felt
so intimately and brooded over so lovingly, can never have drawn near to
the spirit of Shakspeare, and apprehended its uprightness and sincereness—its
lofty chivalry and sense of honour—the largeness and clearness of his
nature—the smiling serenity, as of the fixed stars—the capacious calm
that broods over the profound depths of his soul—the abiding strength of
his character, which embodies the idea of power in complaisant
plenitude—the infinite sweetness and peaceful self-possession—which are
the express qualities of this man, whom Nature bare with so great a love,
and endowed with so goodly a heritage. Such a reading would imply
chaos where all was order, stark madness in the sanest of men, fearful
folly in the wisest, worthlessness in the worthiest, unnaturalness in the
most natural, and be altogether truer to Nat Lee at his maddest than to
Shakspeare. The personal version is altogether impossible. If
Shakspeare had been the lover in the supposed circumstances he could not
rebuke his friend for the same "sensual fault" in relation to a proclaimed
prostitute: there would be no reason to doubt and no room to question
whether there had been a "wilful taste" of her! Neither could she be
taken from the speaker nor restored to him in the sense of the Sonnets.
If this trumped-up tale of lechery and treachery had been
true, and Shakspeare had written Sonnets to upbraid and blackguard his
youthful friend, it must have been very early in their companionship.
"He was but one hour mine," says the speaker in Sonnet 33 of the
base betrayer, when made the victim of robbery and disgrace. But in
Sonnets so late as Nos. 103—4 and 5, which ARE
personal to Shakspeare, and are dated 3 years after the friends
first met, the writer when speaking for himself is naturally enough
quite ignorant of all that he was previously innocent of. He assures
his friend at this time that his Sonnets, those of his own invention,
have no other purpose than to set forth the virtues and proclaim the gifts
and graces of that friend. They are "To one, of one, still such, and
ever so;" and of that friend he says—
"Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse, to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true is all my argument."
Here he is
speaking for himself and of his Personal Sonnets. The matters
entirely opposed to this declaration are excluded because they were
NOT personal to the Poet; they belong to the
vicarious or dramatic utterances.
Shakspeare's primary and persistent object in composing the
Southampton Sonnets, was to do honour to the Earl, to show him gratitude,
respect, love, and to embalm his beauty, moral and physical, for
posterity; not to drag him in the dirt and hold him up to infamy. He
had told all the world that his work was pre-dedicated to this dear friend
when he said, "What I have to do is yours." In every personal
glimpse we get, we see a man who feels a most fatherly affection for his
young friend. He counsels like a parent. He respects the
marriage ties, and is anxious to see his friend throned in the purest seat
of honour, the sanctity of a home that is blessed with a wife and
children. His spirit hovers about his "dear boy" as on wings of
love, in the most protecting way; he cheers, he warns, he comforts him.
He begs that he will be as wary for himself as he will be for him.
The supreme object of his writing is to win honour for the Earl.
He fondly hopes by and by to publicly show himself worthy of the Earl's
sweet respect. In his dedication to the first poem he promises
to honour him with some graver labour. His verse is to
EXALT him in life, and in death it shall be his "gentle
monument," the "living record" of his memory. It is meant to
distil the sweetness of the friend's life, worth, truth, and goodness;
not to haunt him with an ill odour.
"To no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell."
In these his monument shall "shine more bright than unswept stone," and "'gainst
death and all-oblivious enmity shall you pace forth, your praise shall
still find room," as the noble of nature's own crowning; the man whom
Shakspeare delighted to love and respect. And it is useless for any
one to reply that the disreputable affair may have occurred after some of
the Sonnets were written, for this pure and lofty tone is the dominant one
up to the Sonnet of 1603.
In the last of the personal Sonnets addressed to Southampton
on his release from prison, there is no change in his regards, except that
the affection has increased and ripened with time. We see, right
through the Southampton Sonnets, that Shakspeare has most absolutely kept
the loftiest moral altitude. He has preserved his own purity and
integrity of soul to have the right of speaking to the Earl as he does at
times, whether personally or vicariously. Whatsoever be the story
told or revelations made in this group, it is certain that the Poet
HAD reserved, and therefore must have inviolately
preserved the right to warn, admonish, and censure his young friend at a
later period of the Sonnet-friendship when he has really fallen into evil
courses, and is demeaning himself and dishonouring his love and friendship
by keeping disreputable company. Also, when this does occur, it is
not in conjunction with Shakspeare, who at least WRITES
the reproaches to his young friend, and records his sad regrets that his
dear friend, his Sweet Boy, should dwell with sinners, or live with those
who infect him, and "with his presence grace impiety," that "sin by him
advantage should receive;" who reminds him that the shame which he is
bringing on himself by his "deeds" is "like a canker in the fragrant
rose," that "spots the beauty of thy budding name;" who also suggests that
when lilies fester they smell worse than weeds, and flatly tells him that
he has grown common in the mouths of men. Unless he had purely
preserved his right of elder brotherhood, he could not have exercised it
to speak the truth in reproach and rebuke in such a painfully unpleasant
way. This plain-speaking would have been the vulgarest impertinence
if he had been a fellow-profligate, who had wallowed with his friend in
the same soul-staining mire. Such "plain true words" are implied in
Shakspeare's claim to speak the truth in love, like the true heart he was,
when he reminds his friend that he has been
In trite plain words by thy true-telling friend."
Again, in one pathetic group of the Sonnets Shakspeare speaks of his own
death and the death of his friend, with a soul brimful of tender love as
the summer dew-drop is of morning sun. No image of disgrace darkens
the retrospect of life; all is purity and peace. The Sonnets
treasure up his better part, and they are to "blossom in the dust" with a
breath of sweetness and memorial fragrance, when he moulders in the
ground. There is no consciousness of any ill odour emanating from
them on account of the illicit relationships which he had written of and
permanently perpetuated. No sign of the
lues Browniana, or the "slips
in sensual mire." No shadow of the Dark Story. On the
contrary, he tells his friend—
"Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
My verse to constancy confined;"
so far as
Shakspeare's own personal feelings had ever been expressed.
Moreover, Shakspeare was quite conscious that the Sonnets were intended to
be seen by other eyes than Southampton's own. When about to write on
the fresh subjects supplied by his friend, according to a new method that
had been suggested by him, and in a book that was to remain in the
friend's possession, he says,
"If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise."
these Private Friends would be Elizabeth Vernon after Southampton was in
love with her, and seeking to make her his wife. This alone would
make it impossible for such a story to be written in that Book, as the
Brownites profess to discover in the Sonnets. He would be fully
aware of the curious inquisition that would be made by the curious eyes of
those "curious days." The student of the Sonnets cannot fail to have
noticed the startling discrepancies between Cause and Effect, that is the
charges made and the excuses proffered; the ease with which the
trespasses, the sins and crimes, are glossed over and condoned. The
indictment or complaint is elaborated in twelve lines of a Sonnet, and the
excuse or gloss is offered in the final two; e. g.,
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain when Heaven's sun
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds. (34)
I an accessory needs must be
To that sweet Thief which sourly robs from
Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee;
Thine by thy beauty being false to me. (41)
But here's the joy: my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone. (42)
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love. (117)
So I return rebuked to my content,
And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent. (119)
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. (129)
Yet this shall I ne'er know but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out. (144)
How inadequate, how puerile, how false would such impotent comments and
conclusions be if Shakspeare were the speaker in the circumstances
supposed. But with the lovers for speakers in some of these Sonnets,
and Shakspeare treating the subject on behalf of others, and making his
excuses for the friend, the matter is brought within the pale of the
possible when considered to be a subject of sonneteering.
My contention is, that the speaker in these Sonnets is a
woman, and that in the second group of them it is also a woman who is
addressed. First of the comparative test — to determine
Shakspeare's use and wont with regard to the sex. According to the
present reading it is a woman who is addressed by the speaker in Sonnet 40
"Lascivious Grace! in whom all ill well shows."
And in the Play
Cleopatra is called that
"Wrangling Queen, whom everything becomes!
The vilest things become themselves in her."
"She did make defect perfection."
It is a woman
likewise who says of a man in Sidney's Arcadia—
"Whatever becomes of me, preserve the virtuous Musidorus."
And that is the
feeling expressed by the woman-speaker of Sonnet 133. So Antony
calls Cleopatra the Armourer of his heart.
A Sonnet of Sidney's on the exchange of hearts ought to be
compared, as it is likewise spoken by a woman—
"My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides.
His heart his wound receivèd from my sight;
My heart was wounded with his wounded heart,
For as from me on him his hurt did light,
So still me-thought in me his hurt did smart;
Both, equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,
My true-love hath my heart, and I have his."—Arcadia.
But does Shakspeare himself countenance the hypothesis that a woman may be
speaking to a woman in any of the Sonnets? And is there a
double tongue in the mouth of the dramatic mask?
According to the present reading, the woman speaker in these
Sonnets, who is to be identified with Southampton's sweetheart, Elizabeth
Vernon, reproaches her lover in some of them and pleads on his behalf in
others; and in All's Well that Ends Well there is a passage which
in character and situation corresponds to the pleading of Elizabeth Vernon
in Sonnets 133—4 on behalf of her lover, as face answers to face in a
glass. Helena blames herself as being the cause of Bertram's going
away to the wars, and prays for him—
"Do not touch my lord!
Whoever shoots at him I set him there.
Whoever charges on his forward breast,
I am the caitiff that do hold him to it;
And though I kill him not, I am the cause."
with the pleading of the other lady—
"But then my friend's heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe'er keeps me, let my heart be his guard."
"He learned but surety-like to write for me."
He only became
a debtor for my sake, she urges; I am the cause of his being in danger.
This is quoted as the testimony of sex to the truth of my interpretation.
The most curious thing is, that Helena writes her letter of parting in the
form of a Sonnet. In this she says—
"I, his despiteful Juno, sent him forth
From courtly friends with camping foes to live."
And she offers
to embrace death to set her lover free, just as the other lady offers to
be kept a prisoner, so that her lover may go free. Again, this
sentiment of love being the armour protecting the breast is very prettily
turned by Imogen, a woman and a wife—
"Come, here's my heart;
Something's afore't: soft, soft; we'll no defence;
Obedient as the scabbard.—What is here?
The scriptures of the loyal Leonatus,
All turned to heresy? Away, away,
Corrupters of my faith! You shall no more
Be stomachers to my heart."
That is, her
husband, in the shape of his love-letters, must be torn away for the blow
to be struck.
According to this reading Elizabeth Vernon says to her lover
with regard to the lady of whom she is jealous, and who is an intimate
friend of both—
"Thou dost love her, because thou know'st I love
That is an
impossible argument if a man were the speaker. But the comparative
evidence tends to show that it is a woman speaking to a woman. It is
the very argument used by Rosalind, who when speaking of her lover says to
her cousin Celia, "Let me love him for that, and do you love him
because I do!" Rosalind had just said to her cousin, "Hate
him not for my sake!" thus echoing the Sonnet's
"Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her."
Again, it is a
woman speaking to a woman, Viola to Olivia, in Twelfth Night, who
says of a lover—
"And he is yours, and his must needs be yours;
Your servant's servant is your servant, madam,"
a repetition direct from Sonnet 134
"So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will."
Elizabeth Vernon calls the "Lascivious Grace," whom she has suspected as
being a thief of love
"That sweet thief which sourly robs from me,"
but says to
"I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty."
And in the
Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia says to Helena—
"O me! you Juggler! you canker-blossom!
You Thief of love! what, have you come by night,
And stolen my Love's heart from him?"
instances it is woman to woman. The chief importance of these
comparisons lies in the fact that the women are Two Cousins in both of the
Plays, as I claim them to be in the Sonnets; and so far as the comparative
evidence goes we find that Shakspeare allows, illustrates, and warrants
this claim. Further on, the same "Forgery of jealousy" will be
traced between Helena and Hermia in the dream-drama that we find in the
Sonnets now ascribed to Elizabeth Vernon as speaker to her lover,
Southampton, and her cousin Lady Rich. We are able to apply another
comparative test so far as it goes.
In Elizabethan love-language the names of endearment, "love"
and "friend," are often used indifferently, and without distinction of
sex. It was, however, a custom of the earlier time to reverse them,
"friend" being used for "love," as though it were the dearer epithet.
The mother of Essex in writing to him habitually speaks of Christopher
Blount, who was her third husband, as "My friend." An original
love-letter written by Sir George Hayward in 1550 begins, "My dearest
Friend."  A lover in one of Dekker's
plays apostrophizes his lady's portrait—
"Thou figure of my friend!"
his lady "my friend," and speaks of himself as her friend. John
Davies says of Paris, "Fair Helen beheld her love, her dear, her friend."
This custom is quite familiar to Shakspeare in the Plays. Beatrice,
in love with Benedick, calls him her "friend"—"For I must ne'er
love that which my friend hates;" which is exactly what Southampton says
in speaking of himself to his mistress—
"For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate."
"He hath got
his friend with child," says Lucio of Claudio. "Gentle friend," Hermia
calls her lover. "A sweeter friend," Proteus calls Silvia; whilst "friend"
is the most endearing name that Juliet can find for Romeo as a climax to
"Art thou gone so, Love, Lord, my Husband, Friend?"
significance of the title is still extant with the sexes, although it has
been degraded from its earlier rank. My analysis of the Southampton
series shows that in the Personal Sonnets Shakspeare almost invariably
calls Southampton his "love." This title is used seven times over
in the first 26 Sonnets; and "friend" not at all. But with the
change to the dramatic method there is also a change to the style of
"friend." In Sonnet 30, the first of these, the person
addressed is called "Dear Friend" (p.
103). According to my reading of what are here termed the
Dramatic Sonnets, Southampton calls Elizabeth Vernon "dear friend" in
Sonnet 30. In Sonnet 42 Elizabeth Vernon calls Southampton "my friend"
three times. In Sonnets 50 and 56 Southampton speaks of his lady as
his "friend." In Sonnet 110 she is an "older friend" (i.e. in
antithesis to "newer roof" and in Sonnet 111 "dear friend." Elizabeth
Vernon calls Southampton "my friend" twice. In Sonnet 133 he is her
"friend," "her sweetest friend," and she speaks of him as a friend in
Sonnet 134. In alternation with this, Shakspeare calls himself
"friend" in Sonnets 32 and 82, and Southampton (his dearest friend) is
only called by that name once—"fair friend," Sonnet 104, where the
epithet fair supports the tenderer significance of the word friend,
whereas the writer addresses Southampton as his love sonic twenty times
over. Although the epithets are not quite invariably applied, there is
a large balance to be claimed as the unconscious testimony of a custom of
the time in favour of my interpretation of the sexes, and of their
relationship in the respective Sonnets. Hitherto, the one modern
sense of the word "friend" has prevailed with readers of the Sonnets, the
other curiously corroborative use of it being ignored, and made them think
that Shakspeare MUST be addressing his male
"friend," whereas the language tells in just the opposite way.
"Love" is the most familiar title, and it is the earliest.
The attitude of the speaker in Sonnets 33, 34 is that of one
who has been wronged, but who has done no wrong; it is the person
addressed who is the doer of "Ill deeds," the culprit or criminal. It is
the person expostulated with who has deceived and made the speaker travel
forth without a cloak. The person addressed is the cause of all the
disgrace, whereas if the speaker were Shakspeare it would be he who had
led his young friend into it. Instead, we hear the unmistakable voice of
virgin love and maiden modesty; of a shy affectionate nature that fears
lest it may have trusted too soon, and feels that it has let fall a veil
to be exposed to the public gaze. Still, the real subject-matter of
the Sonnet is not illicit love, or the lady would not try to smile so
gaily through her tears of grief and vexation. No lady in love could
say to a guilty pair of illicit lovers—her own lover being one of them—
"Loving Offenders, thus I will excuse ye!
Thou dost love her because thou know'st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my Friend for my sake to approve her.
But here's the joy; my friend and I are one,
Sweet Flattery! then she loves but me alone!"
Nor would such
pimpish philosophy be possible to Shakspeare as speaker. It is only
a robbery so far that the speaker can forgive, and call her cousin "gentle
thief" so long as she does but steal her lover's society, because it is
not a case of illicit love. Thus much is evident from the warning
given, "But yet be blamed if thou thyself deceivest by wilful taste
of my love in the wrongful way." She is jealous, suspicious, and
"Since doubting things go ill often hurts more
Than to be sure they do: for certainties
Either are past remedies, or, timely knowing,
The remedy then born."
"Where Love reigns disturbing jealousy
Doth call himself affection's Sentinel."
But the speaker
does not know that which the autobiographists pretend to know. She
distinguishes betwixt those "pretty wrongs which liberty commits," and the
"taints of liberty," or the "drabbing" of the libertine. These are
such flirtations as befit him who is sure to be tempted and wooed by such
a syren as her Vivien-like cousin. The two-fold truth, however, that
he breaks cannot be very vital when described as—
"Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee;
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me."
version of Sonnet 42 is no more possible to a woman Man it is to
The expression, "Beshrew my heart," is also in my favour.
Although not limited by Shakspeare to his female characters, it is an
essentially effeminate oath, or rather a feminine form of curse.
I admit there is one point that may be made and urged against the speaker
being a woman. In lines 11 and 12, Sonnet 34, we read—
"The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence's cross!"
And if the male
sex could be otherwise identified, this "him" would be brought home
to the speaker. But there is no other determinative note of sex,
which makes it possible that this is merely a generalization of a
well-known fact; "to him" being used proverbially in the sense of "to one"
who bears. Besides which, it was not Shakspeare's cue to communicate
the sex of the speaker to us. That is suppressed, or left to be
"All men make faults, and even I in this,"
shows me the
speaker is a woman. I read the sense as "All men make faults, and
even I, who am not a man," do so.
"All men make faults; and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing their sills more than their sins are."
In a forgiving
mood the lady excuses her lover on the ground that all men make
faults—that is, commit offences in this way, and she has exaggerated
their sins on purpose to make the greater excuse for him. In this
case, as in a hundred others still more obscure, the true sense has not
been perceived, only here it seemed possible to make sense by
altering the text. Modern editors following Malone usually print
line 8 of Sonnet 35 thus—
"Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are."
original quarto reads
"Excusing their sins more than their sins
This is the
true lection. The plural belongs to all men, and there was no
warrant for the alteration which was made and is still maintained in the
interest of the personal theory. The speaker says, "All men commit
faults,"—just as Juliet says of Fortune, "All men call thee
fickle!"—"and even I who am not a man do so in authorizing your trespass
by comparison with theirs"—not with ours, mark! In doing
this she is "salving" his "amiss" by excusing "their sins more than
their sins are." That is, she exaggerates the sins of men in
general, and their proneness to faults, on purpose to make less of his,
not to excuse his faults more than his faults are. The only personal
fault of which the speaker is conscious is that of corrupting herself in
authorizing the lover's trespass by making this comparison in his
favour—"Even I in this am to blame, but such is my love I cannot
help it." Hero is absolute proof that the speaker is not and cannot
be that corrupt married man supposed. If he had been so
corrupt it did not remain for him to corrupt himself by being
so charitable when salving the misbehaviour of his young friend.
The subject, however, has a sufficiently serious side.
Lady Rich was a woman who might make any other woman jealous for her own
lover, if the "adulterate eyes" of Stella should "give salutation" to his
"sportive blood"; and that is the possible position from an amatory point
of view. It is not for me to say or suggest that Southampton was
really in love with Lady Rich; not merely because she was ten years older,
for she was one of those that laugh at age, and make a fool of Time.
I have nowhere said that he "approached her with any speech of love," or
any "avowal of guilty love, so openly as to have caused a family and
public scandal," or that Southampton had done this and then asked
Shakspeare "to endow his sin with poetic life," as has been alleged.
It would have been very shallow to have suggested anything so absurd.
I said there was only matter enough in this "jealousy" to supply one of
the subjects for Shakspeare's Sonnets among his "private friends." I
treated it all through as a case of suspicion, natural and pardonable, on
the part of Elizabeth Vernon, considering the fascinating influence of her
cousin. I stated that the most desperate Sonnet of all (144) was
only tragic in terms, expressing nothing more than a doubt, and this will
be proved. I could not and did not charge the Earl of Southampton
with any guilty love for Lady Rich, when I hold him in Sonnet 120 to tell
his mistress that she wronged him by her unjust suspicions in this
particular affair of the "jealousy." But I see no difficulty in
supposing that Shakspeare may have cautioned and pleaded with Southampton
and "pitched into" him, dramatically, when I find that he has done the
same things in other Sonnets. One of two things: either the story told in
this group of Sonnets is personal to Shakspeare, or it is not. If it
be a woman speaker, and that it is so there is abundant evidence, it
cannot be the corrupt married man supposed; therefore it is not
It must be borne in mind that we are endeavouring to decipher
a secret history of an unexampled kind. We can get little help
except from the written words themselves. We must rely implicitly on
that inner light of the Sonnets, left like a lamp in a tomb of old, which
will lead us with the greater certainty to the precise spot where we shall
touch the secret spring and make clear the mystery. We must ponder
any the least minutiæ of thought, feeling, or expression, and not pass
over one mote of meaning because we do not easily see its significance.
Some little thing that we cannot make fit with the old reading may be the
key to the right interpretation.
I maintain that Elizabeth Vernon, Southampton's mistress, is
the speaker of these nine Sonnets; that the speaker is a woman addressing
her lover and the woman-rival who has drawn her lover away from her side;
a woman whose love is pure, and who being free from personal blame has a
right to reproach both the Earl and the lady who had professed to be the
friend of both, and whom she may well suspect of having taken advantage of
their friendship to ensnare the Earl and keep him in the strong toils of
her wanton grace. The speaker has suffered an injury through the
misbehaviour of her lover, who has exposed her to public comment.
She reproaches him for having been led away from her when it was yet the
early dawn of their love, immediately after they had met. Her sun had but
shone for "one hour" with "all triumphant splendour" on her brow, when
"region-cloud" came over him, and hid him from her. Still, she will
best in his eclipse. Her love shall not turn from him. Even though darkly
hidden from her, she will have faith that he will shine again with all the
brightness. She will believe that the sun in heaven will be sullied by the
clouds that pass over it as soon as that her earthly sun can be stained by
the clouds which mask him from her now. But the fear increases and the
feeling deepens in the next Sonnet. She pleads—
"Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And MAKE me travel forth
without my cloak?"
Trustingly, confidingly, she has left her wonted place of shelter; she
has ventured all on this new affection. The morning was so bright, the sun
shone with such promise of a glorious day, she has come forth unfit to
meet the storm which the gathering clouds portend. Her unprotected
condition is portrayed most exquisitely with that natural touch and image,
solely feminine when figuratively employed, of her having travelled forth
"without her cloak." Why did her lover make her do this, and let "base
clouds" overtake her on her way? It will not be enough for him to break
through that "rotten smoke" of cloud to kiss the tears off her
storm-beaten face, because others have seen how he has treated her. Her
maiden fame has been injured, her maiden dignity wounded. No one can speak
well of such a "salve" as heals the personal wound and cures not the
public disgrace; others are witnesses that she has been mocked. Though he
may repent, yet she has
lost that which he cannot restore. The offender may be sorry, yet, as
every one knows, that lends but a weak relief to the victim who has to
bear the "cross" of a weighty burden.
There is a passage in the Faery Queen (Book II. ch. i.) somewhat
illustrative of Sonnet 34, as assigned by me to the wronged lady,
Elizabeth Vernon, who says—
"Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth
without my cloak?
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace;
Nor can thy shame give
physic to my grief."
Faery Queen we have—
"All wrongs have mends, but no amends of shame.
Now, therefore, lady,
rise out of your pain,
And see the salving of your blotted name."
This is written on behalf of a woman who is supposed to have been wronged
by a man! And here too the woman is in disguise—
"Her purpose was not such as she did feign,
Ne yet her person such as it
But under simple show and semblant plain
Lurkt false Duessa secretly
As a chaste virgin that had wronged been."
One easily perceives how
Shakspeare would take the hint from Spenser and
apply it to his real case of a maiden that had "wronged been." Also he
makes another of his women, Duchess Elenor, exclaim—
"My shame will not be shifted with my sheet."
Then comes the revulsion of feeling, the relief of thought; she pictures
"Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich,
and ransom all ill deeds!"
Do not grieve any more, she continues in the next Sonnet, and in a most
loving spirit she will make all the excuses she can for him. Sun and moon
have their clouds and eclipses, the sweetest buds their cankers, the roses
their thorns. All men have their faults, and even she who is not a man
will make a fault in this, that she is authorizing his fault or
transgression by comparison with the faults of others, corrupting herself,
or herself sinning, in "salving" over his misbehaviour, and in the
largeness of her charity, excusing their sins even more
than they are; magnifying them to make his less. She will not only look
on this fault of his nature sensibly, but will also try and take part
against herself in favour of the "sweet thief" who has robbed her of her
lover's presence; such "civil war is in her love and hate" that she must
needs be accessory to the
theft. The excuses are still carried on in the fourth of the Sonnets
the Earl. It is perfectly natural that he should have this tendency to
these pretty wrongs when she is sometimes absent from his thoughts. It is
little "out of sight, out of mind." He is young and handsome, and pursued
by temptation. He is beautiful, therefore sure to be assailed. He is kind
and yielding, therefore he may be won, especially, as in the present
instance, when a woman woos, and a woman like this cousin of hers, who has
such power in floating men off their feet, once she has fixed her fatal
eyes upon them; in whose every grace there "lurks a still and
dumb-discoursing devil that tempts most cunningly."
"Ah me, but yet thou might'st my Seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and
thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a two-fold truth;
Hers, by thy beauty
tempting her to thee;
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me."
Then follows a bit of special pleading, partly very natural and partly
sophistical. With all the playfulness, however, the earnestness is
unmistakable. Naturally enough she is sorry if she should lose her female
friend, for she loved her dearly; but still more naturally she confesses
that the loss in love which would
touch her most nearly would be the loss of her lover. The rest of the
Sonnet is ingenious for love and charity's sake. Surely her lover only
loves the lady because he knows that she loves her, and the lady loves him
solely for the
speaker's sake. Both have combined to lay this cross upon her; they are
just trying her; but—
"Here's the joy: my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she
loves but me alone."
This is the tone in which a woman laughs when her heart wants to cry.
In the next three Sonnets the address is direct from woman to woman, face
to face, and the feeling is more passionate, the language of more vital
Here are matters that have never been fathomed; expressions that have no
meaning if a man were speaking to a man. These I interpret as
Before the Earl of Southampton met with Mistress Vernon, and became
enamoured of her, he was somewhat at variance with the Earl of Essex. In
the declaration of the treason of the Earl, signed D., and quoted by
Chalmers in his Suplemental Apology, we are told that emulations (envious
rivalries) and differences at Court had risen betwixt Essex and
Southampton, but the latter Earl's love for the cousin of Essex came to
heal all, and it bound the two up in
a bond, strong and long as life, which was only loosened by death. Also,
at the time of Southampton's marriage, the Earl of Essex fell under her
Majesty's displeasure for furthering, and, as we learn by Mr. Standen, for
"gendering" the matter. So that from the hour when Southampton and
Elizabeth Vernon became one in love, years before they were one in law,
the Earl was committed in feeling, and, as we now see, in fact, to the
fortunes of the Earl of Essex.
He followed him through good and evil report. He held to him although he
had to share the frowns of Her Majesty without sharing the smiles which
fell on the favourite. The influence of Essex was often more fatal to
friends than to foes, and in this respect the Earl of Southampton was far
more justly entitled to the epithet "unfortunate" than was Essex
himself. He was most unfortunate in this friendship, for it seemed
perfectly natural when Essex got in the wrong, for all eyes to turn and
look at his friends to see who was the cause. Her Majesty often offered up
a scapegoat from amongst his friends in this way. The worst of it being
that these had to stand in the shadow even when he was visited with a
burst of sunshine. In fact, his friends were always in the shadow which he
cast. In these Sonnets, Elizabeth Vernon, as Lady Rich's cousin, feels
that she is responsible for bringing Southampton under this "bond" of
friendship which binds him so fast through her. She is bound to the
"slavery" of the Essex cause by family relationship, and through his love
for her, Southampton has been brought under the influence of Lady Rich's
fascinating eyes, through which there looks alternately an angel of
darkness and an angel of light, according to her mood of mind; that fatal
voice, made low and soft to draw the fluttering heart into her snare; that
wanton beauty, which can make all ill look lovely, and whose every
gesture is a dumb-show that has but one interpretation for those who are
caught by her amorous arts and luring lapwing-wiles, and
also for those that watch and fear for them. Elizabeth Vernon feels that
she is the innocent cause of bringing her dear friend the Earl into this
double danger—the danger of too familiar an acquaintanceship with Lady
Rich, and the danger of a too familiar friendship with Essex, whose
perturbed spirit and secret
machinations are known to her. She blames herself for her "unkind abuse"
having brought them together. "Evil befal that heart," she exclaims to her
"for the deep wound it gives to me and my friend. Is it not
enough for you to torture me alone in this way, I who am full of timid
fears, but you must also make my sweetest friend a slave to this slavery
suffer, and was content to suffer whilst it only tormented me? You held me
in your power by right of the strongest; your proud cruel eye could do
with me almost as you pleased. I was your prisoner whom you kept in
close pent. You hold me perforce, and I will not complain of that if I can
only shield my lover from all danger; whoever defends me, let my heart be
guard. I plead with you; but, alas! I know it is in vain; you
rigour in your gaol, and torture your poor prisoners. I confess he
is yours, and I myself am mortgaged to do your bidding. But let me
forfeit myself, and do you restore my lover to be my comfort. Ah,
you will not, and he will not be free. You are covetous and he is
kind. He did but sign his name, surety-like, for me under that
bond which binds him as fast as it binds me, and you will sue him, a
friend, who has only become a debtor to you for my sake, and take the
statute of your beauty, the right of might, you 'usurer that put forth all
to use;' "
that is, she who takes advantage of her loveliness to turn friends into
lovers and lovers into political adherents to the Essex cause; "take all
you can, in virtue of your beauty and our bond. Him have I lost; you
have us both. He pays all, yet I am not, cannot be free." The
speaker acknowledges a power which compels her submission. Then she
tries a little coaxing.
" 'Take all my loves, my Love,' what then? You have
only what you had before. All mine was yours in one sense, but 'be
blamed' if you deceive yourself and take it or wilfully taste of it in
another sense. If you would eat of the fruit of my love, come to it
fairly by the right gate; do not climb over the wall, as a thief and a
hireling, to steal. For his sake I will forgive your robbing me of
his presence and company, although love knows it is far harder to bear
this unknown wrong of love than it would be to suffer the injury of hatred
that was openly known."
And now we have the summing up of the whole matter, the moral of the
story. The speaker makes her submission almost abject, in obedience
to a hidden cause,
"Lascivious Grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes."
Admitting the speaker to be a woman, there must be more than a story of
rivalry in love implied in those lines. Because if one woman be too
friendly with another woman's lover, the sufferer would argue that the
sooner she and the one who robbed her mind of its peace were foes the
better for all parties. Rather than continue to suffer and bear
until quite "killed with spites," she would say we must be foes, for I
cannot, need not, will not bear any longer. All the more that it is
the woman who pursues, an ordinary case would be simple enough. But
there is a secret and sufficiently potent cause why these two should not
become foes. The lady fears the fierce vindictive nature of her cousin;
she dreads lest the black eyes should grow baleful, and would almost
rather they were turned on the Earl in wanton love than in bitter enmity;
so deep is her dread of the one, so great her affection for the other.
For his sake she resolves to bear all the "spites" which her cousin's
conduct can inflict upon her. For his sake, she and this cousin must
not be foes. Such is the binding nature of their relationship, that
the speaker feels compelled to be an accessory to the "sweet thief" that
"sourly robs" from her, by drawing her lover away, possibly to political
meetings. She will be the slave of her high imperious will, and bear
the tyranny that tortures her, rather than quarrel. She will
likewise be subtly politic with her love's profoundest cunning. And
this is why there is such "civil war" in her "love and hate;" herein lies
the covert meaning that has for so long lurked darkly in these lines.
No one accustomed to judge of evidence in poetry can fail to
see that the old story of a male speaker—a man who is married and keeps
his mistress too—and that man Shakspeare, has been told for the last time,
so soon as we have discovered a woman speaker, who is thus identified by
inner character and outward circumstances. The breath of pure love
that breathes fresh as one of those summer airs which are the messengers
of morn, is sweet enough to disinfect the imagination that has been
tainted by the vulgar story, whilst the look of injured innocence and the
absence of self-reproach, the chiding that melts into forgiveness, which
was only intended to bring the truant back; the feeling of being left
uncovered to the public gaze and cloakless to the threatening storm; the
face in tears, the rain on the cheek, those "women's weapons, water
drops;"  the natural womanliness of the expression,
"Whoe'er keeps (i.e. defends) me, let my heart be his guard," the
"Myself I'll forfeit so that other mine
Thou will restore to be my comfort still!"
—the wrong done to love, which, though unknown, is worse than the known
injury of open hatred; the motive, feeling, and excusing words—all are
exquisitely feminine; whilst the imagery and symbols correspond in the
thoroughest way to the womanly nature of it all.
The expression "Lascivious Grace, in whom all ill well
shows, kill me with spites," as spoken from a woman to a rival,
and applied, according to the story for the first time told by me, is just
one of those flashes of revelation by which we see nature caught in the
fact! And by the same sudden illumination we catch sight of that
Elizabethan Helen, the Lady Rich, seen and known the moment she is named,
never to be forgotten. It is in the political aspect, however, that
these Sonnets are most profoundly interesting. When we can adopt the
dramatic view, if but tentatively, it becomes evident that the purpose of
Shakspeare's writing is not merely amatory. His jealousy of Lady
Rich on behalf of his friend or friends is the genuine passion. He
sees whither the lady is leading. He knows something of her
intrigues, political as well as amatory, for he has watched her out of the
corner of his eye this long time past. His attention to her had been
attracted and arrested by Sidney's celebration of Stella. He has
seen the wiles of Cleopatra in the spell she has cast on Mountjoy, her
Antony. He had felt how her black eyes could burn into the souls of
men and brand them as slaves bound for the triumph of her baleful beauty.
As a life-study of the nude in nature she was an incomparable
model. By lightning-flashes he saw in her the revelation of his
witty, wanton Rosaline, and brilliant, wilful Beatrice, who reflect
somewhat of her daring devilry and wicked wit. Later, as crowning
creations on her line of development, the sumptuous gipsy Cleopatra and
the grandly guilty Lady Macbeth. He studied her, he drew from her,
he gloried in her plenitude of power and towering will, but he feared for
her influence over his dear friend. The dark lady attained her
darkest and most traitorous character as the political plotter, and he
fought against her with all his presaging feeling. On account of
their own blood-relationship the one cousin, Elizabeth Vernon, has brought
her lover, Shakspeare's friend, into the toils of the political plotter,
Rialta, the promoter of treason against the queen—as we now know her to
have been as early as the year 1589.
Elizabeth and her enfettered lover both drew together under
the same yoke imposed upon them by her cousin in the Essex cause, or
rather in the cause of James, for whom Lady Rich plotted secretly and
laboured strenuously during many years, to be rewarded at last like a
worn-out slave by him who called her a "fair woman with a black soul."
It is in the political, not in an amatory relationship, that
the bondage indicated by strictly legal language applies (Sonnet 134).
The speaker as cousin of Lady Rich was already in bondage to that
plotter's imperious will, as she confesses — "I myself am mortgaged to thy
will;" and this being so, she has brought her lover into the same bondage,
the same "toils of grace." Hence the pathetic plea of love that he
may be allowed to go free.
"He learned but, surety-like, to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind."
He only became a debtor for her sake—the surety for herself. Thus, if the
speaker's jealousy be sexual the writer's is political, and this is one of
the ways in which Shakspeare wore the dramatic mask and wrote the "Secret
Drama" of his Sonnets. Later on, in Sonnet 120, we shall find the
ranging and returning lover, when in the confessional, does admit that he
has been subject to wretched delusions and made the victim of "syren
tears"; saluted by "false adulterous eyes;" spied upon and mis-reported.
He there pleads guilty to that "sensual (i.e. selfish) fault" of
his nature which he is charged with in these Sonnets, but not in this
instance. He emphatically denies that he was guilty in this
particular case. He says his lady wronged him by her unkindness.
He suffered in "her crime." And there is proof that she had done so
in the fact of her being first to ask forgiveness and tender the "humble
salve," the healing balm offered in a penitent attitude, which was most
suited to the heart she had so wounded. The humble salve
shows that the lady, on finding herself mistaken, her suspicions wrongful,
had eaten "humble pie," and eaten it with a good grace. And this
defence is warranted by the uncertainty and indefiniteness of the Sonnets
supposed to contain the charge she made against him.
This jealousy of Mistress Vernon does not appear to have gone
very deep or left any permanent impression. It certainly did not
part the fair cousins, for their intimacy continued to be of the closest,
at least up to the time of Essex's death, as is shown by Rowland White's
letters. It was to Lady Rich's house that Elizabeth Vernon retired
in August, 1598, and there her babe was born, which she named Penelope,
after her cousin. The intimacy between the three friends remained
unbroken after the marriage of Southampton, who we find was one of the
chief mourners at the funeral of Mountjoy. Dr. Grosart, in his
sketch of Sidney, prints one of Lady Rich's Letters to Southampton, the
postscript of which shows that she had betted upon his forthcoming child
being a boy. She writes, "I hope by your son to win my wager" (vide Biographia). There was only matter enough in it to
supply one of the subjects for Shakspeare's poetry "among his private
friends." The Sonnets themselves have no such sombre shadows or ominous
significance as they seemed to have when read as personal utterances of
the writer. The most searching investigation yet made will prove
that there is not the least foundation for the dark story as told against
our Poet, save that which has been laid in the prurient imagination of
those who have so wantonly sought to defile the memory of Shakspeare. And
for the rest of our lives we may safely and unreservedly hold of him, that
he was "too wise to be abused; too honest to abuse."
The 144th Sonnet will help us forward another good stride
towards effectually clearing up this most complex matter.
ELIZABETH VERNON'S SOLILOQUY.
Two Loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two Spirits do suggest me still;
The better Angel is a man right fair;
The worser Spirit a woman coloured ill
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better Angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil;
Wooing his purity with her foul pride:
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell!
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out. (144.)
The above is admitted by the autobiographists to be a key-Sonnet!
And such indeed it is. They look upon it as a key to the whole
difficulty. So it is. But in a way they have little suspected,
and no doubt they will still cling to their treasured charcoal. This
Sonnet has to supply their proof positive that Shakspeare kept a mistress,
who is the woman described in the Latter Sonnets as being the vilest of
the vile; common as any strumpet of the street. They are quite sure
that Shakspeare was frantically infatuated with such a woman; that his
love for her was founded on her unworthiness to be loved, and that he
loved her because of the hatefulness of her character (Sonnet 150).
This Sonnet is held to make his confession of the fact that he worshipped
this swarthy siren, or "Woman Coloured ill;" that she tempted his fair
friend from his side, and that he wrote Sonnets denouncing his friend with
being a perjured thief and a robber. They entertain no manner of
doubt that this was the precise position; for them it is an immoral
It is here the personal theorists feel themselves most
securely entrenched, and altogether unassailable. It is here they
lift the vulturine nose triumphantly and snuff the carrion that infects
the air. They have no misgivings that the scent may be carried in
their own nostrils. And when one ventures to doubt whether the
vulturine nose may be the best of all possible guides in a matter which
demands the most delicate discrimination, the nicest intuition, the
vulturine nose is forthwith elevated in disgust and scorn. Why, the
facts are as plain, to them, as the nose in their face. If there be
one fact patent in the Sonnets, it is that Shakspeare was a scamp and a
blackguard, and that he told all the world so, only the world has been too
bigoted to believe him. If you hint that there may be another
reading possible; one that is compatible with the Poet's purity, they
think you very good to say so; very good indeed, excessively amiable; but
you are too youthful, too simple, too unsophisticated. "Such a view
is perfectly untenable to us who know the Sonnets." By knowing
the Sonnets, they mean accepting all the squinting constructions which
tend to suggest the moral obliquity of Shakspeare.
But what says the speaker who sums up the argument pro and
con regarding the position in the last two lines of this key-Sonnet? "Yet
this" (which includes all they have charged Shakspeare with!)
"Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
TILL my bad angel fire my good
That is strangely diffident language after all the
certitude of the autobiographists. The speaker feels no certainty
whatever. It is a case of temptation, of fear and suspicion only!
The speaker says she (or he) may suspect and "guess," but cannot
directly tell; having no other evidence except that the two are
and have been personal friends, and both are away from her. The
actual truth or state of affairs must be unknown to one who does not
know, and who unrestfully remains in a state of doubt! If
Shakspeare were the speaker in this Sonnet then it would give the lie to
the story previously told with him as speaker. Because if that had
been true no room could have been left for any doubt or conjecture here.
His friend could not be now described as "a saint" if he had been the
guilty sinner already denounced. Nor could Shakspeare have waited
until the present time to be drawn to hell in consequence of his young
friend being lured from his side, any more than the friend could have
preserved his purity from being corrupted by the same temptress. The
position here is that so far as the speaker knows the friend
HAS preserved both his purity in love and fealty in
friendship. Therefore he can be called "my saint." Neither is
this a new temptation and a case of suspicion as such, for the two absent
ones were already friends. The earlier copy of 1599 reads—
"But being both to me both to each friend."
So that they were all three knit together in friendship beforehand.
According to the personal reading the woman had previously
corrupted his saint—save the mark!—to be a devil, and they could be
enjoying themselves very comfortably in the lady's hell! Whereas,
according to this Sonnet (144), the friend "right fair" had not fallen, or
he would not be called a saint. As he had kept his purity
until now, when the siren is supposed to be wooing it with her fair (or
foul) pride, the previous story deduced from the Sonnets could not have
And yet they say the Sonnets are in their proper order, and
that the "Gentle Thief" who was Shakspeare's friend (no matter for the
moment which) had already robbed the Poet of his mistress a hundred
Sonnets earlier! In face of the damning charges already made, in the
earlier Sonnets, respecting which the autobiographists have no doubt; in
face of the character ascribed to the woman all through the Latter
Sonnets, the poor simpleton Shakspeare does not yet KNOW,
he only suspects, makes a guess, and lives in doubt,
until something occurs which can only be described in the language and
imagery of the then familiar game of "Barley-Break."
One needs must feel it to be lamentably iconoclastic to
reduce this greatest of all Shakspearian tragedies to a Sonnet on a
woman's jealousy, and the Inferno in which the Poet suffered his "hell of
time" to the hell that the couple have to suffer in at barley-break; but
this has to be done.
The game of "Barley-break" turns upon breaking the law, 
and also on being caught and condemned to Hell. Those who are in
Hell are the bad Angels; those who are outside are the good. To
tempt, or lure, catch or carry, the good one to Hell, the female pursues
the male player. When she has caught him he must go to Hell with her
and become a devil in the Hell of the Bad Angels. The Catching is
followed by kissing in Hell as it is in the game of "Kiss-in-the-Ring."
And the speaker in the Sonnet has a presaging fear lest this part of the
game should be carried out in earnest. The game itself is played by
three couples as described in Sidney's Arcadia —
"Then couples three be straight allotted there;
They of both ends, the middle two do fly,
The two that in mid place, Hell callèd were,
Must strive with waiting foot and watching eye
To catch of them, and them to Hell to bear,
That they, as well as they, Hell may supply:
Like some which seek to salve their blotted name
With others' blot, till all do taste of shame!"
In the course of the game, as further described by Sidney, Strephon and
Nous form one of the three pairs of lovers. He runs away from her, and it
is her part to pursue and catch him; these being two of the Good Angels
-who are not in Hell. But whilst he is running he plays into the hands of
the temptress, and lets himself be caught by Uran, a Bad Angel, the "woman
coloured ill," who leads him to her Hell. And it is said—
"So caught, him seem'd he caught of joys the bell,
And thought it heaven so to be drawn to Hell."
Now, in accordance with the law of the game, when the
lover is thus taken by the bad angel, his own female partner must
also accompany him to Hell. Thus the way to will her to Hell
is to tempt the Better Angel from her side and secure him first, as Uran
secures Strephon when he is in the act of fleeing from his own sweetheart.
"To Hell he goes, and Nous with him must dwell
Nous swore it was not right for his default,
Who would be caught,
that she must go to Hell;
But so she must."
Shakspeare's meaning in this Sonnet can only be
apprehended by following it according to the laws of Barley-Break.
The rules of the game, and these alone, will explain the lines—
"To win ME soon
to Hell my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side."
The two Good Angels who are out of Hell are safe from pursuit whilst they
keep coupled together. All the danger lies in their being caught
apart by the Bad Angels. The speaker would have to go to Hell
perforce if her lover went, just as Nous is compelled to go there when
Strephon is caught, because the game is played by couples of one male and
one female each, and when the male is caught and carried off to Hell his
female mate is bound to accompany him.
In Sidney's description, Strephon is taken prisoner by Uran,
who represents the "Woman coloured ill" as the evil angel of the Sonnet.
Uran "laid hold on him with most lay-holding grace." Whilst any
pair, male and female, are coupled together outside they are safe from
pursuit. But it was Strephon's desire to be caught when he was
running apart from his mistress, and he was caught accordingly. The
player who is pursued by the Bad Angel may be saved by a Good Angel, who
is one of an out-couple, if of the opposite sex; but not a male by
a male. "Barley-break" is based on the sexes, and no man can be
seduced or saved by a male.
We learn then from the rules of "Barley-Break" that the "Man
right fair" could only be the "better angel" to a speaker who is a
Woman; that the "better angel" as a male could only be tempted from
the side of a woman, and therefore it is doubly impossible for the
speaker to be Shakspeare or any other man. Of course the Poet's
object in adopting the imagery of Barley-Break was to represent and not to
misrepresent the exact situation. Now, as the laws of Barley-Break
are strictly observed all through the Sonnet we have only to follow the
Rules of the game and play fair to see that the speaker of the
Sonnet cannot be a man and must be a female! The game did not
permit of a male pair that could be either severed or saved in this way.
Had the speaker of the Sonnet been a man there would be no meaning in the
metaphor. I repeat, the couples were always male and female, whether in
Hell or out. A man could not be the "better angel" to a man—only to
a woman, and therefore in accordance with the laws of the game chosen to
illustrate the facts from life the speaker must be a woman.
The female nature of the speaker may likewise be glossed and somewhat
corroborated by the language of Olivia in Twelfth Night, when she
says to Viola, whom she looks upon as a "man right fair," "A fiend like
thee might bear my soul to hell!" The game of Barley-Break could not
be applied comparatively with any likeness to life if either Shakspeare,
Southampton, or Herbert were the speaker, but with Elizabeth Vernon as the
speaker the vraisemblance [Ed.—liklihood, appearance of truth,
verisimilitude] is complete. She has two Loves, one of whom is her
comfort, the other is a cause of trouble to her on account of her known
character, political and amatory. The one is a "man right fair," the
other that "Lascivious Grace" who is a "Woman coloured ill." She has
the complexion of the Dark Lady who is to be identified in her later
character with Lady Rich, the black beauty of Sidney's Sonnets.
These two Loves, her Lover and female friend, are both away
from her and both are friends to each other. Naturally enough,
Elizabeth Vernon is jealous of this "female evil," this "Lascivious
Grace," in whom all ill looks well; such is the subtlety of the traitor's
charm. Her fear and suspicion of the actual state of affairs are
expressed in the imagery, figures, positions, and the characters of
Barley-Break. Her lover being away from her is open to be assailed
and caught by the bad Angel, if she should "woo his purity with her foul
pride;" she who is so winning in her witchery that she has the power to
tempt a saint to become a devil. But whether the Good Angel has
turned fiend and joined the Bad Angel in Hell or not the speaker does not
know with any certitude. She guesses the good Angel may
be in the bad one's Hell, but lives in doubt until the Bad
one "fire the good one out." Much usually does turn upon an "if,"
and all turns upon it here. It is IF
the Angel has turned fiend; IF the friend has played
false; IF the woman should wilfully taste of the
speaker's love in an illegitimate way! Thus the Sonnet which
has been considered the most conclusive by the autobiographists is based
on a fear, a jealous doubt, a supposition, and is provably, positively
inconclusive of anything against Shakspeare or anybody else. For
it is but Sonneteering after all! and this game of Barley Break is not
the tragedy of Shakspeare's heart-break. Of course it is open to the
autobiographists to swear that Shakspeare did reverse the imagery
here, as they are forced to make him violate the sex in its imagery
elsewhere, and to say that he adopted on purpose to apply the game of
Barley-Break in that one relationship of the sexes, i.e. to the
coupling of two males, wherein it did not and could not apply! But
we know better than that. Shakspeare's poetic accuracy is scientific
in its verifiable truth to nature. Those who do not know this cannot know
him; and it is rigorously impossible that he should have taken the "Game
of Barley-Break" for the express purpose of portraying the position of
lovers, and applied its elaborate figures to a case wherein it could not
be made to apply. The Game was thoroughly understood by the readers
of that "Curious age." And this will supply my concluding proof that the
speaker of these Sonnets is s a woman. The present explanation
presents a case of swallow or choke for the autobiographists. The
worst of it is they are so ludicrously lacking in all sense of the absurd.
There is nothing too ridiculous for them to entertain it seriously.
They fail to see the humour of the positions they suggest. If
Shakspeare were the speaker in Sonnet 134 who says, "but thou wilt not"
(restore him) "nor he will not be free," the obvious retort would
he that his friend had been too free already. Again, if he were the
speaker in Sonnet 34 who says, "Though thou repent yet I have still the
loss," the natural reply would be "Why so? You can have the woman
again. Her character remains as it was." With a most owlish
gravity Mr. Tyler can express his doubt in a public meeting, and
then repeat it in print, whether his dark lady, Mary Fytton (who is not
known to have been dark of complexion nor of so black a character), did
actually reside in the same lodging with Shakspeare! And why!
Because Sonnet 144 says, "I guess one Angel in another's Hell!" Her
Hell being opposed to his dwelling-house. We want Charles Lamb to lend
a hand and share the laugh at so huge a joke! No one person is equal
to the enjoyment of it! We cannot but wish that they had among them
one thousandth part of Shakspeare's own ticklesome humour and protective
sense of the ridiculous.
Finally, in questioning this hypothesis of Shakspeare's guilt
being thus exhibited by himself, an earnest inquirer might like to ask its
supporters why they should limit Shakspeare to having one mistress?
Why? If he were the speaker of Sonnet 40 in the circumstances
supposed, instead of "offering to give up his mistress to his friend
Will," as Mr. Furnivall witnesses, he would be surrendering a whole harem
of them, for the speaker begins this Sonnet by saying—
"Take all my Loves, my Love, yea take them, all!"
Here the charge of his keeping a mistress is ludicrously falsified by the
language of Shakspeare himself, who would confess to keeping such a number
that one might be reckoned none. With a chance like this for
charging him with keeping a harem of lady-loves, it is manifestly puerile
to prefer the minor charge of keeping a mistress! So little do these
traducers know their own trade; so unworthy are they of the liberty
offered to them by the Sonnets; so blind are they to their own folly from
lack of the protective sense of humour.
A PERSONAL SONNET.
Shakspeare to the Earl, who is leaving England.
O, how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee?
Even for this let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee, which thou deserv'st alone!
Oh, Absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove,
Were it not thy sour image gave sweet leave
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
Which time and thoughts so sweetly doth deceive,
And that thou teachest how to make one twain,
By praising him here, who doth hence remain. (39)
In this Sonnet there is an absence contemplated. But
not the absence of the speaker. Shakspeare would not speak of his
own absence as proving a torment to his friend! It is Southampton
who is going away, and the Poet proposes to take advantage of this
separation by writing about his friend during his absence abroad. He
will entertain the time of his friend's absence with thoughts of love.
To praise the friend whilst they are together is unnecessary, because they
are so much one that it is like praising himself. Even for this, he
says, let us be divided by distance, if by nothing else, so that he can,
as it were, hold his friend, the better part of himself, at arm's length,
to look on his virtues and praise his worth, and give that due to him
which is the friend's alone. This Sonnet establishes the fact that
the Earl is about to go abroad or to leave home, and that Shakspeare
intends to sing of him, to write about him, whilst he is away. The Poet
stops at home—"here"—to sing of him who "doth hence remain."
It is a somewhat fantastic excuse for a parting, and very different from
the lovers' parting that follows, but it suffices to show what the Poet
was expected to do in the absence of that friend who supplied his own
"sweet argument" for the Love-Sonnets, and lent the Poet's imagination
light. He is to represent Southampton dramatically, and double him
by writing about him during his absence abroad.
Southampton to Elizabeth Vernon—at parting, in absence abroad, and on
the return home.
me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me be borne alone:
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight:
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report. (36)
As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crownèd sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give,
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of all thy glory live:
Look what is best, that best I wish in thee;
This wish I have; then ten times happy me. (37)
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts (from far, where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new:
Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find. (27)
How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarred the benefit of rest?
When Day's oppression is not eased by Night,
But Day by Night and Night by Day oppressed;
And each, though enemies to either's reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil; still farther off from thee:
I tell the day, to please him, thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the
So flatter I the swart-complexioned Night,
When sparkling stars twire not, thou gild'st the
But Day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And Night doth nightly make grief's length seem
When most I wink then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected:
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed!
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would—I say—mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair, imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee:
And nights bright days when dreams do shew
Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,
While shadows, like to thee, do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send'st from thee
So far from home, into my deeds to pry;
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
Oh no! thy love, though much, is not so great;
It is any love that keeps mine eye awake;
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,
To play the watchman ever for thy sake:
For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all-too-near. (61) 
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then, despite of space, I would be brought
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay,
No matter then altho' my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee,
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,
As soon as think the place where he would be:
But, ah! thought kills me that I am not thought
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art
But that so much of earth and water wrought
I must attend Time's leisure with my moan;
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe. (44)
The other two, slight Air and purging Fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present, absent with swift motion slide:
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life being made of four, with two alone
Sinks down to death oppressed with melancholy,
Until life's composition be recured
By those swift messengers returned from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assured
Of thy fair health, recounting it to me!
This told I joy, but then no longer glad,
I send them back again, and straight grow
Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,
How to decide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture's sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right:
My heart doth plead that thou in him doth lie,
(A closet never pierced with crystal eyes)
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And says, in him thy fair appearance lies;
To 'cide this title is impanellèd
A 'quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
And by their verdict is determinèd
The clear eye's moiety, and the dear heart's part:
As thus,—mine eye's due is thine outward part:
And my heart's right thine inward love of heart. (46)
Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famished for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love's picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart's guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:
So, either by thy Picture or my love,
Thyself away art present still with me;
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee;
Or if they sleep, thy Picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart's and eye's
delight. (47) 
How careful was I, when I took my way,
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unusèd stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure words of trust:
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Then best of dearest, and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief;
Thee have I not locked up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou may'st come and
And even thence thou wilt be stolen, I fear,
For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear. (48)
Against that time, if ever that time come
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Called to that audit by advised respects;
Against that time, when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here
Within the know ledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of
Since, why to love, I can allege no cause. (49)
How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek—my weary travel's end—
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
"Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!" 
The beast that bears me, lived with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed being made from
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide
Which heavily he answers with a groan
Move sharp to me than spurring to his side:
For that same groan doth put this in my
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind. (50)
Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer, when from thee I speed;
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need:
O, what excuse will my poor beast then find,
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur though mounted on the wind;
In wingèd speed no motion shall I know:
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;
Therefore Desire, of perfect'st love being made,
Shall neigh no dull flesh in his fiery race,
But, love, for love, shall thus excuse in jade—
Since from thee going he went wilful slow,
Towards thee I'll run, and give him leave to go. (51)
So am I as the rich whose blessèd key
Can bring him to his sweet, unlockèd treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure:
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare:
Since, seldom coming in the long year set
Like stones of worth they thinly placèd are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet:
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest,
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride:
Blessèd are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had—to triumph; being lacked—to
Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said,
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allayed,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might:
So love be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes e'en till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dulness:
Let this sad interim, like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return, of love, more bless'd may be the view:
Or call it winter, which, being fall of care,
Makes summer's welcome thrice more wished,
The speaker in
these Sonnets is the same as in Sonnet 29, where he was an outcast out of
favour, out of luck, and out of heart, because in "disgrace with Fortune
and men's eyes;" a bankrupt in most things, but rich in the possession of
his lady's love. Southampton is in disgrace at Court, from
whatsoever cause, and there is a compulsory parting from his mistress.
The lovers must be twain, although they are undivided in their love.
There is a separating spite betwixt them. This is the primary cause
of his banishment, although he himself is much to blame. The more
immediate cause is something he has done, for which he holds himself
solely guilty. This parting will not change their feeling toward each
other, though it will steal sweet hours from their delight by the enforced
absence. He may not call her his any more, lest the guilt which he
bewails should shame her, nor must she notice him for others to see; must
not show him any kindness publicly or in presence of the Court, else it
will be to her own dishonour. He loves her so that her good report
is his, and rather than endanger it further, he accepts the parting as
being necessary for her sake. In this way those blots that remain
with him shall be borne by him alone, without her having to share the
burden of his blame. The outcast condition is continued in Sonnet
37. The speaker is "made lame by Fortune's dearest spite," disgrace
at Court has disabled him from service. In this plight he takes all
his comfort and delight in his lady's "worth and truth;" he lives by a
part of all her glory, and in sharing her abundance is "sufficed;"
possessing her he is no longer lame or poor or despised. As in the
previous Sonnets (29, 30, 31), she is looked up to as the crown of his
life; the solace of his thoughts when parting from her, or when he is
alone in exile. On the journey, wearied with the daily march, he
hastens to bed, but not to sleep. He cannot rest for thinking of his
beloved left behind. Another journey by night follows the travel by day to
work his mind when his bodily toil is over. His thoughts return upon
a zealous pilgrimage to her; they go back from afar where he is staying—
"Lo, thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find."
How can he then
return in "happy plight" to renew his travel, who has no benefit of rest?
Night shows her to him in vision; the day takes him farther and farther
away from her. He tells them stories of his love and of her
loveliness, to wile away the time. It is all in vain. For the
day still draws out the distance longer and longer, and the night doth
nightly make stronger that length of grief drawn out by day. He sees
best when he shuts his eyes. Her image in his mind shines with such
splendour that it makes the night luminous and the day dark. But how
blessed would his eyes be made if he could but look on her real self in
the living day instead of in the dead of night, when he thus sees her
"imperfect shade." Sonnet 61 is one of those that have gone astray,
and is now restored to an appropriate place. Is it her will, he
asks, to keep his eyes open, his mind awake, to mock him with these
shadows of herself? Or does she send her spirit so far from home to
pry into his deeds—
"To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?"
Oh, no! he
says, it is not her love nor her jealousy, but his own, that keeps him
awake and on the fret—
"For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others cell too war."
If mind and
matter were but identical, he thinks how swiftly would he be brought from
"limits far remote" to where she dwells. But he is composed of the
four elements, and cannot be all thought to "leap large lengths of miles"
when her image has fled from his mental vision. The dull and heavy
elements of earth and water are too much for him, but he is with her in
thought and in desire. Those quicker elements, all air and fire, are
the swift messengers that visit her in tender embassy of love. These
can go to her and return to tell him of her "fair health." They give
their messages to him and straightway does he send them back again to her.
Now the lover looks upon two different portraits of his lady. He has
one likeness of her at heart, the other he can doat on with his eyes and
fondle in his clasp. He is in possession of a real objective picture
palpable to his visual sense—the "painted banquet" of his "love's
picture" which is still present for the eyes to feast on when the original
is far away. This alone will account for the conflict between
the eyes and the heart, and for the league of amity that followed by means
of which the eyes would let the heart see their objective picture at one
time, and the heart could show its inner likeness to the sight another, so
that whether he wakes or sleeps, he can see her likeness still. She
is present with him in the shape of her miniature—
"So either by thy picture or my love,
Thyself away art present still with me."
We are also
reminded of Sidney's lines—
"Whose presence absence, absence presence is,
Blest in my curse, and cursèd in my bliss."
Astrophel and Stella—Sonnet 60.
Now occurs the
very natural thought of his care on leaving home, in securing his jewels
and locking up his trifles; and he has left this precious jewel of his
love exposed as the unprotected prey of any common thief. Her he
could not lock up, except in his heart. He fears she will be stolen
from him, as the
"Truth proves thievish for a prize so dear."
Then he reverts
to the reasons of his banishment, speaks of his defects, his unworthiness
of her, and confesses that if she ever should determine to leave him he
can allege no cause why she should continue to love him. When going
away from his beloved, he journeys heavily on the road; the horse bears
him slowly, as if it were conscious that his rider was in no haste, and it
felt the weight of his woe. Thus, thinking of his grief that lies
before and his joy behind, he can excuse the slow pace of his steed.
But if he were returning to his beloved, what excuse could his horse then
"Then should I spur though mounted on the wind;
In winged speed no motion shall I know."
He would come
back on wings of desire; no horse could keep pace with him. His
horse, Desire, should neigh, that is, salute, no dull flesh in his fiery
race, as his horse is in the habit of doing whilst trooping in company
with other horses. Then he tries to give an ingenious turn to the
enforced absence. He makes it look as though he had a choice in the
matter, and the separation was only to put a finer point upon the pleasure
of meeting. He is rich in a locked-up possession, of which he keeps
the key; but he will not look in upon his treasure too often, lest it
should dull his sense of the preciousness, make the privilege too common.
The "time that keeps" the beloved is his "chest," or jewel-casket; or
rather it is the wardrobe that hides the robe which is to make blest some
special moment by a fresh unfolding of the shut-up richness, his
"Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had—to Triumph; being backed—to Hope!"
In Sonnet 56
the poet dramatizes the return home, and makes an appeal for the return of
love. We see the meeting of the affianced pair, the two who were
compelled to be twain at parting are now "contracted new"; the lapse of
time during the absence being recognized as a "sad interim"—the Winter
that is now to be followed by the Summer of love's smile.
The autobiographic reading of these Sonnets pre-supposes
Shakspeare to be the speaker; Shakspeare who is so deeply in disgrace that
it is a matter of necessity for his friend to "cut" him altogether.
He must not acknowledge our Poet as his companion any more; must not take
any further notice of him, or show him any public kindness whatsoever,
lest the personal guilt which the speaker bewails should bring his friend
to dishonour and cover him with shame. So bad a case was it that we
have to suppose it necessary for the Poet to go abroad and get disinfected
in foreign air. There are no grounds for thinking that Shakspeare
ever undertook a long journey like this; no reason to believe that he was
ever out of England, unless he went to Scotland when his Theatrical
Company was on a visit to the Northern Court. Even then the only
journey known to have been made by the players to the Scottish capital was
too late to be referred to in Sonnets that were extant in 1598.
Here is a man who is certainly a lover on his travels,
performing a long and wearisome journey on horseback day by day. He
plods on farther and farther away from the person addressed and adored.
In Sonnet 27 he is so far away that he can speak of his thoughts making a
pilgrimage home again. If he could be all spirit, and move swift as
thought, then the great and perilous distance that lies between them
should not stop him. In spite of space, he would come from the
distant shores, "limits far remote," to the place where his beloved stays!
It was a journey also for which considerable preparations had to be made.
Long time of absence was contemplated, and the speaker's personal property
placed in sure wards of trust, as it was customary to deposit jewels and
other treasures in some banker's safe. So Bertram in All's Well,
when starting on his journey says—
"I have writ my letters; casketed my treasure."
But it may be
assumed that Shakspeare's personal jewels at the time of writing were
hardly worth mentioning in this comparison with a nobleman! Besides,
the voyage was on account of a compulsory banishment. The absence
was enforced. The speaker says—
"I must attend Time's leisure with my moan."
It has been
assumed, as Brown suggested, that Shakspeare may have written thus of his
journey and his jewels, the "large length of
miles," the "limits far remote," the "sea and land," that lay between him
and the friend who might be filched from him in his absence, when he
ventured to make his long and perilous journey to Stratford. Thus
Shakspeare on his way home to visit his wife and dear little ones must be
supposed not only to bewail the parting from his "Best of Dearest" and his
"Only Care," but also to assert that his "Grief lies Onward" and his "joy
behind." A clear confession that he had trouble with Anne, and was
unhappy in his married lot! This is the sort of evidence they rely
on to prove it. And then to think of his poor deserted friend Southampton,
whom he has left at large in London, not locked up in any chest or
banker's strong box—left him all unprotected to become the "prey of every
vulgar thief!" It would be heartrending indeed! One of my
critics objected to Southampton being mounted on a "jade," a hack, and
thought it far more fitted for Shakspeare on his way to Stratford; not
perceiving that this is an instance of the "Pathetic fallacy," and that
the horse is "jaded" by the rider's feeling.
King Richard II. says of his pet roan Barbary,
"The jade hath ate bread from my royal hand,"
and of himself—
"Down, down, I come; like glistering Phaeton,
Wanting the manage of unruly jades."
—Richard II, III. iii.
It is only
intellectual eunuchs who could imagine that men ever dream of one another
in the night-season, and fear lest their mate may be stolen, and write of
their jealousy by day in this fashion! The Sonnets tell us that this
traveller by land and sea, this wanderer abroad, was not Shakspeare, whose
work it was to stay at home all the time and write about his friend.
It was this absence that taught the Poet
"How to make one twain
By praising him here who doth hence remain."
He could not
speak more plainly for himself. His mode of praising or writing
about his friend was to express the thoughts and feelings, the day-dreams
and visions of the night, the heart-yearnings and jealous fears of a
lover, in the lover's own language and imagery of love. "Myself have
played the interim," says the chorus in King Henry V., V.; and this
was exactly what Shakspeare had done for the pair of ill-starred
lovers—he had "played the interim," and filled in all he could with the
aid of vicarious or Dramatic Sonnets.
Without comprehending the purpose and object, we may say the
sex, of Sonnets like these, it was impossible to perceive their full
significance. It was like seeing only the beauty of the flower in
form and colour, without being able to smell its sweetness.
The comparative test will afford some evidence that it is a
woman who is addressed by her lover in this group of Sonnets. In the
"Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one,"
the Poet was
reversely applying the marriage text of Matthew (xix. 6), "They are no
more twain, but one flesh," which affords good
evidence in favour of the two sexes, and is an obvious reminder of the
joining together that was not to be put asunder. So Pandarus,
speaking to Helen of Cressid and Paris, says, "She'll none of him; they
two are twain," which also applies to both sexes. So in the
old ballad of Clerk Saunders—
"It were great sin true love to twain."
Further, the comparative test applied to these Sonnets and to the play of
Romeo and Juliet will likewise show us that it is a lover who
addresses his mistress in both. Romeo says of Juliet—
"It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an
And the lover in the Sonnets had said—
"My soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new."
Again, Romeo says,
"I dreamt my lady came and found me dead.
Strange dream! that gives a dead man leave to think!
Ah me! how sweet is
love itself possessed,
When but love's shadows are so rich in joy!"
This is curiously turned from the Sonnets where the eyes of the lover see
the image of his lady in a dream, and he says—
"In dreams they look on thee,
Then thou, whose Shadow shadows doth make bright;
How would thy Shadow's
form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy Shade shines so! "—Sonnet 43.
This is Shakspeare's own testimony in his drama to the nature of his
imagery and the sex of the characters in the Sonnets. The
comparison with Sidney's Sonnets addressed to Stella also tends to show
that the same likenesses were
applied by Shakspeare to a woman, and not to a man, in his Sonnets. The
language, the images, the feelings, the Plays, the
example of Sidney, the
situations, all point to the female sex. Sidney is not only followed, he
is also borrowed from.
"My drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see."
"With windows ope, then most my mind doth lie,
Viewing the shape of darkness."
Astrophel and Stella,
The following Sonnet should be especially compared
with Shakspeare's (No. 50—51)—
"I on my horse, and Love on me, doth try
Our horsemanship, while by strange work I prove
A horseman to my horse, a
horse to Love,
And now man's wrongs in me, poor beast! descry.
The rein wherewith my
rider doth me tie
Are humbled thoughts, which bit of reverence move,
Curbed-in with fear,
but with gilt bosse above
Of hope, which makes it seem fair to the eye:
The wand is will; thou,
Fancy, saddle art,
Girt fast by Memory; and while I spur
My horse, he spurs with sharp desire my heart;
He sits me fast, however I do stir;
And now hath made me to his hand so right,
That in the manage myself take
Astrophel and Stella—Sonnet 49.
Here, as elsewhere, it is an intensely interesting study to watch
Shakspeare at work. In his selection of material only the fittest
survives. It is curious to note what he did take, but still more
instructive to observe that which he left
behind. Sidney turns his desire into a horse, and then identifies himself
the horse; he becomes "a horse to love." In Shakspeare's Sonnets Desire
is identified with the horse—a horse that does not neigh; but he does not
repeat the direct comparison, and so avoids that element—something between a
naïveté and niaiserie—which is natural to Sidney, but too unripe for Shakspeare.
It is the horse in Sidney's Sonnet that enables us to understand the
imagery of Shakspeare's, which has perplexed commentators,
concerning the Desire that is not to neigh like a horse. Another
difficulty may be cleared up with the aid
of Sidney. He says of his Star (Stella) that it "not only shines, but
(p. 140). Sidney listens in spirit to the star that in its motion seems
This magnificent image is converted by Shakspeare into a sparkling star
that twires, or reversely,
"When sparkling stars twire not."—Sonnet 28.
which expression has bequeathed to us one of the critical cruxes of the
Twiring is equivalent to quiring, or singing. Skinner
says "twyreth is interpreted singeth." This sense is extant in Chaucer,
who uses it for the
intermittent sounds of a bird. Beaumont and Fletcher have applied it to
braying of an ass—"You are an ass, a twire-pipe." Twire is also employed
visible motion as well as audible. In both senses, or to both senses, it
quivering, hence the application to a star that sings as well as shines. This treatment of Sidney's image gives us an
enlightening glimpse of Shakspeare's
art of fusing two things into a third, or two meanings into one word. For
a moment we seem to fathom the secret of his magic by such
a revealing flash. Lastly, the comparative process shows us for residual
result that the writer does not derive those incidents and events from Sidney which go to make up the
story of Southampton's Sonnets. In these Shakspeare is drawing directly
from the life, the love, the character, the personal
history of his friend, and no genuine lover of poetry can fail to feel how
these Sonnets dilate with life when
spoken by a lover who is far away from his mistress. Thus interpreted,
they are profoundly beautiful; the beauty reaching its best
in Sonnets 48 and 52. How much nearer to nature they nestle when we know
the yearnings are
womanward. This gives to them the true bitter-sweet. How tender and true
and naïvely winsome is the expression! How
deep-hearted the love! The dramatic mood shows the Poet to us likest
himself; the poetry kindles with a new dawn, and breathes the
aroma of Shakspeare's sweetest love-lines; it takes us into a presence
akin to that of Perdita and Viola, Helena, Juliet, Imogen, and
the rest of those fragrant-natured women whom he "loved into being;" and
this veiled presence which has so perplexed us, when told
that all these tender perfections of poetry, caresses of feeling, and
daintinesses of expression were lavished on a man, and the natural
instinct fought against the seeming fact, is the presence of Mistress
Elizabeth Vernon, with whom Southampton was in love, and from
whom he was parted by a "separating spite."
It was in May 1595 that, according to Mr. Standen, the Earl of Southampton
had got into disgrace at Court, and that Elizabeth Vernon
and her ill good man waited upon her irate Majesty to know her resolution
in the matter. Her Majesty sent out word to say firmly that
she was sufficiently resolved. In September of the same year, White tells
us that the Earl of Southampton has been courting the fair
Mistress Vernon with too much familiarity; the meaning
of which is too plain for the need of comment. The Queen's resolve was,
without , doubt, that Southampton should quit the Court in
consequence, which was followed by his leaving England for a time. Hence
the "separating spite." Hence the Sonnets spoken by
Southampton during his absence, with which Shakspeare did "entertain the
time with thoughts of love," and so played the part of
Viola, who says to Olivia, "I did woo you in my master's flame."
Leopold Shakspeare, Introd., D. 65.
[35.](page 121) Grosart, 49.
[36.](page 123) Howard's Collection, p. 521.
[37.](page 131) "Let not women's weapons,
Stain my man's cheeks."—Lear, II. iv.
[38.](page 135) I adopt Dr. Nicholson's
suggestion, quoted by Dr. Grosart, p.187, v.2, Sidney's Poems (Fuller's
Worthies Library) to the effect that the name of Barley-Break is derived
from Bar-Law, the exclamation of "Barley" meaning beyond reach of the law,
or exempted from the penalty.
[39.](page 135) 10, 225-238, p.36, v. 2,
|SIDNEY IN ABSENCE FROM STELLA.
Now that of absence the most irksome night
With darkest shade doth overcome my day:
Since Stella's eyes, wont to give me my day,
Leaving my hemisphere, leave me in night;
Each day seems long, and longs for long-stayed night,
The night, as tedious, woos th' approach of day:
Tired with the dusty toils of busy day,
Languished with horrors of the silent night;
Suffering the evils both of day and night,
While no night is more dark than is my day,
Nor no day hath less quiet than my night:
With such bad mixture of my night and day,
That living thus in blackest Winter night,
I feel the flames of hottest Summer day.
Astrophel and Stella—Sonnet 89.
SIDNEY ON THE IMAGE OF STELLA SEEN
This night, while sleep begins with heavy wings
To hatch mine eyes, and that unbitted thought
Doth fall to stray, and my chief powers are brought
To leave the sceptre of all subject things;
The first that straight my fancy's error brings
Unto my mind is Stella's image, wrought
By Love's own self, but with so curious draught
That she, methinks, not only shines but sings:
I start, look, hark; but what in closed-up sense
Was held, in opened sense it flies away,
Leaving me nought but wailing eloquence:
I, seeing better sights in sight's decay,
Called it anew, and wooèd Sleep again;
But him, her host, that unkind guest had slain.
Astrophel and Stella—Sonnet 38.
[42.](page 140) i.e. I would
be brought from "limits far remote" where I am, on distant shores, to
where then dost stay, at home.
[43.](page 140) So in King John—
"Large lengths of seas and shores
Between my father and my mother lay."
[44.](page 141) Sonnets 46 and 47 are obviously
based on one of Drayton's that was printed in 1594; which agrees with the
most probable date for the group. The difference turns upon the possession
of an actual picture, and on the use of legal terminology.
HEART AND EYES.
"Whilst yet mine eyes do surfeit with delight,
My woful heart imprisoned in my breast
Wisheth to be transformèd to my sight,
That it, like those, by looking, might be blest;
But, whilst mine eyes thus greedily do gaze,
Finding their objects evermore depart,
These now the other's happiness do praise,
Wishing themselves that they had been my heart:
That eyes were heart, or that the heart were eyes,
As covetous the others' use to have;
But, finding Nature their request denies,
This to each other mutually they crave,
That since the one cannot the other be,
That eyes could think of that my heart could see."
[45.](page 141) "My jewels."
So Bertram, in All's Well that Ends Well, while preparing for a
"I have writ my letters, casketed my treasure,"
[46.](page 141) So Bolingbroke when going
into banishment, says—
"Every tedious stride I make
Will but remember me what a deal of world
I wander from the jewels that I love."
—Richard II., I. iii.
[47.] (page 142) The image is used by one
who rides a horse among horses, and horses are in the habit of neighing
when they salute each other; they will do this, too, if speed be ever so
important. And the writer says, his desire being made of perfectest love,
having nothing animal about it, shall not salute any dull flesh in
his fiery race; only he continues the use of the image by means of the
word "neigh." Perhaps the Poet was thinking of the words of
the prophet Jeremiah—"They were as fed horses in the morning: every one
neighed after his neighbour's wife."
Interim, printed in italics in the quarto.