But if these two versions are carefully compared, it will be seen that the
subject involves more than "Age in love," and that the second version was
modified of set purpose to conceal a fact which was manifest in the first
one. As amended it is made to look as though the "Age in love" was
applicable to both lovers, and that both were telling lies on the same
ground of fact. But if both were old there would be no inequality
and no need of falsehood or disguise. That the Lady was old,
or the elder, is certain. This is proved by the suppressed lines—
"But wherefore says my Love that she is young?"
"Age in love loves not to have years told."
Elsewhere we find evidence of the speaker's youth in direct contrast with
the lady's ago. She is portrayed as the mother compared with him,
the child who asks her to "PLAY the mother's part"
in kissing him and being kind to him, who runs after her like a child
crying, calling himself "thy babe." Therefore, the treatment
of this same youth as "Age in love" must be an intentional blind, a mode
of enhancing the jest for those who understood the allusions. The
lady's age is the original reality aimed at; hence the concealment of
this, the subject of her lying, in the later version, by leaving out the
allusion to her age—
"But wherefore says my Love that she is young?"
When she tells
lies about her truth (which turns on her age in line 9) he pretends to
believe her, that she might think him young and green, although she
knows his days are past the best. I take it that the allusion to his
own years being past the best is an intended falsification of fact for the
sake of the lying together. The first version says of the
lying, which is the lady's only—
"I smiling credit her false-speaking tongue,
Out-facing faults in love with love's i11 rest."
And this last
line was altered to—
"On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed."
suppression points to an intentional disguise for one of the persons
concerned; and the other alteration, whereby the jest is made to appear
more serious still, looks like an intended masking of the other person.
By these changes the irony of the youth in love with age is made less
probable, and the suppression of the "simple truth" on both sides leads to
the conclusion that both of them represented "Age in love" who did not
wish to have the truth confessed.
"Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,"
the speaker's youthfulness, his greenness, his implicit credence when the
lady told lies respecting her own age.
"Although I know my years be past the best,"
is one half of
the double joke at which he smiles.
"But wherefore says my love that she is young?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?"
As if elderly people would woo a woman by saying so. The earlier
copy shows the lies to have been on the score of the lady's age only; and
why should that have been suppressed? Why should the Sonnet have
been carefully corrected, and for the worse? In making the change
the Poet loses the antithesis between young and old—the
grain of salt that he liked to see sparkle in his lines; and the real
subject of the lady's lies disappears altogether. There must have
been private and particular reasons for generalizing thus vaguely.
It must have been apprehended that the line—
"But wherefore says my Love that she is young?"
suspicion and the story be got at; another touch was needed to perfect the
disguise. And so we catch the Poet, unless the change was made by
Herbert himself, doing a bit of work analogous to that which has to be
performed by the stealers of marked linen, viz. picking out the proof of
The speaker then is so young that his years, in contrast with
the lady's age, can be treated as matter for a laugh in the sleeve; he is
unmarried, and his Christian name is "Will." All the testimony on
the score of character unites with the other evidence in proof that this
is young William Herbert, not William Shakspeare; he was a spirit of a
different complexion, a man of another mould, and at the time neither
young enough to be the speaker with the humorous reading, nor old enough
for the serious interpretation hitherto accepted, he being just
thirty-six, exactly "midway in this our mortal life." At which
period of perfect manhood and ripened power, his days could not possibly
have been "past the best." If he were the speaker the Sonnet would
have no meaning. For he would not be lying in saying that he was not
old, and the "simple truth" could not have been suppressed by his
not admitting that he was old.
Critics have wasted time in pointing out that I make "Will"
Herbert speak of himself as being old and the lady as being young, when
Herbert himself was nineteen years of age, and Lady Rich was getting on
for forty—"the exact reverse of the actual positions Imagined in the
Sonnets." It is difficult to resist laughing in the face of such
simplicity. All the irony intended turns on this reversal of the
actual facts, as is the wont and nature of irony. There was no
meaning apart from the antithesis, and there is no antithesis except in
the speaker being young and the lady not young. The alteration
proves the double intention.
By recovering the real relationship, we find the true
position portrayed or assumed, for the purpose is that of the youth in
love with a lady who is far older than himself, the same position and
characters as in Sonnet 143. The two go together and corroborate
"Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be."
Such is the
jest. For a jest it is, and little more. Nothing more to swear
by. The only lying together is in telling the lies—she about her age
and he about his pretended passion. There is no approach to making
love here in any mood of criminal earnest, nor to the dignity of genuine
lust, which is so often too terribly in earnest for any such elaborate
jesting. In the first copy we read
"Therefore I'll lie with love and love with me,"
but this was
"Therefore I lie with her and she with me."
A pun is introduced, and the sense is changed, the meaning being made
grosser. The lying together on the subject of age is perverted and
made personal. This alteration must have been made by the same hand
that suppressed the evidence of the lady's age in changing the line, "But
wherefore says my Love that she is young," when she was not, as an
intentional disguise. This particular change is made in and by the
grosser spirit of two. To my thinking, Sonnet 152 contains
indubitable proof that the speaker is not a married man. It brings
the question to an issue. He distinctly charges the lady with being
married and untrue to her wedding bed and bond. Then he admits that
he, too, is forsworn, and that she knows him to be so. But he says
she is twice forsworn, in being false to her husband and false to him.
And having said the worst of her, hurled at her the most damning charges,
he turns on himself with a revulsion of feeling, determined to show
himself as the most perjured oath-breaker of the two. Now, surely,
we shall have it! He is about to prove, in bitterness of heart, that
he is more perjured than she, and that his sins are of a deeper dye than
hers. Therefore, one would have thought that, if a married man, and
anxious for self-condemnation, desirous of showing himself in a still
lower gulf of guilt, the first thing he would have done would be, to point
out that he was as bad as her in kind, or that they were fitly
matched. Instead of this—instead of a manly voice heavy with passion
or dogged with determination to say the worst—we hear the treble of a
youth, asking, "But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee, when I
break twenty?" And what are the twenty oaths sworn and vows broken
by him? Why, he has sworn that she was kind, loving, truthful, and
fifty other pretty things, which are all lovers' lies; his perjury
consisting of oaths in her praise. And this has been imagined to be
Shakspeare speaking of himself, under the most self-culpatory
circumstances. The married man who has cruelly charged her with her crime,
which would appear to have been committed for his sake, and then tried to
turn the reproach from his cowardly self by a playful handling of the
So is it with Sonnet 143, of which Steevens has remarked,
"the beginning is at once pleasing and natural, but the conclusion of it
is lame and impotent indeed. We attend to the cries of the infant,
but we laugh at the loud blubbering of the great boy, Will." And
well we might, if Shakspeare, who, in an earlier Sonnet, has painted the
leaf of his life in autumnal tint, and appeared to have felt the evening
of his day folding about him, and seen its shadows lengthening in the
sunset, had here represented himself in love with, and stark mad for, a
bold bad woman—by the image of a poor little infant, a tender child,
toddling after its mammy, and crying for her apron-corner to hold by, and
her kiss to still its whimpering discontent. This would be
laughable, if not too lamentable. But Shakspeare did not write to be
laughed at, nor did he in his riper years put forth what would, if he were
the speaker, be pure maudlin, and the very degradation of pathos.
The blunder of the imagery would have been almost worse than the criminal
infatuation. This is not the personal wooing of the man who carried
within him the furnace of passion, in which the swart lineaments and
orient gorgeousness of Cleopatra glow superbly,—the lightnings that leap
from out the huge cloudy sorrows of stormy old Lear,—the awful power that
in Lady Macbeth can darken the moral atmosphere, past seeing the colour of
blood,—the flashes of nether flame which play like serpent tongues about
Othello's love, till they have licked up its life-springs.
The YOUTH of the speaker is
demonstrable, and his name is "Will." Now, as the old Scotch servant
informed his master when he flung away his wig, "There is no a wale o'
wigs on Kirrie Muir;" so we have no great choice in the matter of
"Wills." There are but two possible candidates, and they are "Will
Herbert" and "Will Shakspeare." Will Herbert, the nephew of Philip
Sidney, was a youth of nineteen when Sonnet 138 was printed in the
Passionate Pilgrim, at which time Shakspeare was thirty-six years old.
The inevitable conclusion is, that the speaker of these Latter Sonnets,
whose name is "Will," was William Herbert, who was Master W. H. until he
became the Earl of Pembroke on the death of his father in 1601.
The curious in such matters may find in Herbert's own Poems 
proof that the writer of them is one in nature, age, and taste with the
speaker of these Sonnets. There is proof in his own handwriting, so
to say, that he was personally, or pretended to be, a sufferer from
exactly such a passion as is here painted, and that he addressed a lady,
the very same in character and kind of charm, as is here imaged by
Shakspeare—not as an object of worship, but for the purpose of
disparagement and depreciation. This was not the lady who afterwards
became the celebrated Countess of Devonshire. That lady, we are
told, was the object of Herbert's "chaste idolatry"; this lady of whom we
speak was just the reverse. He has presented her picture in some
lines replying to a friend who had flatly given his opinion of the lady,
and wondered what the young Earl could see in her to admire—
"One with admiration  told
He did wonder much and marvel,
(As, by chance, he did behold ye)
How I could become so servile
To thy beauty, which he swears
Every alehouse lattice wears.
Then he frames a second motion,
From thy revoluting eyes,
Saying—such a wanton motion
From their lustre did arise,
That of force thou couldst not
From the shame of women free!"
This is the
lady of the Latter Sonnets, feature by feature; her whole character summed
up briefly with a perfect tally. Sonnet 131 says—
"Some say that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan."
Here is the
same servility to the beauty that is quite incommensurate in
appearance to the effects which it produces—the beauty so accosting that
it is merely a sign like that of an alehouse, which aptly expresses the
"wide world's commonplace" of Sonnet 137—the SERVILITY
felt by the "proud heart's slave and vassal wretch" of Sonnet 141.
Then there is the very motion of those eyes so often dwelt on in the
Sonnets, and, looking in at their windows, we see the same interior, the
same fire aglow, the same picture of Paphos. Also he treats the lady
after the same ironical fashion. In one Sonnet he asserts that he
only loves her for her false adornments. One of Herbert's poems,
commencing "Oh, do not tax me with a brutish love," is alike in argument
with Sonnet 141; and all through there is the same inexplicable
infatuation, though this is rendered so much more powerfully by the hand
One of my critics, speaking of these Latter Sonnets, has
said, "We do not believe that Shakspeare played the pimp to his own
dishonour, but we are afraid that he did conceive the dramatic
situation." This, of course, grants the dramatic rendering, but
would leave it baseless, historically or otherwise, whereas the present
reading supplies a foundation in identifiable fact without saddling the
Poet with wantonly conceiving the situation for the sake of writing about
As the matter was left, the youth of the speaker was more
completely concealed, and there was far less chance of identifying him as
"Will" Herbert, who was but nineteen years old when the Sonnet first
appeared in print. And, as I read the matter, the elder "Will" got
left in the lurch by his friend "Will" the younger, because the name of
the speaker of these Sonnets is "Will." It is probable that there
are reflections of this subject to be made out in the dramatic mirror of
Shakspeare's play of As You -Like It belongs to the
period, and in this we find a bit of by-play on the name of William in
relation to two different persons.
Touchstone. How old are you, friend?
A ripe age: is thy name William?
A fair name. Now you are not ipse, for I am he.
Which he, sir?
possibly an allusion to the two Wills concerned in the Latter Sonnets, and
the difficulty of determining which was Ipse, as must have been
foreseen by the "Will" who put the Sonnets into the press.
Then comes the question, "Art Rich?" Put to a
poor country lout, it has not much meaning; poked at Herbert, the joke is
enriched. This is a way Shakspeare had of making by-play for his
Private Friends. The Latter Sonnets written for Herbert were begun
when he was "Master Will" in 1599, and that was as near as need be for
the date of the play. Several likenesses crop up, more particularly
where Silvius, the disdained lover of Phœbe, brings a love-letter from her
to Rosalind, and Rosalind charges Silvius with writing the letter.
There is not the least reason for supposing that Silvius does not speak
the simple truth when he says he has "never heard it yet." But
Rosalind, in spite of his protestations, still assumes that he devised and
wrote it, and says, "What, to make thee an instrument and play false
strains upon thee!" Eh, Master Will? But that is a
palpable hit! Again, the nature of some of the Latter Sonnets could
not be more aptly described than by Rosalind's characterization of the
letter as containing "Ethiope words, blacker in their effect than in
their countenance," just as we find them in the Sonnets of "Will."
Rosaline and Hermia are both denounced as Ethiops; and it is said that the
use of such "Ethiope words" was a "giant rude invention" that could not
have been born of woman's brain. It is curious, too, to notice in
connection with the "black wires" of Sonnet 130, that Phœbe
complains of Rosalind in disguise—
"He said mine eyes were black, and MY HAIR BLACK!
And now I do remember, scorned at me:
I marvel why I answered not again!"
As if, like Lady Rich's, her hair was NOT black, but
only called so to spite her! The lines—
"If the scorn of your bright eyne
Have power to raise such love in mine,"
contain an echo to the sentiment and sound of those in Sonnet 150—
"If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee."
There is a passage or two in Much Ado About Nothing which may cast
a sidelight upon the name and the person of "Will" in the Sonnets.
It was first conjectured by Mr. Hunter that the character of Benedick was
drawn for William Herbert. We find there is a reference made to the
initial letter of a name that is not in the play, and therefore to a
person out of sight. "Hey ho!" sighs Beatrice, and Margaret asks if
that is for a hawk, a horse, or a husband? Beatrice replies, "For
the letter that begins them all—H." Now she is in love with Benedick,
whose name does not begin with "H." If for Benedick we read Herbert,
we make out the meaning of it, not otherwise. Those who have watched
Shakspeare secretly working from real life will have no difficulty in
taking this initial H to mean Herbert.
I also think there may be a double entendre on the name
of Lady Rich. Speaking of HIS wife, in case
HE should ever marry, Benedick says—"Rich she
shall be, that's certain; an excellent musician; and her hair
shall be of what colour it please God." Be this as it may, we
must glance at the character of Benedick-Herbert, who is pre-eminently a
jester. "He is the prince's jester." He has the fancy for
assuming strange disguises. Claudio says of him, "Nay, but his
jesting spirit which is now crept into a lutestring!" "The man doth
fear God, howsoever it seems not in him, by some large jests he will
make." Such, for instance, as his suggestion of the parody of
Sidney's Sonnets, and the jesting at Stella's own self-caricature!
Now, as the name of Herbert was Will, and as he is the youthful "Will" of
the Sonnets, it is obvious that the name of Will is also punned on in the
"But what's your Will?
Your answer, sir, is enigmatical:
But, for my Will, my Will is, your good Will
May stand with, ours, this day to be conjoined,"
&c.—Act V. sc. iv.
With a further likeness to line 12, Sonnet 151, which contains a pun that
is reproduced in the play. If Benedick be Herbert, then the original
model for Beatrice is Lady Rich. She who had no living likeness for
brilliant wit and waywardness, and dare-devilry, and will. Beatrice
is a repetition of Rosaline, Sidney's Stella with her eyes and "brow of
Egypt." She who was the "Attending Star" on Cynthia in the earlier
play is here born under a merry star. "My mother cried; but then
there was a star danced, and under that I was born." The star
that danced was Stella's. Benedick says, "Till all graces be in one
woman, one woman shall not come into my grace. Rich she shall be,
that's certain; an excellent musician (the lady in Sonnet 128 is called
'My Music'); and her hair shall be of what colour it please God."
"Fame," says Sidney, "doth even grow rich, meaning my Stella's name."
And it was so famed both as Rich and Stella that it could not be used
Now if we take the date of 1599 for the year in which
these Sonnets were written for Herbert, that was also about the time of
the Merry Wives of Windsor, a play unmentioned by Meres, which was
certainly not earlier than 1599. And here, again, we may see
reflections of the Latter Sonnets in the dramatic mirror. The title
of this play might be "Lust in Love." The main motive of the huge
comedy is to show Falstaff in love, or rather to make a merry mockery of
his lustful humour when fattened for public exhibition. "I think
the best way were to entertain him with hope, till the wicked fire of lust
have melted him in his own grease" (II. i.). The subject is that
"Lust in action" which is portrayed in the Sonnets, whether laughed at in
jest or summed up seriously in two of them. And this is Shakspeare's
moral of the play as proclaimed in the Song of the Fairies—
"Fie on sinful, Fantasy,
Fie on Lust and Luxury!
Lust is but a bloody fire,
Kindled with unchaste desire,
Fed in heart; whose flames aspire,
As thoughts do blow them, higher and higher.
Pinch him, fairies, mutually;
Pinch him for his villainy;
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles, and star-light, and moon-shine be out."
It is credibly enough reported that the great jest of Falstaff's false
love was concocted by request of the Queen. In the same way my
suggestion is that the same subject of lust or false love was treated by
request of Herbert in the Latter Sonnets as a continuation of Sidney's
wooing of Lady Rich. We see how the writer had Sidney in mind.
When Falstaff exclaims at sight of Mrs. Ford, "Have I caught (thee),
heavenly jewel?" he is quoting the first line of Sidney's second
"Have I caught my heavenly jewel?"
The Sonnet says:—
"Love is too blind to know what conscience is;
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love."
And Falstaff in the Merry Wives of Windsor exclaims, "Why, now is
Cupid a child of conscience; he makes restitution! Speak I like
Herne the Hunter?" Not in the least, one would say, but very like
The love without cause or reason, and the portrait of
Age in love, are both reproduced in Falstaff's letter to Mrs. Page—"Ask
me no reason why I love you; for though love use reason for his precision,
he admits him not for his councillor. You are not young, no more am
I; go to then, there's sympathy. You are merry, so am I; ha! ha!
then there's more sympathy."
Two of the Sonnets got into print in the Passionate
Pilgrim, and if the cause of that were the laxity of Herbert, as one
may justly suspect, this is possibly aimed at in the play, where there is
an allusion to Falstaff's loveletters being printed. "He will
print them, out of doubt; for he cares not what he puts into the press."
This passage is underlined with a meaning beyond an application to
Falstaff's letters. The joke is doubled out of the play. Two
of the Sonnets amongst the Private Friends had been put into print, and
the likeliest person to have allowed this was Master Will Herbert.
Now, as before said, it is one of the fantastic follies
of Mr. Furnivall, derived solely from misreading the Sonnets, that
Shakspeare personally suffered a "Hell of time" as the result of his "sins
of blood" and "slips in sensual mire," with his dark doxy of the Latter
Sonnets. He further maintains, that Shakspeare's fall into the dirt
of degradation led to his sounding the profoundest depths of tragedy, and
that the furnace-fire of Othello's jealousy and Lear's raging inferno of
fierce passion were his own personal Hell of time turned inside out!
This personal experience and expiatory suffering are assumed to have
preceded and to account for the "Unhappy third period" in
Shakspeare's life, in which his greatest work was done, and he produced
his Hamlet, Lear, Othello, and Macbeth. In checking
this insane conceit that Shakspeare's genius culminated in the depth of
his moral degradation, Mr. Spedding administered a grave rebuke in a
smiling manner when he said, "I should like to have a period of
unhappiness like that!" The same writer tells Mr. Furnivall,
that the succession of Shakspeare's Plays and Periods is very much like
what we might have naturally expected, "Without inventing any
extraordinary spiritual trials in his private life to account for the
changes." We, are now able to demonstrate Mr. Furnivall's
fallacy and completely demolish his inference. The comparative
process proves the relation of the Latter Sonnets to the play of the
Merry Wives of Windsor; the subject of false love or lust in love is
the same in both, and the moral is identical in each. Two of the
Sonnets supposed to tell the dark story against the Poet's character came
into print in 1599, offering good evidence that the group to which they
belonged was then extant. Thus in 1599 the sin had been committed,
the private tragedy was performed, and the consequent unhappy period had
commenced with all its torments of remorse. Now, no Shakspearean who
has any insight into our Poet's workmanship, supported by other adequate
knowledge, would venture to date this drama earlier than 1599.
Delius says 1600. The comparative process tends to show that it
belongs to or follows the year of those Herbert Sonnets which were extant
in 1599. And the Merry Wives contains the comedy of
Shakspeare's unmitigated mirth. In this the fullest ripeness of his
humour is to be found for the first time, and the comedy is unchastened by
a tear of sorrow, and untempered by a single sigh of sadness. The
play is wholly an uproarious creation of mirth, the loudest laugh that
Shakspeare ever had. It reeks with jollity as Falstaff did with
fatness, and is as huge in its hilarity. And this drama, which is
the one that is entirely free from sadness, free from any sign of
conscious guilt, remorse, or melancholy memories, would be the first
product of the previous "Hell of time," supposed to have been suffered
by the Poet in his Sonnets! Indeed, the Merry Wives, Much
Ado, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night—four perfect,
cordial-hearted comedies—are the blithe plays that followed the Sonnets of
1599; and these come between them and the period of Shakspeare's mightiest
workmanship, attained at last in his supremest tragedies, Lear,
Othello, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. So
much for another foolish application to Shakspeare and his Plays of a
false inference derived from the autobiographical misinterpretation of the
According to the actual facts, not fancies nor
fabrications, Shakspeare's Sonnets were first commenced on the model of
Sidney's. His arguments for marriage were taken bodily from the
Arcadia, and reproduced in verse with an application to the
circumstances of Southampton. This fact is indisputable, and
established for ever. The same thing occurs with a difference in the
Latter Sonnets. Here we find the like imitation of Sidney; the same
borrowing of his argument, the same eyes in mourning, and the same
blackness above all other beauty which had been celebrated by him.
The lady aimed at is the one, the incomparable Stella, who had no living
likeness; whose complexion was so rare that it set a new fashion in
beauty; unique enough to be inimitable.
The Sonnets were written in an emulative continuation
of Sidney's, and that which differentiates them from Sidney's is mainly to
be found in the later character and characteristics of the same Lady Rich
who was besung by both with twenty years between. In the Latter as
in the earlier Sonnets, those on lust equally with those on love, we are
enabled to set foot on the ground of fact with the aid of Sidney's
Sonnets. Stella is further identified as Lady Rich by name; again in
imitation of Sidney in his punning on the name of Rich. Moreover,
the black beauty of Stella is doubly identified by means of her moral
blackness conventionally considered and publicly proclaimed. She is
trebly identified by her age (which was suppressed and smuggled out of
sight in the second version of Sonnet 138) in relation or in opposition to
the youth of the speaker, who is characterized as the child in love, and
whose name is Will. Lady Rich is identifiably portrayed as the woman
of "proud heart" so currishly betrayed by her brother as one who needed to
be looked after; she who was so "becoming of things ill," that in the
"very refuse" of her deeds her worst exceeded "all best."
Such was the strength and warrant of her skill and glamourie.
My explanation of the Latter Sonnets, then, is, that
they were written for Will Herbert in 1599, just after the appearance of
certain Sonnets and Songs of Sidney's, which were printed for the first
time in the 1598 edition of his Arcadia; that they were written on
the same person as subject who had been the object of Sidney's Sonnets, at
the suggestion of Master Will Herbert, the nephew of Sidney; that Herbert
is the speaker whose name is "Will," and who is portrayed as the youth in
love with Age in Sonnets 138-143. That Sidney's "Stella" is to be
identified as the lady with the mourning eyes in Sonnets 127 and 132,
compared with Sidney's; that she is not only one with Stella in her
likeness to nature and the unique unlikeness of both to anybody else, but
can also be identified by the puns upon her name of Rich which culminate
in Sonnet 135, where the speaker describes her as being Rich in Will, and
desires that she will complete the antithesis by making him Will in Rich.
My further explanation is, that the Sonnets thus
suggested were written in a capping imitation of Sidney's; that the
assumed infatuation of "Will" (Herbert) is a capping imitation of Sidney's
passion; and that so far as the passion is unreal, the Sonnets assume the
character of a burlesque on Sidney's founded on the changes in the
character of Stella.
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother, had already
characterized her brother's "Love-lays" addressed to Stella as "Merry
Riddles"; and here we have another "merry riddle" on the same subject of
bewitched affection suggested by her son, in which the likenesses are
close enough to Sidney's Sonnets to determine the nature of Shakspeare's.
I would not call Shakspeare's Sonnets merely an intentional caricature of
Sidney's Sonnets. It was the lady herself who had caricatured the
likeness drawn of her in early life by Sidney. They are not simply
an imitation of Sidney's, nor a plagiarism, nor a parody, but a mixture of
all three, only to be understood when we know that Stella, the same person
with the changed character, is the lady aimed at, at least as the subject
if not the object of these Sonnets. For example, in Sidney's lines
from Sidera, on p. 249, which were first printed in 1598, there is
an allusion to a future possibility that is ineffably pathetic, a note as
piercing as the sudden cry in the nightingale's song—
"If either you would change your cruel heart,
Or cruel still, Time did your beauty stain;
If from my soul this love would once depart,
Or for my love some love I might attain,
Then might I hope a change, or ease of mind
By your good help, or in myself to find."
And when Shakspeare wrote Time had stained the brilliant beauty,
but she was "cruel still," and as tyrannous in the waning lustre of her
fading charms, her "insufficiency," as any of the younger ones, "whose
beauties proudly make them cruel."
It has now been demonstrated that the Latter Sonnets
are not merely what professor Minto (who followed in the footprints of
Henry Brown) has called "exercises of skill undertaken in a spirit of
wanton defiance and derision of COMMONPLACE"!
At the same time, the identification of their real motif in relation to
Sidney's proves that they contain no personal revelation of the Poet's
life or love.
A few last words on Mary Fytton as the Dark Lady of
these Latter Sonnets. The odds are a thousand to one against her in
favour of Penelope Rich. But I have no personal bias in the matter.
If Mr. Tyler could show that there were two women of the same character
within and complexion without as Lady Rich; if he could prove that Mary
Fytton was an infamous married woman in 1599, my interpretation of the
Sonnets on the dramatic theory would still hold the field, even if Lady
Rich were proved to be the unfit 'un. The speaker would still be
"Will" by name, and I should still contend that he was "Will" Herbert for
whom these Latter Sonnets were written. But this has yet to be done.
Mr. Tyler's contention is, that Mary Fytton was
Shakspeare's paramour in 1599; that she was then the known breaker of her
marriage vows, the "bay where all men ride," the "wide world's common
place;" a harlot whose philtre of her physical charms had been drunken by
her lovers to the dregs; a false, a foul, and fallen woman, abhorred by
others, who was in the "very refuse" of her evil "deeds"; that she was
then, in 1599, as the Sonnet shows, old enough to be laughed at as "Age in
love." And Mr. Tyler is guileless enough to suppose that two years
later William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, could be charged with
seducing her, and that be was put into prison for begetting her with
child! He does not explain HOW the child could
be sworn to Herbert! Why not to Shakspeare, or even to her own
Mr. Tyler has failed to show the same caution that was
exercised by the negro who, on being asked the conundrum, "Who was the
father of Eve's first child?" replied, "Who did Adam suspect?" He
has no doubt that the child was Herbert's; that the mother was
Shakspeare's Mistress; that she was the married wife of somebody else;
that she was still a maid of honour, a great favourite of the Queen's, and
still known at Court in 1600 by her maiden name of Fytton. But if
Mary Fytton had been one in character with the Dark Lady in 1599, when two
of these Sonnets were printed, it is for ever impossible that she could
have fathered a child upon Lord Pembroke in 1601. Credat Judæus!
And Mr. Tyler adduces no evidence whatever to suggest that Mary Fytton was
a married woman of immoral character in the refuse of her deeds; no
evidence of her having been either married or divorced in 1600, when she
figured at Court under her own maiden name, and was in high favour with
the Queen; no allusions to her being black-eyed or swarthy of complexion.
Moreover, if Mrs. Fytton had been the "Cause" of Herbert's disgrace and
imprisonment, if she did bear a child to him in 1601, Herbert's passion
must have been real and fruitful; but that would not then be the passion
portrayed in the Latter Sonnets.
The letter from Sir Edward Fytton, Mrs. Fytton's
father, written January 29, 1599, compared with another letter of August
5, 1600, as quoted by Mr. Tyler,  appears to tell
directly against his interpretation. A sum of £1200 seems to have
been due to Sir Edward Fytton for service in Ireland. This being
left standing over, was assigned by him to his daughter as a marriage
portion ("her porçon")—obviously when she should be married!
The money remained in the hands of the Irish treasurer, Sir Henry Wallop,
an objection having been made to paying it over to Mrs. Fytton on the
ground that "a good discharge" could not be obtained. Sir Edward
protested that a sufficient discharge had already been given in
accordance with the terms prescribed by Sir Henry Wallop. Here
the difficulty about paying the money intended for a marriage portion
evidently arose from the lady's not being married, and consequently from
the absence of the proper person to give the legal receipt and quittance.
And so as an unmarried woman she could father a child on Herbert a year
later, and he could be expected to marry her.
The Earl of Pembroke on being examined, "confesseth to
the fact" that he is the guilty one, but he "utterly renounceth all
marriage." This suffices to show there was some suggestion of
marriage, and to prove that Mary was marriageable, therefore not married
at the time. All the evidence points to her not being married, and
to her being marriageable in 1601, when Herbert made his double
declaration, and therefore to the impossibility of her being the faithless
married woman of the Sonnets. Besides which, if it could be
demonstrated that she had been married, and was Herbert's mistress in
1600, that would not prove her to have been Shakspeare's trull the year or
several years previously.
Mary Fytton, born in 1578, was but twenty-one in the
year that Sonnet 138 appeared in the Passionate Pilgrim, when no
whisper had been breathed against her, and no warrant given for an unmanly
attempt to fly-blow her maiden fame and taint her character before the
time with any such mental maggots as these. Mr. Tyler's unfounded
charge against Mary Fytton and Shakspeare is more indecent than anything
in Brown's indictment. Yet the parrots of the press will hail this
as the solution of a problem, and are already crying "Pretty Polly"!
At present, however, any link between Shakspeare and Mary Fytton has to be
forged by means of a false inference, in defiance of facts the most fatal
to the theory.
It would have been far less grossly improbable if Mr.
Tyler had maintained the hypothesis that Shakspeare wrote the Latter
Sonnets on William Herbert's amour with Mary Fytton, instead of making
them personal to the Poet himself, and thus becoming responsible for the
puerile suggestion that such a worthless wanton as is portrayed by
Shakspeare in 1599 could be seduced by Herbert in 1600, and become the
cause of his being sent to prison in 1601 as the father of her child.
But the Brownites will clutch at any delusion in the blind belief that the
Sonnets must be autobiographical.
Whatsoever the object of the Sonnets, the starry lady
with the mourning eyes, whose blackness was above all beauty, the
Lascivious Grace, the "fair woman with a black soul," the lady whose name
of Rich is punned upon by "Will" in Sonnets 135-6, remains the subject of
Shakspeare's Latter Sonnets, Mary Fytton and all other sirens, swarthy or
otherwise, notwithstanding. It is not the name of Fytton but Rich
that "flesh" rises at, when it is content to be her "POOR"
drudge (Sonnet 151). It is "Rich in Will" and Will in Rich, not
Fytton (Sonnets 135-6). And in the true Shakspearean antithesis to
the "poor soul" of Sonnet 146 the name is "Rich," not Fytton.
It was Lady Rich that Sidney loved and wrote about, not Mary Fytton; and
Shakspeare's Sonnets follow his.
Further, the lady of the Latter Sonnets is the same,
feature for feature, as Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost; identical
in character and complexion, her "light condition in a beauty dark," her
sumptuous sexual grace, her wayward wanton wilfulness, and imperious
tyranny; therefore the original of both was known to Shakspeare as
early as 1591. This could not have been Mary Fytton, who was
then a girl of thirteen. But Rosaline IS
Stella by nature and by name AS the moon's
"attending star,"—like Lady Rich at the Court of Cynthia,—to whom Biron
"We number nothing that we spend for you,
Our duty is so rich, so infinite,
That we may do it still without accompt."
Is of that nature, that to your huge store,
Wise things seem foolish, and rich things seem poor."
And such is the lady addressed in Sonnets 135-6,—which should be closely
compared with the play,—who is "rich in will," "large and spacious" in
Will, and of limitless capacity; "one that will do the deed though Argus
were her eunuch and her guard" (III. i.).
There is yet that last trump-card to play which, as in
the case of the Sonnet on "Barley-Break," suffices to win the game.
The argument all through these Latter Sonnets is more
or less Sidney's, though not always drawn from his Sonnets nor his prose.
In the fifth song of Astrophel and Stella her poet threatens to
turn round on Lady Rich, and put out the glory of her picture that he has
painted—"stain her white with vagabonding shame," unsay all that he has
sworn of her lovable beauty, and proclaim to all the world that in loving
such a woman so blindly, so madly, he himself must have been insane!
He tells her "the same key can open which can lock up a treasure."
He will strip her of the false feathers in which she has soared sky-high
on the wings of his earlier verse. Feature by feature he will
disfigure and defame her, he who had spent himself so fruitlessly in her
praise. He calls her a thief. "Rich in all joys," she robs him
of his joy. He denounces her as a rebel and a murderer.
He charges her with being a tyrant and a traitor. She is a witch,
and worse. She is a devil. But it is necessary to
reprint the entire song, which is dark with "Ethiope words."
"While favour fed my hope, delight with hope was brought;
Thought waited on delight, and speech did follow thought;
Then grew my tongue and pen records unto thy glory,
I thought all words were lost that were not spent of thee;
I thought each place was dark but where thy lights would be,
And all ears worse than deaf that heard not out thy story.
I said thou wert most fair, and so indeed thou art;
I said thou wert most sweet, sweet poison to my heart;
I said my soul was thine, O that I then had lied;
I said thine eyes were stars, thy breast the milky way,
Thy fingers Cupid's shafts, thy voice the angel's lay:
And all I said so well, as no man it denied.
But now that hope is lost, unkindness kills delight;
Yet thought and speech do live, though metamorphosed quite,
For rage now rules the reins which guided were by pleasure;
I think now of thy faults, who late thought of thy praise;
That speech falls now to blame, which did thy honour raise:
The same key open can, which can lock up a treasure!
Then thou, whom partial heavens conspired in one to frame
The proof of Beauty's worth, th'inheritrix of fame,
The mansion state of bliss, and just excuse of lovers;
See now those feathers pluckt, wherewith thou flewest most high:
See what clouds of reproach shall dark thy honour's sky:
Whose own fault cast him down hardly high state recovers.
And, O my Muse, though oft you lulled her in your lap,
And then, a heavenly child, gave her ambrosian pap,
And to that brain of hers your kindest gifts infused;
Since she, disdaining me, doth you in me disdain,
Suffer not her to laugh, while both we suffer pain:
Princes in subjects' wrong must deem themselves abused!
Your client poor myself, shall Stella handle so:
Revenge! Revenge! my Muse! defiance' trumpet blow;
Threaten! what may be done, yet do more than you threaten!
Ah, my suit granted is, I feel my breast doth swell;
Now, child, a lesson new you shall begin to spell;
Sweet babes must babies have, but shrewed girls must be beaten.
Think now no more to hear of warm fine-odoured snow,
Nor blushing lilies, nor pearls' ruby-hidden row,
Nor of that golden sea, whose waves in curls are broken;
But of thy soul, so fraught with such ungratefulness,
As where thou soon might'st help, most Faith dost most oppress;
Ungrateful, who is called, the worst of evils is spoken.
Yet worse than worst, I say thou art a Thief—a Thief,
Now God forbid! a Thief! and of worst thieves the chief:
Thieves steal for need, and steal but goods which pain recovers,
But thou, Rich in all joys, dost rob my joys from me,
Which cannot be restored by time or industry:
Of foes the spoil is evil, far worse of constant lovers.
Yet—gentle English thieves do rob, but will not slay,
Thou English-murdering Thief, wilt have hearts for thy prey:
The name of Murderer now on thy fair forehead sitteth,
And even while I do speak, my death-wounds bleeding be,
Which, I protest, proceed from only cruel thee:
Who may, and will not save, murder in truth committeth.
But murder, private fault, seems but a toy to thee:
I lay then to thy charge unjustest tyranny,
If rule, by force, without all claim, a Tyrant showeth;
For thou dost lord my heart, who am not born thy slave,
And, which is worse, makes me most guiltless torments have;
A rightful prince by unright deeds a tyrant groweth.
Lo, you grow proud with this, for tyrants make folk bow:
Of foul rebellion then I do appeach thee now,
Rebel by Nature's law, Rebel by law of Reason:
Thou, sweetest subject wert, born in the realm of love,
And yet against thy prince thy force dost daily prove:
No virtue merits praise, once touched with blot of treason.
But valiant rebels oft in fools' mouths purchase fame:
I now then stain thy white with vagabonding shame,
Both rebel to the son and vagrant from the mother;
For wearing Venus' badge in every part of thee,
Unto Diana's train thou, runaway, didst flee:
Who faileth one is false, though trusty to another.
What, is not this enough? nay, far worse cometh here;
A Witch, I say, thou art, though thou so fair appear;
For, I protest, my sight never thy face enjoyeth,
But I in me am changed, I am alive and dead;
My feet are turned to roots, my heart becometh lead:
No witchcraft is so evil as which man's mind destroyeth!
Yet Witches may repent; thou art far worse than they:
Alas that I am forced such evil of thee to say!
I say thou art a Devil, though clothed in angel's shining;
For thy face tempts my soul to leave the heaven for thee,
And thy words of refuse do pour even hell on me:
Who tempt, and tempting plague, are devils in true defining.
You, then, ungrateful Thief, you murdering Tyrant, you,
You Rebel runaway, to lord and lady untrue,
You Witch, you Devil,—alas! you still of me beloved,
You see what I can say; mend yet your froward mind,
And such skill in my Muse, you, reconciled, shall find,
That all these cruel words your praises shall be proved."
Astrophel and Stella, Song V.
Thus we see that the blackening of Stella's character by abuse was first
performed by Sidney's own pen. And this was one of the poems that
were printed for the first time in the edition of 1598. Here,
then, we at last attain the starting point of the Herbert Sonnets for
following them on the track of Sidney's.
When Shakspeare wrote, Stella had fulfilled in real
earnest all that her poet and lover has here charged her with in his mad
unmeaning or unmeasuring mood. The fact was notorious at the time,
that Stella had become the blackened beauty in real life, as painted in
the Latter Sonnets. Sidney's "words of refuse" had been
realized by her in the "refuse of her deeds,"—the very
language of Sidney being thus intensified by Shakspeare in his 150th
Of course if Penelope Rich be the lady of these
Sonnets, she is not the Lady Rich of Sidney's love. Time and the
turn of things have had their way. She is now getting on for forty,
although one of those who never do feel forty. The lustres of youth,
including her hair, have somewhat dimmed; the splendour of her beauty has
been doubly tarnished. Besides, it was not the writer's cue to
praise, the description was not intended to flatter. He never meant
to laud the golden garniture of her sunshiny head-the "yellow locks that
shone so bright and long" in Spenser's verse, and glowed so in Sidney's
eyes. He does not bring forward that "glistering foil" of her hair
in contrast with the blackness of her eyes; that is only, though very
markedly, implied. Her cheeks also are compared to the "grey cheeks
of the east," and the "sober west" in their faded paleness, having lost
the young red that used to flush up when the smile took its rosy rise from
the cupid-cornered mouth, and suffused them in a soft auroral bloom, "as
of rose-leaves a little stirred" with the warm breath of Sidney's love.
This is Lady Rich with the spring-freshness gone, the blushing graces
withdrawn. Lady Rich in the remnant to of her loveliness and refuse
of her deeds, not merely the refuse of Sidney's wild and whirling words,
the deepening shadows of her character made it impossible, had he been so
minded, for Shakspeare to laud her like Sidney had done, as "that
virtuous soul, sure heir of heavenly bliss" and "rich in those
gifts which give the eternal crown." Nor did he look on her
through Sidney's eyes. He had seen and heard of her later gifts and
graces. Yet, in spite of the touch of time, and the waste of a
passionate life in her intense face—in spite of the descriptions which so
tend to defeature the image set up by Sidney—we cannot but recognize the
lady of the mourning eyes, the complexion beyond the reach of Art,
and know her by the original likeness that passes all likeness of
imitation. Changed and changing as she is, there is all the old
fire, and in her plainness she is proudly cruel as those who are in the
first blush of their budding-time. And the black eyes remain
imperial as of old in their infatuating charm; cunning as ever in their
black art—full of the old spells, with a power to haunt through life—like
the weird eyes of a dream.
It must be confessed that Shakspeare betrays great
boyishness in thus entering into the other boy's jesting mood, as if this
were one aspect of that Elizabethan boyishness which characterizes some of
the men whom we picture mentally each with an arm around the other's neck.
Sidney in his love was just a beautiful boy; as such he failed to marry
and man his Stella. In his life and death he was a boy-like hero.
In his poetry he remains an immortal boy. But boyish humour is apt
to degenerate into coarseness and horse-play.
Shakspeare certainly did play the boy for Herbert,—he
being thirty-six years of age himself,—and may have thought afterwards
that he had played the fool for his amusement. But at the same time
he also plays the man. He nowhere plays the pimp or pander to the
passion, whether we look upon it as real or only assumed for the purpose
I have now presented the evidence and demonstrated the
fact beyond all question or cavilling for those who are free to face it
and are capable of forming an accurate opinion, that Shakspeare's Latter
Sonnets, like his first, were founded on Sidney's. I have shown that
he has adopted Sidney's themes, his moods, his hints, and at times his
thoughts and expressions, and turned them to ulterior account in giving
another version of the same subject—as if Herbert had pitted the one Poet
against the other, who was to write of the same lady under the changed
circumstances. These themes begin with the lady who made blackness
beautiful with her eyes in mourning, the extension of the theme by
Shakspeare being shown by continuing that blackness into the moral domain,
and sonneteering her as beautiful in the blackness of her character and
the "refuse of her deeds." It has been shown that the lady is the
same by the nature of her complex charm—her starry eyes, her potency of
sexual power, her boundless capacity of will, and the puns upon her name
of "Rich," as well as by the allusions to "Stella" in her later years;
Stella as the proudly cruel tyrant, the fatal temptress, the murderous
thief, the manhood-melting witch, the devil in angel-guise. Theme
after theme, including that of desire or lust, and the solemn address to
the soul, have been identified as Sidney's. And we must sink down to
the nethermost depth of nincompoopery to suppose that Shakspeare in the
plenitude of his powers, at the time when his original faculty was in its
full consummate flower, when his art was supreme, and his genius had come
to the perfect orb of its never-waning glory, would turn back again to
imitate or mimic, burlesque and satirize, Sidney, in what would look like
a set of school boy exercises written in an old copybook if he were the
speaker in these Latter Sonnets, making most incredible confessions on an
amour of his own; confiding them to his private Diary or his "private
friends," and at the same time obviously drawing the subject matter from
the Sonnets of Sidney, and exaggerating his exaggeration, feature by
feature, line by line, in Sonnet after Sonnet! That is simply
inconceivable, and, as the metaphysicians say, totally incapable of being
positively imaged. In thus trying to think of our Poet sitting in
sackcloth, self-dishonoured, self-dethroned, in the place where he had dug
the grave of his own good repute for honesty, manliness, common sense, and
the shrewdest sagacity, and deliberately buried it with his own hands, we
should be simply and unnecessarily damning ourselves, not Shakspeare.
But he HAS gone back to outdo
Sidney. He HAS taken his cues from Sidney.
He has adopted arguments, imagery, and puns from Sidney. He has
reproduced the beauty in black, the raven eyes that mourned in black, the
black stars that were the eyes of Sidney's Stella; he has painted her as
black all over, as "black as hell, as dark as night," after she had
somewhat realized the extravagant declarations of Sidney. He has
likewise punned upon the lady's married name of Rich, in obviously
intentional imitation of Sidney. In short, he has responded to an
encore and a recall made for Sidney. All this would be
rigorously impossible without, some other purpose than that of wooing a
wanton for himself with Sonnets that could not have served his turn.
Sidney's Sonnets had been published, and were better known than his own.
They were well known to the "'private friends" for whom Shakspeare's were
written. The satire of allusions to personal character could not be
recognized nor the hints taken except by those who were familiar with
Sidney's, with Stella herself, her complexion, age, and character, when
she had become the black star, the breaker of marriage vows, and the
skilful political plotter in later life. Therefore my final
conclusion is, that the Latter Sonnets were composed at William Herbert's
request on the same subject as Sidney's, with the variations introduced by
Lady Rich's later life and character. Such is the riddle read at
It is a matter of indifference to my present argument
whether there was any liaison or not betwixt Herbert and Lady Rich; the
view that there was could not be successfully combated on the score of
reputation, as he was a libertine and she a Light-o'-Love. Moreover,
it is noteworthy that Lady Rich had five children after leaving her first
husband's bed, whereas Lord Mountjoy only acknowledged and provided for
three of them.
But it is enough for my purpose to show that Stella is the
person covertly aimed at by "Will" Herbert as speaker of the Latter
Sonnets, which show the reverse to the obverse of the same
poetic coinage. If there was any real infatuation, then Shakspeare
has laughed at and made fun of the passion professed by Herbert, as in
Sonnets 138 and 143; he has fought against it in Sonnets 131, 137, 148,
and he has seriously rebuked it in Sonnets 129 and 146.
In reply to one of Languet's letters Sidney wrote—
"Alas, have I not pain enough, my friend,
Upon whose breast a fiercer gripe 
Than did on him who first stole down the fire,
While Love on me doth all his quiver spend,—
But with your RHUBARB-WORDS
ye must contend,
To grieve me worse,—in saying that desire
Doth, plunge my well-formed soul even in the mire
Of sinful thoughts, which, do in ruin end?"
And in Sonnets 129, 146, and others, Shakspeare writes as if he were
administering HIS medicine in the character of
But it is not necessary to assume one, and it is
certain that the Sonnets could not have promoted any love-suit with the
lady; enough that the themes are based upon Sidney's.
Whatsoever the confusion outside of the Sonnets,
Shakspeare has left us a summing-up by the best of all
judges—himself—within. He tells us that the long early series was
written on love in truth, and on truth in love. He is just as
emphatic in showing that the subject of the Latter Sonnets is lust or
Falsehood in Love. I regret having to show that Shakspeare should
have been induced to parody Sidney's Sonnets in this way. But there
is the fact, and no help for it. That, at least, is no moot question
henceforth. The thing was done indubitably and indelibly. This
remains the truth independently of the question as to what the purpose
was, or who the persons were. The conditions under which the Latter
Sonnets were written further show that the Herbert Series could not have
been composed by the Poet with any thought of publication, consequently
the sin against Sidney, the profanity of parody, and the cruelty to Lady
Rich, were limited to the writer and instigator so long as the Sonnets
were preserved in their privacy. Nor were they printed until after
the death of Stella, and then, as already shown, with the evident
intention of not unveiling the dark lady's face and age in open court.
The sum of Shakspeare's offence now is, that he lent
his pen to "fashion this false sport "for young Will Herbert, and extended
the jest to a burlesque of some of Sidney's Sonnets, but most certainly
with no thought of the thing going beyond the privacy of a privileged
friendship. All was changed by the Sonnets being put into print.
Thus, at the risk of making the personal theorists look confounded and
foolish, we have now reduced the greatest of all Shakspearean tragedies to
the proportions of a comedy or a farce. Indeed, the Latter Sonnets
contain the farce or afterpiece that followed the serious and even
tragical realities of the Southampton Series.