When in the Chronicle of wasted time,
Sonnet 106 addresses the relation between the ‘beauty’ of the youth and the
limited ability of words to represent his ‘worth’. The full ‘beauty’ of life, the
myriad of sensations and singular ideas, can only be hinted at in poetry. This
is a constant theme throughout the 154 sonnets. They argue for the priority
of the physical world over the world represented in books.
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of Ladies dead, and lovely Knights,
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique Pen would have expressed,
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring,
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not still enough your worth to sing:
For we which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
In sonnet 106, the Poet reads the ‘Chronicle of wasted time’ (106.1) and
imagines the ‘beauty’ of ‘Ladies dead, and lovely Knights’ (106.4) of times
gone by. Their ‘beauty’ inspired antique poets to write ‘beautiful rhyme’.
But the Chronicle cannot record the ‘worth’ of the complete person when
it transmutes their external beauty into ‘beautiful old rhyme’ (106.3).
The Poet can see how ‘even such a beauty’, which the youth ‘masters
now’ (106.8), would be reduced to mere words by ‘antique Pens’ (106.7).
When he looks at the words arranged on the page, such as ‘hand, foot, lips,
eye, and brow’ (106.6) they seem like the emblems blazed on (106.5) a coat
of arms or similar device.
All the ‘praises’ of the poets of old are but ‘prophecies of this our time’
(106.10) because, even today, words remain words. Even if they looked with
‘divining eyes’ they would still not be able to say enough to ‘sing’ the youth’s
real ‘worth’ (106.12). A Chronicle can only create a word image of how
things were then or how things are now. The process of physical increase
down the generations that connects the ‘worth’ of those days with the
‘worth’ of the youth ‘now’ cannot be captured in words.
In the couplet, ‘we’ who are alive ‘now’ can use our ‘eyes to wonder’ at
the full potential of the living youth. Such potential cannot be adequately
put into words because we ‘lack tongues to praise’ its living ‘worth’. In
Hamlet, Shakespeare famously addresses the inadequacy of ‘words, words,
words’ because they are secondary to the dynamic of life.
In previous sonnets the words ‘Pen’, ‘tongue’, ‘eyes’, have doubled as
sexual puns. With these puns Shakespeare evokes the physical dimension
mere words lack. He cannot emulate the physical process of life with words
but he can use puns to suggest its ‘worth’. The puns are also a warning for
those who wish to misread the Sonnets. Yet editors persist in making changes
to words that do not conform to their preferred reading of the youth as an
ideal beauty. They revert to an early version of sonnet 106 (from before
1599) that had ‘skill’ in line 12. They reject Shakespeare’s more precise
meaning for the 1609 edition that, whatever words evoke, they ‘still’ cannot
replace the youth’s natural worth.
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul,
Shakespeare lived at a time when the sectarian conflict between Catholic
and Protestant, and the advance of science (epitomised by Bacon’s scientific
method and his tirade against the worship of idols), may have encouraged
him to develop his consistent philosophy based in nature. Sonnet 107, as
part of the truth and beauty sequence to the youth, contributes to the
expression of Shakespeare’s nature-based philosophy. But because commentators
are ignorant of sonnet 107’s philosophic purpose, they have instead
written volumes about the identity of ‘the mortal Moon’ as Queen
Elizabeth, or about the Spanish Armada in formation, and even the idea that
line 12 refers to the rebellion of the Earl of Essex.
Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal Moon hath her eclipse indured,
And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,
Incertainties now crown them-selves assured,
And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since spite of him I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.
The content of sonnet 107 is revealed when it is related to the philosophy
of the whole set. Particularly important for understanding the role of the
mortal Moon is the priority the Sonnets give to the female over the male.
The Poet’s ‘true love’ (107.3), or his feelings based in the persistence of
humankind, cannot be ‘controlled’by his own ‘fears’, or the ‘prophetic soul’
(107.1) of a world that spends more time ‘dreaming on things to come’ than
enjoying ‘the drops of this most balmy time’ (107.9). The ‘lease’ on his love
cannot be ‘forfeited’ to a ‘confined doom’ (107.4), or a belief that ‘prophesises’
the doom of humankind to enhance the ‘dream’ of everlasting life.
In the logic of the Sonnets the ‘mortal Moon’ (107.5) refers to the 28
Mistress sonnets. The number 28 identifies the Mistress with the lunar cycle
of womanhood. By the same logic, the Mistress also has priority over the
youth or male. So line 5 suggests the ‘mortal Moon’ has ‘endured’ or survived
her ‘eclipse’ by the male God. The ‘sad Augurs’ (107.6) that predicted her
‘doom’ now mock those predictions by their own failure. When compared
with the instability of the Church, the ‘uncertainties’ once attributed to
‘Mother Nature’ can ‘now crown themselves assured’.
Once the female is restored to her rightful place, ‘peace proclaims Olives
of endless age’ (107.8). The Poet’s ‘love looks fresh’ (107.10) because it is
renewed from generation to generation. ‘Death’now ‘subscribes’ to the Poet
because to ‘spite’ death (107.11) his poetry acknowledges the persistence of
life. ‘Death’ is accused of ‘insulting’ the intelligence of supposedly ‘dull and
speechless tribes’ (107.12), who live in harmony with nature.
The couplet affirms the youth will ‘find thy monument’ in the content
of the Poet’s verse. As in sonnet 55, it is the ‘content’ of the verse and not
the verse itself that survives. Books perish along with ‘tyrants crests and
tombs of brass’ while the mortal Moon rises again and again.
What's in the brain that Ink may character,
In Shakespeare’s philosophy the body, or its persistence through the increase
process, is logically prior to the mind, or the possibility of understanding as
truth and beauty. The Poet’s ‘true spirit’ (108.2), or sense of life, is already
‘figured’ in the youth’s ‘brain’ (108.1). There is ‘nothing’ (108.5) in the
youth’s brain, or his own brain, that the Poet can express, which is not
logically prefigured in the body. There is nothing ‘new to speak’ or to
‘register’ (108.3) that ‘Ink may character’ that is better able to express the
Poet’s ‘love’ or the ‘dear merit’ (108.4) of the youth. Their ‘love’ is selfevident
in the relation between the body and mind. ‘Ink may character’
(108.1) the relation but can say ‘nothing’ new.
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit,
What's new to speak, what now to register,
That may express my love, or thy dear merit?
Nothing sweet boy, but yet like prayers divine,
I must each day say o'er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love's fresh case,
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred,
Where time and outward form would show it dead.
Yet the Poet, as a person with a mind aware of truth and beauty, wants
to write. But his poetry seems no more than ‘prayers divine’ (108.5), because,
logically, he must repeat ‘the very same…each day’ (see sonnet 76). His
sonnets mimic the rhythm of life where youth follows youth, generation
after generation. Because the Poet was also once young, he counts ‘no old
thing old’ (108.7). He identifies with the youthful potential of youth, ‘thou
mine’, just as the youth identifies with his old age, ‘I thine’. The Poet corrects
the illogical emphasis of the biblical ‘hallowed be thy name’ to recall the
moment when he ‘first hallowed thy fair name’ (108.8). Naming is the
‘hallowing’ of a newborn because the dynamic of language derives from the
dynamic of life. Shakespeare suggests that prayer makes no sense apart from
the natural rhythms of life.
By understanding the natural logic between the first ‘naming’ and saying
‘nothing’, the Poet is able to relate the ‘old’ idea of ‘eternal love’ to the
increase process. If love is renewed every generation in a ‘fresh case’ or body
(108.9), it should not feel the weight of death’s ‘dust’ or the ‘injury of age’
(108.10). By making ‘antiquity’, or past generations, his ‘page’ (108.12) or
paper, he can write with sense even if he repeats himself.
In the couplet, by combining the sense of writing on a ‘page’, and the
progression through ‘antiquity’ to the present day, the Poet sees the act of
naming, or ‘first conceit’, as being logically related to the idea of being ‘bred’.
This is contrary to old beliefs, based on ‘time’ and ‘outward form’, that the
youthful body is best shown ‘dead’. While Shakespeare says he has ‘nothing’
to say because all is evident in the youth’s ‘brain’, he is pointing to a positive
source of inspiration in life superior to the implicit death wish of the old
system of prayer.
O never say that I was false of heart,
Throughout the Sonnets, the theme of ‘absence’ (109.2) is a metaphor for
the age difference between the older Poet and the youth (see sonnets 50/51).
Invariably the Poet also takes account of the distance he ‘travels’ (109.6) from
the idealistic expectations of his younger ‘self ’ to his mature understanding.
The Poet knows that if he represents the relation to his youthful experiences
correctly he addresses the logical requirement for maturity.
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart,
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love, if I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that my self bring water for my stain,
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
For nothing this wide Universe I call,
Save thou my Rose, in it thou art my all.
The Poet’s ‘soul’ (109.4), or imaginary mind, lies in the ‘breast’ of the
youth. The knowledge gained by the Poet as a youth, remains an integral
part of his mature understanding. He cannot ‘depart’ from the youthful spirit
he once knew, even though ‘absence’ has qualified his ‘flame’ (109.2), or
reduced his capacity for passion. His truth to the spirit of youth means it
can ‘never’ be said he was ‘false of heart’ (109.1). The youth is his ‘home of
love’ (109.5) because that is where he inherited the possibility of love. The
mature Poet ‘returns’ to the youth from his ‘travels’ (109.6) because life
persists through the spirit of youth.
To remove the ‘stain’ of youth the Poet returns ‘to the time’ (109.8) when
he was young. Because his youth is a part of him, he does not view dying
as a period of ‘time exchanged’ for some other time. He ‘brings’ his own
‘water’ to baptise the ‘stain’ (109.7), or cleanse youth’s willfulness toward life.
The ‘stain’ is the tendency in youth to be beguiled by excessive idealistic
expectations. Shakespeare turns the stain of original sin around to identify
the real stain as the excessive idealism that leads to natural increase being
characterised as evil. After all, every human being alive was, is, and will be
increased into the world.
The ‘frailties’ (109.10) that ‘reigned’ in the Poet’s youthful nature ‘besiege
all kinds of blood’ relations or life based on increase (compare 67.9). There
is ‘nothing’, though, that can ‘so preposterously be stained’ (109.11), or so
unnaturally determined against life, that it can ‘leave for nothing’ youth’s
‘sum of good’ (109.12). As long as youth persists there is hope.
The couplet repeats the theme of sonnet 14, which rejects the stars of
heaven in favour of the truth and beauty in the eyes of the youth. The Poet
calls the ‘wide Universe’ ‘nothing’ compared with the youth who is his
‘Rose’. The Poet’s ‘Rose’, or the beauty associated with increase in the first
two lines of sonnet 1, is his ‘all’. In Shakespeare’s philosophy there can be
no maturity or completeness without first acknowledging the need to
perpetuate human life.
Alas 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
In the early 1590’s Shakespeare gave expression to his consistent philosophy
of life in poems such as Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, and in the early plays.
His decision to articulate the philosophy in a set of numbered sonnets was
most likely influenced by the publication at the time of sonnet sequences
by other poets. He had included sonnets in Romeo and Juliet, and the basic
ideas behind sonnet 14 are paraphrased in Love’s Labour’s Lost. The decision
to present his philosophy in a dedicated sonnet sequence released the plays
from the requirement to present a structured philosophic argument. The
plays were free to develop theatrically and dramatically, with the philosophy
acting as the underlying motive force.
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new.
Most true it is, that I have looked on truth
Askance and strangely: But by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love,
Now all is done, have what shall have no end,
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A God in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
By the time Shake-speares Sonnets were published in 1609, they had been
arranged into a highly systematic expression of his philosophy. The difficulty
commentators have in understanding individual sonnets is directly
related to their inability to appreciate the philosophy of the set. Most have
dismissed Shakespeare as having no philosophy, and the Sonnets are seen as
autobiographical or as a mismatched set of poetic conceits.
In sonnet 110 Shakespeare, as the Poet, recalls the process he went
through to discover the living philosophy present in his ‘breast’ (110.14).
‘Tis true’, he says, he went here and there expressing a ‘motley’ of ‘views’
(110.2). He ignored his inner ‘thoughts’ for the ‘views’ of others. He turned
his ‘new affections’ into the typical ‘offences’ of ‘old’ (110.4). He looked on
‘truth askance and strangely’ (110.6).
When ‘truth’ (‘the endless jar’ between ‘right and wrong’) is used
logically, it is the process of ‘thought’, ‘essays’, or the sharing of ‘views’,
which enables the Poet to assess the nature of the ‘old offences’. These
‘blenches’ or testing enquiries, gave his ‘heart an other youth’ (110.7). It led
him to the ‘proof ’ that youth is the source and driving force of ‘love’ (110.8).
The Sonnet dynamic, from nature, through increase, to truth and beauty, is
the basis for a sound philosophy of love.
‘Now’, because the Poet has matured, ‘all is done’ (110.9). He has no
need to ‘grind’ his ‘appetite’ on ‘newer proof ’ (110.11). He will no longer
‘try an older friend’, or youth, whom he considers the true ‘God in love’
(110.12). Youth confines his expectations. His going ‘here and there’ has
led him back to the ‘pure and most most loving breast’ of nature.
In the couplet, the Poet has found his ‘heaven’ on earth and, as he values
his youth, he welcomes it as his next ‘best’. Not appreciating Shakespeare’s
profound logic with its critique of traditional beliefs, most editors remove
the capital G from ‘God’.
O for my sake do you wish fortune chide,
In Shakespeare’s philosophy, Nature the sovereign mistress incorporates all
possibilities, good and evil, true and false, right and wrong. The Mistress,
as the representative of the human female, derives directly from nature, and
so embodies all human possibilities. As the Mistress is the source of beauty
(seeing) and truth (saying), she both senses or sees the natural relation
between what is best and what is worst (sonnet 137), and is able to articulate
or say what is true and what is false.
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide,
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the Dyer's hand,
Pity me then, and wish I were renewed,
Whilst like a willing patient I will drink,
Potions of Eisel 'gainst my strong infection,
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance to correct correction.
Pity me then dear friend, and I assure ye,
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.
The Master Mistress or youth is the male possibility derived from the
Mistress. The youth needs to recover the natural logic of truth and beauty
in their relation to the potential for increase in nature. The youth’s existence
and his understanding are determined by the logical requirement to return
to the Mistress for the perpetuation of humankind. If he does not perpetuate
himself, he will be reabsorbed into nature without issue.
In sonnet 111 the Poet asks the youth if he ‘wishes’ to ‘chide’ the ‘guilty
goddess of my harmful deeds’ (111.2). The ‘guilty goddess’ represents the
aspect of nature that corresponds to the Mistress. In sonnet 110 the Poet
had lamented selling himself cheaply to the false views that led him to
devalue the importance of youth in the persistence of life. He now questions
whether the Mistress can be blamed for his succumbing to ‘public means’
and ‘public manners’ (111.4). When public beliefs and morals are contrary
to natural logic such a view ‘breeds’ a situation that does not ‘better’ provide
for the Poet’s ‘life’. The ‘goddess’ cannot be blamed for the ‘harmful deeds’
if the idealism that drives the deeds falsifies the justice of her natural love.
Because the Poet had once ignored natural logic he accepts that ‘my
name receives a brand’ (111.5), or mark of guilt. He can no more escape
nature than a Dyer’s hand escape the dye in which ‘it works’ (111.7). The
Poet has learnt to subdue his ‘nature’ to act in accord with nature. He asks
for the youth’s ‘pity’ so that his own energy can be ‘renewed’. He is willing
to accept the necessary remedy, or ‘potions of Eisel’, to cure his ‘strong
infection’ (111.10). Nothing would be too ‘bitter’ to cure the ‘bitterness’ of
his guilt. He will do ‘double penance to correct correction’ (111.12) because
traditional religious penance leads to a false reverence for false views.
In the couplet the Poet appeals to the pity of youth to sustain him in
youth’s true purpose. Such friendly pity would be ‘enough to cure me’.
Editors change ‘wish’ (111.1) to ‘with’ because they do not understand the
logic of the set. They perpetrate the guilt associated with natural events for
which Shakespeare provides the logical remedy.
Your love and pity doth th'impression fill,
Sonnet 112 hints at the transformation some sonnets written in the 1590s
may have undergone as Shakespeare modified and then welded them
together as an expression of his philosophy by 1609. In its final form, the
theme of 112 follows directly on from 110 and 111. The Poet rectifies his
past ‘neglect’ by accepting the life potential of youth.
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow,
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-greene my bad, my good allow?
You are my All the world, and I must strive,
To know my shames and praises from your tongue,
None else to me, nor I to none alive
That my steeled sense or changes right or wrong,
In so profound Abysm I throw all care
Of others voices, that my Adder's sense,
To critic and to flatterer stopped are:
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense.
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides me thinks y'are dead.
But there are also hints in sonnet 112 of the offence given Shakespeare
in 1592 when Robert Greene called him an ‘upstart crow’. The offence
seems to be alluded to with the mention of ‘vulgar scandal’ (112.2) and ‘o’ergreene’
(112.3). If the original sonnet was written to rebut Greene, its
revision to convey the Sonnet philosophy now supersedes the original
purpose. The present form of the sonnet does not make sense as an account
of Shakespeare’s response because Greene was on his deathbed in 1592. The
meaning of o’er-greene has been given an ironical twist to convey the
recovery of the Poet’s love for the potential of youth.
The youth o’er-greenes or over-grows the void left by the ‘bad’ views
attributed to the Poet so that his ‘good’ views will thrive (112.4). The Poet’s
appreciation of the dynamic of truth, or ‘well or ill’, is reconnected to the
life force of youth. The youth, representing the male sexual dynamic in nature, is ‘my All the world’
(note the capital A). The Poet will ‘strive to know’ his ‘shames and praises’
from the youth’s ‘tongue’ (112.6). The pun on ‘tongue’, as both language
and sexual organ, connects the logic of truth with the sexual processes of
life. Consequently, the Poet’s ‘steeled sense’, or the old views engraved on
his ‘brow’, give way to his revived capacity to judge ‘right or wrong’ (112.8).
The Poet ‘dispenses’ with his previous ‘neglect’ by throwing into the
‘Abysm’(112.9) those other ‘voices’ or views. His ‘Adder’s sense’, or hearing,
is no longer impressed by them. As the change in the meaning of ‘o’ergreene’
bears out, he has ‘stopped’ caring about misdirected criticism and
In the couplet, because the Poet and youth are related through increase,
they are both strongly ‘bred’ for the same ‘purpose’. While the Poet has
recovered his love of life, the old ‘all the world’ view (note the small ‘a’) still
‘thinks’ in terms of a ‘dead’ youth. Editors who emend ‘y’are’ (112.14) to
‘th’are’ reveal their ignorance of Shakespeare’s natural logic.
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind,
Sonnets 113 and 114 are connected logically by ‘or’. Because of their significance,
though, they warrant separate treatment. Sonnet 113 particularly
needs to be considered closely because it has two of the more illogical
emendations in the set. The change from ‘lack’ (113.6) to ‘latch’ to make
the rhyme prefect when there are a number of imperfect rhymes throughout
the Sonnets, and interference by most editors with the last line, reveals a
misunderstanding of the logic of the two sonnets.
And that which governs me to go about,
Doth part his function, and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out:
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth lack,
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch:
For if it see the rudest or gentlest sight,
The most sweet-savour or deformed'st creature,
The mountain, or the sea, the day, or night:
The Crow, or Dove, it shapes them to your feature.
Incapable of more replete, with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.
To appreciate the meaning of sonnet 113 it should be remembered the
Master Mistress represents both a young male and the youthful Poet. So
when the Poet says he ‘left’ the youth, he refers to the relation of youth to
maturity. ‘Mine eye’, or the true eye of the Poet’s youthful ‘vision’, is in his
‘mind’ (113.1) because the potential of youth ‘governs’ his mature mind
(with a sexual pun on eye). Because of the influence of the ‘eye’ of youth,
the Poet’s ‘seeing’ is ‘partly governed’ by his vision of objects in the world,
but is ‘partly blind’ (113.3). His ability to ‘see’ is ‘effectually out’ because of
the logical influence of the sexual potential of youth (113.4).
The aging Poet’s ‘seeing’ eye no longer delivers ‘forms to his heart’
(113.5). His heart ‘doth lack’ shapes of ‘birds, flowers, and quick objects’
(113.7). It no longer ‘catches’ shapes with the ‘vision’ (113.8) he had when
young. The ‘mind’s eye’ of youth, housed deep in the Poet’s mind, ‘shapes’
all the ‘sights’ it sees to the ‘features’ of the youth (113.12).
‘No form’ or ‘vision’ from the retina reaches the aging Poet’s heart
because his heart responds only to the life potential of youth. Because his
mind ‘doth lack’ shapes it cannot deliver them to the heart. The change from
‘lack’ to ‘latch’ contradicts the sonnet’s meaning because it implies the mind
and heart ‘latch’ on to the objects of sight. The part rhyme lack/catch
correctly conveys the intent of Shakespeare’s philosophy.
In the couplet, love fills the Poet’s heart. ‘Incapable of more’ he is ‘replete’
with the love of life rising out of nature through the sexual dynamic, the
increase potential, and the dynamic of truth and beauty. The legacy of youth,
or the ‘most true mind’ of human persistence, makes the aging Poet’s postsexual
perception of the world effectually ‘untrue’.
Sonnet 113 addresses the tendency of age to accept false views, as
discussed in sonnets 110 to 112. Most editors, having changed ‘lack’ to ‘latch’
because they do not appreciate Shakespeare’s philosophy, then feel compelled to
change the meaning of the final line. They alter the last three words in
various ways in an attempt to make them conform to the prejudice of their
Or whether doth my mind being crown'd with you
Sonnet 114 continues the exploration of the effect of youth on the Poet’s
eyes, mind, and heart. In sonnet 113 the Poet’s natural vision from ‘mine
eye’ entered his mind allowing him to appreciate the logical relation between
youth and age. (The relationship was captured in the ‘eye I eyed’ of sonnet
104.) Sonnet 14 set the stage for the combination of mind and eyes when
it stated, ‘from thine eyes my knowledge I derive’. As the final increase
sonnet, it forged the eye-to-eye connection between increase and the mind.
Drink up the monarch's plague this flattery?
Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this Alchemy?
To make of monsters, and things indigest,
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best
As fast as objects to his beams assemble:
Oh 'tis the first, 'tis flatt'ry in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up,
Mine eie well knows what with his gust is greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup.
If it be poisoned, 'tis the lesser sin,
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.
The first quatrain presents two possibilities. The first ‘Or’ (114.1) recalls
sonnet 113 where the potential of youth governs the Poet’s mind from
within his heart. The Poet asks, does ‘my mind’, being ‘crowned’ with the
potency of youth to create ‘my most true mind’ (113.14), allow it to ‘drink
up’ the seeming irony of a ‘monarch’s plague’ of flattery (114.2)? With the
second ‘Or’ the Poet asks, ‘shall I say mine eye saith true’ (114.3) when he
recalls that the influence of youth’s idealising tendency ‘taught it this
The Poet is aware that such schooled idealism converts ‘monsters’ and
‘indigestible things’ (114.5) into innocent cherubins. Such ideal love falsely
makes ‘every bad a perfect best’ (114.7) of the objects that assemble in the
eye’s ‘beams’ (114.8). In sonnet 14, the Poet has rejected the influence of
such fanciful astrology in favour the natural logic of understanding, eye to
So, the youth’s potential for life in all its variety of the first two lines is
contrasted with youth’s tendency to idealise life in lines 3 to 8. For the Poet
there is no doubt which is ‘first’ (114.9). His sense of being replete in sonnet
113 allows him to accept the crowning of his ‘great mind’ (114.10), or the
combination of youth with maturity. He ‘most kingly drinks up’ the ‘flattery’
due to him by acknowledging the youth within. Despite his diversion into
the ideal in lines 3 to 8, the Poet’s eye ‘well knows’ what he is agreeing to
(114.11). He prepares to drink from the ‘cup’ (114.12) to celebrate his
connection to natural logic.
In the couplet the Poet stands firm. If the cup is poisoned (with the
‘flattery’ of always being imbued with youth) it is the ‘lesser sin’ because
whatever way he decides, nature has the last say. His ‘eye’ will always love
the first option and obey the natural logic of a ‘first beginning’ or increase.
The couplet of sonnet 115 increases the crescendo of the sonnet logic when
it identifies love as a ‘Babe’ that gives ‘full growth to that which still doth
Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
The 126 sonnets to the Master Mistress address the conditions an idealistic
youth must meet to achieve a mature relationship with the Mistress, and so
with Nature, the sovereign mistress (126.5). Every sonnet carries the imprint
of this larger purpose. From the increase argument of the first 14 sonnets,
through the transitional the increase to poetry sonnets (15 to 19), to the
detailed analysis of truth and beauty from sonnet 20, the Poet addresses the
tendency for male idealism to assume priority over the female or nature.
Even those that said I could not love you dearer,
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why,
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning time, whose millioned accidents
Creep in twixt vows, and change decrees of Kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents,
Divert strong minds to th'course of alt'ring things:
Alas why fearing of time's tyranny,
Might I not then say now I love you best,
When I was certain o'er in-certainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest:
Love is a Babe, then might I not say so
To give full growth to that which still doth grow.
In sonnet 115, nearing the end of the youth sequence, the Poet compares
the excessive idealism of youth with the natural logic of his mature
worldview. The first quatrain recalls the ‘motley of views’ reviewed in
sonnets 110 to 114. The Poet admits that the ‘lines’ he once wrote did ‘lie’.
He lied ‘even’ when he said he ‘could not love’ the idealised youth ‘dearer’
(115.2). His love has become dearer because what seemed then to be his
‘most full flame’ now burns ‘clearer’ (115.4). His immature idealistic
‘judgment’ could not provide a ‘reason why’ his mature love or ‘most full flame’,
when aligned with the logic of nature and increase, should ‘burn clearer’.
It took ‘time’ to achieve his mature ‘reckoning’ (115.5). Time with its
‘millioned accidents’, or millions of natural surprises down generations, has
‘crept between vows’ (including Anne Hathaway’s pre-nuptial conception
of their own child), changed the ‘decrees of Kings’ (as in the history plays),
tanned the raw hide of ‘sacred beauty’, and blunted the ‘sharpest intents’.
Given time, ‘strong or stubborn minds’ can be diverted to the natural
‘course’ of the way ‘things alter’ (115.8). ‘Alas’ then, why did the Poet once
fear ‘time’s tyranny’ at death, when all along his natural mind knew increase
was the logical basis for love. He can now say he ‘loves youth the best’
because he has gained certainty over ‘incertainty’ by ‘crowning the present’
and casting ‘doubt’ over the ‘rest’ (115.12), or his former adolescent views.
In the couplet, the Poet appreciates that ‘love is a Babe’ and, against
uncertainty, he has every right to ‘say so’. Such a love gives ‘full growth to
that which still doth grow’, or acknowledges the process of human
persistence. Commentators who deny the influence of the increase theme
past the first 19 sonnets typically talk of Shakespeare’s ‘un-Platonic
hyperbole’ to account for such phrases as ‘millioned accidents’. Because they
are blind to its natural meaning, they presume he was indulging exaggeration
for effect. Ironically, Shakespeare anticipates the ‘motley of views’ to
which the Sonnets are still subjected.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Sonnet 116 is often read at marriage services in the belief it celebrates the
ideals of married love. But its particular beauty derives from its relocation
of idealised male-based love within the deeper current of natural love. The
two possibilities find their correct place within the Sonnet philosophy. The
Poet, who has already realigned the feminine and masculine aspects of his
mind, offers to assist the youth move beyond an over-dependency on the
male ideal. He would reconcile the youth’s male-based idealism and his
female roots so together they can experience ‘the marriage of true minds’.
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Once the Sonnets are appreciated as a coherent set, whose natural
philosophy reconciles opposing tendencies in the mind, then ‘the marriage
of true minds’ clearly expresses the intent to metaphorically ‘marry’ the
minds of the mature Poet and the idealistic youth (or both poles of the Poet’s
own mind). The Poet will not ‘admit impediments’ (116.2) to reforming
the youth’s mind so they can meet in a ‘true’ relation of body and mind. In
sonnet 115 the Poet, given ‘time’, would convert ‘strong’ or stubborn minds
to the natural ‘course of things that alter’. To the same end in sonnet 116
he warns that ‘love is not love’ if it only ‘alters’ for the sake of ‘alteration’
or ‘bends’ with those who would ‘remove’ (116.4) it from its natural course.
Instead, love ‘is an ever fixed mark’ (116.5) that is not ‘shaken’ or fearful
of ‘looking on tempests’. The ‘looking’, or the use of the eyes, sees the ‘star’
that guides ‘every wandering bark’ even though, sexually and erotically, it’s
‘worth’ or potential is ‘unknown’ at the time ‘his height be taken’ (116.8).
Sonnet 14 recognised ‘thine eyes’ as the ‘constant stars’ and the priority of
the body over the mind. The loving relation between the ‘wandering’ sexual
eye and the mind’s erotic eye ‘marries’ body and mind.
The erotic imagery intensifies in the third quatrain. ‘Love is not Time’s
(death’s) fool’ (116.9), because human life continues through increase despite
death. So love can playfully allow time’s ‘bending sickle’ to ‘come’ close
within the ‘compass’ of its ‘rosy lips and cheeks’. Love can be cheeky because
it ‘alters not’ with time’s ‘brief hours and weeks’ but persists ‘even to the
‘edge of doom’. The last line of sonnet 14 stated that ‘doom’ threatens only
if human beings do not increase.
In the couplet, the Poet stakes his whole philosophy on his natural understanding
of love. If he is in ‘error’ and his error is ‘proved’, then ‘no man
ever loved’. Without increase there can be no ‘love’, and the Poet could not
have ‘writ’ his sonnets. Sonnet 116 has a singular beauty, not because it
celebrates ideal love, but because it expresses in the form of a poetic vow
the logical conditions for deep and abiding love in the natural course of life.
Accuse me thus, that I have scanted all,
Sonnet 116 ended with an uncompromising challenge from the Poet. If it
could be proved he was in ‘error’ in his understanding of the nature of love,
then ‘no man ever loved’ and he never wrote a word. Sonnet 117 renews
the challenge. The Poet asks the youth to accuse him of just such an error.
First, that he has ‘scanted all’ or neglected the love of everything and
everyone, from ‘wherein’ he would ‘repay’ the ‘great deserts’ or natural
qualities of the youth (117.2). Second, that he ‘forgot’ to ‘call upon’ or evoke
the ‘dearest love’ inherent in youth, from ‘whereto he is bound ‘day by day’
(117.4) in the everyday processes of nature.
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day,
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear purchased right,
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my willfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise, accumulate,
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your wakened hate:
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.
Furthermore, the youth should accuse the Poet of frequenting
‘unknown’or unworthy ‘minds’ (117.5). Or that he has sold ‘to time’ (death)
the youth’s ‘own dear purchased right’ or costly idealised love (critiqued in
sonnet 31). The ‘dearest love’ (117.3) becomes the ‘dear purchased right’
(117.6) as the Poet plays on the two meanings of ‘dear’. Or he could be
accused of avoiding the implications of youth by ‘hoisting sail to all the
winds’ to ‘transport’ himself ‘farthest’ from youth’s ‘sight’ (117.8). By scanting
or ignoring the natural love of life he would put himself out of ‘sight’, or
beyond the eye-to-eye relation that is the basis for determining truth and
But the Poet, since his youth, had been determined to discover the
logical relation of truth and beauty. Any ‘wilfulness and errors’ he made
could be booked down (117.9) and on ‘just proof ’ he would be rightly
levelled by the youth’s ‘frown’ or judgment (117.10). But his trial and error
toward a mature understanding of the logic of truth and beauty is intended
as a model for the youth, even though the youth mistakes the Poet’s method
for a fault and shoots at him in youth’s ‘wakened hate’ (117.12). To break
youth’s excessive dependency on the ideal the Poet sets himself up as a target
the better to reveal the logical relation of love and hate.
In the couplet, the Poet’s ‘appeal says’ he ‘did strive to prove the
constancy and virtue’ of the youth’s natural ‘love’. His ‘proof ’ is based on
the logic of ‘love’ evident in nature and its perpetual processes. By reconciling
his sense of love with his ‘day by day’ (117.4) existence down generations
the youth can connect with the logic that makes sense of both his
idealised ‘love’ and his ‘wakened hate’ toward the Poet. The alternative is to
enter the cycle of idealist prejudice that transfers hate to others as it claims
all love for itself. This was basis of the conflict Shakespeare most likely
witnessed between the religious sects of his day.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005