Sidney, Sir Phillip: Sidney’s set of sonnets Astrophel and Stella, written in
the 1580s, provided a model for similar sequences in the 1590s.
The combination of a sustained romantic conceit and a numerological
ordering in Astrophel and Stella provides a precedent for the more complex
and precise structuring of Shakespeare’s philosophy in the Sonnets. The
sequential arrangement of the various parts of Astrophel and Stella by Sidney
corresponds to the linear pattern adopted by Shakespeare in the Sonnets.
Son: In the increase* sonnets the youth* is told to get himself a son. There
is no mention of a need to get a daughter.
The philosophy* of the Sonnets is based in the priority* of the female
over the male. The structure of the whole set with Nature* as the sovereign
mistress*, and the Mistress* sequence being prior to the Master Mistress* or
youth sequence, leaves no doubt of Shakespeare’s priorities. So the mention
of son in two of the increase sonnets relates to the fact that the protagonist
at that point in the sequence is a male youth. In sonnet 13 the youth is
reminded that as he had a father then he should beget a son. The need for
continuity through the return of the male to the female is at issue rather
than any gender preference.
Sonnet: The form of the Shakespearean sonnet lends itself to the
expression of ideas* and argument*, in the guise of poetry.
The form of the regular sonnet, with its 14 lines and a defined rhythm
and rhyme scheme, facilitates the presentation and development of an idea
and its associated sensations*. The division of the verses into quatrains* and
a couplet allows the idea to be argued for by way of thesis, antithesis,
conclusion, and summary. Shakespeare’s Sonnets combine aesthetics* and
ethics* with a philosophic consistency unprecedented before or after his
time. By exhibiting his understanding in argumentative poetry Shakespeare
not only presents a consistent* philosophy unmatched for its brilliance, he
also demonstrates its practicability in the unequalled poetry of the Sonnets.
Soul: From sonnet 20 (the first of the truth* and beauty* sonnets) onwards
the word soul is mentioned 14 times throughout the set. The soul is the
capacity of the mind*, in its relationship to the heart*, that generates
In the logic of the Sonnets, the soul does not exist independent of
Nature*. The word soul does not appear in the increase sonnets as it occurs
only in the sonnets dealing with human understanding or truth and beauty.
Shakespeare identifies the soul as a characteristic of the mind where sensations*
and thoughts* interact to create imaginary possibilities. Rather than
being independent of the natural world, the soul is dependant on the
dynamic of the human mind.
Sovereign mistress: In sonnet 126, Nature* is called the sovereign
mistress. Nature as the sovereign mistress identifies the principal entity of
the Sonnets as logically female whose priority over the male is critical for an
appreciation of the consistent* philosophy of the Sonnets.
Although Nature is called the sovereign mistress only once in the set,
the logical structure of the whole set, and the positioning of the point of
identification in sonnet 126, the last of the Master Mistress* sonnets, all point
to the significance in the Sonnet logic. The set of 154 Sonnets, by representing
Nature, incorporates both unity and diversity (or the antithesis to unity).
Similarly, the Mistress* sequence has unity and diversity. By contrast, the
Master Mistress sequence is less than unity. (These properties are clearly
exhibited in their numerological* values.) The youth, as a male, lacks the
complexity of the sovereign mistress and the Mistress. The Mistress then is
a direct derivation from the sovereign mistress, and the Master Mistress is a
consequent development of the Mistress featuring only aspects of her physiological
and psychological constitution. The Mistress sequence, which
presents the logical relation of beauty* and truth*, is parenthesised by the
word Mistress (in sonnets 127 and 154). Similarly, the Master Mistress
sonnets that deal with truth and beauty are parenthesised by ‘Master Mistress’
at sonnet 20, and ‘sovereign mistress’ at sonnet 126. The occurrence of the
sovereign mistress in sonnet 126 both identifies Nature as the final auditor
of the Master Mistress, and heralds the Mistress sequence beginning at sonnet
127. Significant also is the lower case given to the sovereign mistress. As a
name for the whole of Nature, the sovereign mistress is not the proper name
for a god-like or goddess-like entity but the logical condition of Nature seen
from the human perspective.
Spenser, Edmund: The poet Edmund Spenser was a contemporary of
Shakespeare who, in keeping with the fashion of the day, wrote a sonnet
Spenser wrote numerologically* based sequences of poems that may have
influenced Shakespeare (along with other influences) to numerologically
structure the consistent philosophy of his set. Unlike Shakespeare who found
a way beyond the internecine conflicts of the Christian Reformation,
Spenser was a committed Puritan whose verse lacks the philosophic scope
and poetic rigour evident in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Spirit: The word spirit is used throughout the truth and beauty sonnets
to represent the natural life force in a particular human being, or a sense of
intuitive* connection between protagonists. The exception is sonnet 129,
where the capital S on ‘Spirit’ indicates its more specific intent.
In most instances the word spirit is used to convey the sense of intuitive
communication between the Poet and the youth*, or the lively characteristics
of the Poet or youth evident one to the other. But in sonnet 129 ‘Spirit’
seems to be identified more closely with the disembodied Spirit of faith or
belief that wastes the sexual logic of understanding. The sonnet condemns
the idealised excesses of the Church whose lust for otherworldly desires is
a ‘waste’ consequent on the Church’s divorce from Nature. When the word
spirit is used beyond its natural sense as an intuitive or immediate awareness
of qualities or defects in others, it creates a ‘hell*’ instead of the desired
Spring: The four seasons are referred to throughout the Master Mistress
sequence. Spring has particular significance as it is the time of increase*. As the philosophy of the Sonnets is based in Nature* then the natural
logic of the seasons has a direct relevance for the logical requirement that
Store: The word store is used in the Sonnets to characterise the requirement
Store expresses the potential to increase, or the use of increase to provide
for the future through posterity*. Its use in the pivotal increase sonnets, 11
and 14, establishes its meaning in relation to increase.
Summer: When the Poet* considers his advancing years, he depicts
himself as experiencing a winter* compared with the summer of the youth*.
The seasons occur only in the Master Mistress* sequence because the
Mistress*, as a direct derivation from the sovereign mistress*, is one with
Nature* and the natural cycle. The Poet imagines himself as absent in winter
from the beauty* and bounty of the youth’s summer and autumn*. The
metaphor of the seasons is used to impress on the youth his logical
connection to the possibility of increase* in spring.
Tautology: By identifying the logical conditions for truth* and beauty*
in the Sonnets, Shakespeare’s natural philosophy provides a clear insight into
the contradictions* and tautologies in systems of thought that invert the
logical conditions in Nature for social/political gain.
As defined in the Sonnets, truth and beauty are synonymous with ideas*
and sensations*, or ethics* and aesthetics*. To talk of beauty in terms of
ethics is contradictory, just as to talk of truth in terms of ethics is tautological.
For instance, the phrase ‘science* of ethics’ is a tautology or ‘ethics of ethics’
if it implies an investigation of the logic of ethics. The relation of truth and
beauty to natural logic defines when thought or language makes sense and
when it makes no sense. By being clear about the logic of ethics and
aesthetics Shakespeare is clear about contradiction and tautology. His clarity
allows him to use the limitations of language in his plays to evoke sensations
and to invoke ideas at will, creating a language at once exact and selfreflexive.
By comparison, Wittgenstein* confounded his clarity about the
logical function of contradiction and tautology because he was confused
about the logic of ethics and aesthetics. By not accepting ethics as the
dynamic of language, he thought ethics was aesthetics.
Templates: Throughout the presentation of Shakespeare’s philosophy* in
this volume, templates have been created to represent the precise logical
The form of the templates is based on the structure of the whole set and
its two parts as evident in Q. The relationship is one in which a division in
Nature* forms female and male possibilities. The simple pattern of one entity
dividing into two or two reuniting to form one is observable in the increase*
argument, and in the truth* and beauty* dynamic. The four templates give a
graphic sense of the logical relationships expressed in the Sonnets. The
templates are then brought together in the complete template to give an
image of the philosophic structure of the whole set. The complete template
shows that Shakespeare’s philosophy represents the relation between Nature
and the mind with the correct logical multiplicity*. The template can then be
used to demonstrate the inconsistencies in other systems of thought.
Theatre: Shakespeare was acutely aware of the different demands of staging
a play in the theatre and reading a set of Sonnets. In the Sonnets he presents
his philosophy with a logical coherence that would have been impossible
to convey on the stage to an audience.
The Sonnets demand concentration and familiarisation over a period of
time. The characters in the Sonnets have generic names and their structuring
separates out the principal elements into the linear development of a logical
pattern of thought. The plays, by contrast, while they express exactly the
same philosophy, do so through dramatic and theatric means as entertainment
for an audience. Ironically, the difficulty commentators have had
understanding the philosophy of the Sonnets over the last 400 years has led
them to consider the Sonnets inferior to the dramatic expression of the same
philosophy on the stage.
Their/thy: In 1790 the Rev. Edmund Malone altered the meanings of fifty
or more words in Q (over and above the fifteen or so obvious spelling errors)
because from his Christian perspective the text appeared corrupt. He made
the most telling changes to a number of instances to the word ‘their’.
Because Malone could not determine a meaning for the offending
‘theirs’ he changed them to ‘thy’. It is no small coincidence that the changes
to ‘thy’ met his psychological expectation that Shakespeare was writing to
an ideal young man. Malone’s expectation has persisted to the present day
where academics are still attempting to justify Malone’s prejudice. The
reading of the Sonnets presented in these volumes finds the offending words
to have an exact meaning in the Sonnet philosophy, indicating the editors
have approached the Sonnets with an inadequate understanding of
Shakespeare’s philosophy. Rather than address the inadequacy of their own
beliefs or expectations the editors instead accuse the defenseless compositors
of excessive carelessness.
Them and they: Significant emendations* were made to the Sonnets
because editors could not find a suitable referent for a few crucial ‘theirs’. These volumes demonstrate that the ‘their’ is plural because it refers to
both of the eyes* of sight of the Poet or youth*. Other plural pronouns such
as them and they are also associated logically with ‘eyes’ or ‘sight’.
Thorpe, Thomas: A well-known publisher of his day, Thorpe registered
and saw through the press the publication of Q in 1609.
These volumes show that Shakespeare adapted the standard Thorpe
Dedication* to his own ends, and indicated his cryptic intent by not giving
his version a literal meaning. By adjusting the number of words and punctuation
he was able to encapsulate, in a cryptic form, the numerological*
structure of the whole set and its parts as well as other features including
the notorious reference to a ‘Mr. W. H.’. He even uses Thorpe’s initials, ‘T.
T.’ as part of his scheme.
Thought: For Shakespeare, all thought and spoken language is logically
part of the dynamic of truth*. In the Sonnets the determination or judgment
between right and wrong that leads to sound knowledge occurs in the
processes of thought or its expression in language.
A logical distinction is drawn between beauty as sensations* and truth
as thought, verse, argument*, etc. It is a logical distinction because, if it not
adhered to, the result is inconsistency and contradiction*. Beauty is any
sensation unmediated by thought, just as truth is the ‘endless jar’ between
the capacity of language to express right and wrong.
Time: Periods of time such as the division of years into 12 months, of a
day into 12 liturgical hours, and an hour into 60 minutes, are recognised in
the Sonnets as constructs of thought.
In the Master Mistress sequence, time is conceived as Nature’s agent in
the continuum of life. When the Poet warns the youth* that time’s scythe
will, at death, render him into the sovereign mistress Nature*, he stresses
that life* does not end with an individual’s death*. If the youth imagines he
will experience a release from life at the time of death he is wrong. He will
either persist in Nature if he does not increase*, or persist in Nature by
increasing into posterity*. Traditional attempts to misrepresent the period
from ‘birth to death’ as the duration between ‘life and death’ are as arbitrary
as the conventional divisions into hours and months. In the Sonnets, the
pattern of 12x12 sonnets for time from sonnet 10 to 153 is not coincident
with the limits of the set or Nature to recognise the abstract nature of
conventional periods of time.
Troilus and Cressida: Ulysses’ speech on degrees of responsibility in Troilus
and Cressida is noteworthy for its parallels with the Sonnet understanding of
the logic of truth*.
Ulysses argues that every level of a hierarchy must take full responsibility
for its duties to all the other levels. A king and his subjects are on the same
level when it comes to ‘degree, priority, and place’. He refers to justice as
the ‘endless jar’ between ‘right and wrong’. This is consistent with the logic
of the truth dynamic in the Sonnets. Truth is the process of saying or deciding
between right and wrong. According to Ulysses, if the ‘names’ of truth as
right and wrong are ‘lost’, then justice also loses its name. In the language
of the Sonnets, if the truth component of the dynamic of truth and beauty*
is voided at any level in the hierarchy, animal sensation or ‘appetite’would
take power at that level. Observance of degree down the hierarchy is conditional
on the natural logic of every person being respected for an effective
functioning of the truth dynamic or ethics*. If all power is concentrated in
a king, justice would be voided because of the lack of respect for the natural
rights down the hierarchy. Truth or justice operates only when both king
and subjects adhere to natural logic.
Truth: The word truth first occurs in sonnet 14 where the priority of
increase over truth and beauty*, or the dynamic of ideas* and sensations*,
Because of its sensory nature, the increase* dynamic of the first 14
sonnets mentions only beauty until the final few lines of sonnet 14. Then,
in preparation for the critique of truth and beauty in sonnets 15 to 126,
the dynamic of truth and beauty is introduced twice. Sonnet 14 shows
how judgments lead to knowledge out of the logic of increase. The
Master Mistress is advised that the dynamic of truth and beauty will meet
its ‘doom and date’ if he fails to appreciate its natural logic. Sonnet 17,
which introduces the word verse into the youth sequence, identifies truth
with the ‘tongue’ and so with the process of determining true and false in
language. The following sonnets then consider the logical implications of
the truth and beauty dynamic for the Master Mistress*, with the words
truth and beauty appearing together in a sonnet a further seven times. In
the Mistress* sequence the relation between truth and beauty is defined
precisely. Sonnet 127 mentions beauty 6 times and the notion of beauty is
explored until the transitional sonnet 137 mentions beauty and then truth
in terms of seeing and saying respectively. Sonnet 138 then mentions truth
twice with the Mistress ‘saying’ something for the first time. The
exploration continues until sonnet 152 where truth is again mentioned
twice. The deliberate presentation of the logical relation of truth and
beauty in the Mistress sonnets is in keeping with her status as the origin
of the male possibility and so the possibility of truth and beauty. Sonnet
152, with its litany of swearing of oaths and vows, firmly links truth to the
process of saying. Truth corresponds to ethics as the ‘endless jar’ between
‘right and wrong’ within the dynamic language, while beauty is the
aesthetic or any form of sensation. It is illogical to talk of ideal or absolute
truth because such possibilities are singular sensations in the mind. The
sexual dynamic in Nature* and the logic of increase provide the ground
upon with ethical determinations are made.
Venus and Adonis: Shakespeare wrote his long poem Venus and Adonis in
1593. It is remarkable for its correspondences with the Sonnet philosophy*.
Shakespeare reworked Ovid’s poem of the same name to make it
conform to his understanding of the logical relation between the female and
the male in Nature. In doing so he critiques the inversion of the female/male
relationship in Platonic* and biblical understanding. His argument in Venus
and Adonis echoes the examination of the logical relation of the Poet and
the Master Mistress* in the Sonnets. There are also explicit references to the
increase* argument. The audit* of Adonis by Venus in the form of a boar
is a direct consequence of Adonis’ refusal to accept the logic of increase. He
is killed, and the flower or issue that grows out of his blood is symbolically
plucked and taken off by Venus to represent his return to Nature* without
Verse: The word verse is introduced in sonnet 17, the third of the 5 poetry
and increase sonnets. Increase is prior to the possibility of verse.
Throughout the Master Mistress sequence the Poet draws a distinction
between his own verse and that of the rival poets*. Their verse is full of
rhyme and style but has no substance. Though the Poet may not match the
rival poets in poetic skills he knows his expression of love*, which is founded
on a consistent* philosophy, ensures the consistent* logic in the content* of
Winter: Winter is the season the Poet most associates with himself. He
represents himself as aged and so beyond the youthful potential to increase*.
While the Poet has the knowledge necessary to write poetry of great
truth* and beauty* he knows all that is vain if the logical requirement to
increase is not acknowledged.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Wittgenstein, the Austrian/English philosopher,
attempted to develop a consistent* philosophy for the relationship between
the world as it exists and the capacity of language to depict the world. He
failed in his first attempt and then revised his thinking to come close to the
possibility in his second period.
Wittgenstein understood that the logic of the world was inherent in the
language of humankind, so language did not need logical reform as
advocated by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell. He sought a model for
language that would have the correct multiplicity to represent the world.
In the Tractatus he used the imagery of atomic physics to create a picture of
the logic of language. When this attempt failed he gradually moved to a
system based on natural processes. He used biological metaphors to account
for the multiplicity of language ‘games’. He residual commitment, though,
to the biblical view of the world made a complete break from the influence
of traditional apologetics* difficult. The consistent* and comprehensive
philosophy Shakespeare articulates in the Sonnets demonstrates where
Wittgenstein was right and where he went wrong.
Youth: The Master Mistress* or the male in the Sonnets is a young man
variously referred to as a boy, friend, or youth.
In the four volumes the male is called either Master Mistress or youth
to emphasise his adolescence, and to recognise the times the Poet* considers
the youth as a persona* of his own youthful experiences. The absence of
personal names for the major protagonists in the Sonnets is a philosophic
tactic that enables the Poet to consider both persons external to himself, and
personae internalised in the Poet’s philosophic constitution. The names
Master Mistress or youth best capture these possibilities, whereas friend and
boy are simply terms of endearment or redress.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005