For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any
Sonnet 10 reiterates the logic of love defined in sonnet 9. The youth is
challenged again to accept the natural logic of life. Having defined the logic
of love for the adolescent ideologue in sonnet 9, the Poet now makes it an
unequivocal condition of his willingness to love the youth. Without an
acceptance of the logic of increase, the ‘self-love’ of the youth is equivalent
to his being ‘possessed with murd’rous hate’ toward the female and the Poet.
Who for thy self art so unprovident
Grant if thou wilt, thou art belov’d of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murd’rous hate,
That ’gainst thy self thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire:
O change thy thought, that I may change my mind,
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be as thy presence is gracious and kind,
Or to thy self at least kind hearted prove,
Make thee an other self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.
So where sonnet 9 uses the image of a ‘widow’ to appeal to the youth’s
relationship to the female, sonnet 10 brings the focus to bear on his ‘love’
for the Poet. The Poet already understands the natural logic articulated in
the Sonnets, so he accepts the priority of the female over the male and the
logical requirement to increase. If the youth wants to emulate the content
of the Poet’s verse, he must appreciate the logical basis of the content.
The Poet says it is a ‘shame’ the youth can ‘deny’ he ‘loves’ anyone, even
if the youth is ‘so unprovident’ (10.2). The youth may well be loved ‘by
many’but that he loves ‘none’ is ‘most evident’ (10.4). Again the Poet accuses
him (and any wilful idealist) of being ‘possessed with murdrous hate’ (10.5).
The youth seems oblivious (‘stick’st not’) to his conspiracy against himself
as he ruins the ‘beautious’ covering, or body, which he should desire to
‘repair’ (10.8) through increase.
The Poet despairingly asks the youth to ‘change thy thought’ (10.9), so
that he can ‘change my mind’ about the youth’s ‘murd’rous’ attitude. Line
9, which introduces the Poet for the first time as ‘I’, makes it clear that the
youth needs to understand the logic of life by changing his ‘thought’. The
increase argument seeks to correct illogical thinking rather than encourage
the youth to be sexually profligate. The Poet wants the youth’s ‘hate’ (10.5)
turned to ‘love’ (10.10) so that the grace and kindness of his physical beauty
should at least prove ‘kind hearted’ to himself (9.12).
In the couplet, the Poet insists that a willingness to ‘make thee another
self for love of me’is the logical condition for the youth to live in his progeny.
By presenting the logic of love in the Sonnets, Shakespeare establishes a
consistent basis for all forms of love.
Sonnet 10 is the first sonnet of the temporal pattern that involves 144
sonnets in a distribution of 12x12 (see Volume 1). The concept of time has
a logical relation to Nature only if the Poet and the youth acknowledge the
priority of Nature and the female over the male. Understanding the
contingent status of time is a precondition for appreciating the logic of truth
and beauty in sonnets 15 to 154.
As fast as thou shalt wane so fast thou grow'st,
Sonnet 11 presents the definitive argument for the significance of increase
if humankind wishes to persist. It is striking in its clarity and exactness. If
no human were willing to increase then, when the last human alive dies,
humankind would become extinct. In the words of the sonnet: 'If all were
minded so, the times should cease, and threescore year would make the
world away'. No other human activity can replace the sexual dynamic as
the means for increase to posterity.
In one of thine, from that which thou departest,
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou may'st call thine, when thou from youth convertest,
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase,
Without this folly, age, and cold decay,
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away:
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish,
Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more;
Which bounteous gift thou should'st in bounty cherish.
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou should'st print more, not let that copy die.
In sonnets 9 and 10, the Poet established the connection between the
logic of increase and the capacity to love. Sonnet 11 now returns to the
situation in sonnet 1, which introduced the increase logic in the first line.
The youth will 'grow' (11.1) as fast as he 'wanes' if his 'fresh blood' (11.3)
is bestowed on others while he is still young. Only when he calls the issue
of increase his own, can he 'convert' (11.4) from being a 'youth'. The
argument of the sonnets seeks to convince the adolescent idealistic youth
to accept the natural logic of life. Only then can he mature beyond adolescence
and have the 'wisdom' of the Poet.
Then unequivocally the Poet says that without 'wisdom, beauty and
increase' all is 'folly, age and cold decay' (11.6-7). As in sonnet 4, which introduced
the idea of Nature's 'Audit', the Poet again invokes 'nature'. Those
whom 'nature' has not made for 'store' (or increase) will, 'harsh, featureless
and rude, barrenly perish' (11.10). Those whom 'she' (Nature, the sovereign
mistress) endows with 'more', should 'cherish' their 'bounty' (11.12). In the
couplet, the Poet confirms that Nature 'carved thee for her seal'. The youth
'should print more' so that his 'copy' does not 'die'. The pun on printing
anticipates the discussion of the logical relation of increase and poetry in
sonnets 15 to 19.
Sonnet 11 prepares for sonnet 14, which presents the definitive
relationship between increase and truth and beauty. The Poet uses the word
'wisdom' in sonnet 11 rather than truth because he reserves truth for the
logic of 'saying' or the deliberate use of language examined in the truth and
beauty sonnets 15 to 154. By contrast, because increase is a sensory process,
the word 'beauty' appears throughout the 14 increase sonnets. Only in the
last lines of sonnet 14 is 'truth' introduced in preparation for its role in the
Sonnet 11 is a crucial sonnet that gives the logical argument for the
pivotal role of increase in Nature for sexual beings. It anticipates the definitive
expression of the relationship between truth, beauty and increase in
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
The theme of sonnet 12 is the passage of time, with sonnet 12 being the
first sonnet devoted to time in the pattern of 12s structured into the set from
sonnets 10 to 153. There are a number of references to time throughout
the sonnet in phrases such as, ‘the clock that tells the time’ (12.1), ‘brave
day sunk in hideous night’ (12.2), ‘the violet past prime’ (12.3), and ‘thou
among the wastes of time must go’ (12.10).
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night,
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls or silver'd o'er with white:
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd
And Summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Born on the bier with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do them-selves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow,
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed to brave him, when he takes thee hence.
The Poet challenges the youth’s dependence on the conventions of time.
In the first line he points out that ‘time’ is characterised by the ‘count‘ of
the ‘clock’. If time is determined by the passing of day into ‘hideous night’
(12.2), or a ‘violet’ considered past its ‘prime’ (12.3), or black ‘curls’ now
‘silvered o’er with white’ (12.4), then it may seem that life is short and dark.
Against a background where trees are ‘barren of leaves’, and a herd needs
protection from the summer’s ‘heat’, and where sheaves are ‘borne on the
bier with white and bristly beard’ (12.8), the Poet questions the youth’s
understanding of ‘beauty’ (12.9). Why should he allow his ‘sweets and
beauties’ to ‘die as fast’ as ‘others grow’? The couplet confirms that the only
defense against ‘Time’s scythe’ is to ‘breed to brave him’ so that ‘when he
takes thee hence’ others will have life to ‘grow’.
In the previous increase sonnets, the Poet’s argument has been blunt and
uncompromising. The tension is further elevated in sonnet 12 by the
suggestion that ‘Time’s scythe’ can be bested. The word ‘time’ is mentioned
only in the sequence to the youth. The idealistic youth is easily distracted
by the signs of time’s passing, and is unwilling to recognise that his fascination
with time is a diversion from the continuity of life through increase.
Time, like a clock, merely ‘tells’ the duration of a particular human life. In
sonnet 126 ‘Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack), ‘kills’ the ‘minute’, and
so has the last say over the convention of ‘time’.
The theme of time is also apparent in sonnet 60, which mentions
‘minutes’. The temporal structure of 12s is organised into the set to emphasise
the limitations of the conventions of time. While Nature can be referred
to without qualification, time is characterised conventionally as minutes,
hours, or weeks. Days, months, and years are natural periods but their
reckoning in hours and minutes requires continual recalculation. Concepts
of time are given their correct logical value when viewed from the
perspective of natural logic.
O That you were your self, but love you are
Sonnet 13 is the penultimate increase sonnet. The increase sonnets critique
illogical attitudes, typical of the adolescent idealistic youth, toward the nature
of human persistence. Because such attitudes are at the core of traditional
beliefs Shakespeare emphasises their inconsistency by ending sonnet 13 with
a parody on the erotic relation of the biblical Father and Son.
No longer yours, than you your self here live,
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give.
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination, than you were
You self again after your self 's decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter's day
And barren rage of death's eternal cold?
O none but unthrifts, dear my love you know,
You had a Father, let your Son say so.
The Poet argues that because the youth had a ‘Father’ he should
reproduce his ‘beauty’ in a ‘Son’. The sonnet complements sonnet 3 where
the youth was reminded he had a ‘Mother’. The Poet individualises the logic
of the increase sonnets by reminding the youth that he had a mother and a
father. Because increase is the logical basis for human persistence, every
person enters the world through increase. The logic of increase is undeniable
whether humans wish to exercise the possibility or not.
The Poet begins sonnet 13 by questioning the youth’s sense of self. He
wishes the youth was ‘your self ’ (13.1) But the youth can no longer be
himself if he does not continue to live through increase. He ‘should prepare’
against ‘the coming end’ of his life by giving to his child his own ‘sweet
semblance’ (13.4). The ‘beauty’ which the youth ‘holds in lease’ (see sonnet
4) should find no other ‘determination’ (with a parody on predetermination)
than that the youth, after he dies, should be himself ‘again’ through an ‘issue’
that bears his ‘form’ (13.8).
Who, then, would let the ‘house’ of humanity fall to ‘decay’ (13.9), when
‘husbandry’, or the sex act, could honourably ‘uphold’ the house against the
aging of ‘winter’ and ‘death’s eternal cold’ (13.12)? In the couplet, the Poet
proclaims that ‘none but unthrifts’ can overcome such decay, and argues that
the youth, in line of descent, should produce a ‘Son’.
Because the male line of descent needs continual realignment with the
logic of life, the increase sonnets are written to a male youth, and address
his unwillingness to have a ‘Son’. As the Mistress is the source of the male,
she needs no increase argument. By contrast the Master Mistress, who
derives from the Mistress, falls short of a natural unity. The male recovers
his unity by reuniting with the female.
The Master Mistress requires the Poet’s persistent increase argument to
temper his youthful idealism with its tendency to deny natural logic. The
youth is encouraged to acknowledge the priority of the female in Nature.
The male’s capacity to be ‘selfish’ or excessively idealistic (as with the biblical
Father and Son) is addressed by reminding him of his personal fate and the
potential fate of humanity.
Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,
Sonnet 14 is the last of the sonnets to argue that the youth, and so
humankind, should appreciate the logical significance of increase. By articulating
the logical relationship between increase and truth and beauty it
prepares the way for the remaining 140 sonnets that consider the dynamic
of truth and beauty.
And yet me thinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good, or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality,
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell;
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with Princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find.
But from thine eies my knowledge I derive,
And constant stars in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thy self, to store thou wouldst convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is Truth's and Beauty's doom and date.
In the first line, the Poet states that he does not derive his ‘judgment’
from the ‘stars’ (14.1), yet he still ‘thinks’ he has ‘Astronomy’ (14.2). He
rejects the tradition that looks to the stars or heavens for guidance because
it is not centered in the logic of human life. He does not ‘pluck’ his
‘judgment’ from the old astrology as he is not interested in foretelling ‘good,
or evil luck’, or ‘plagues, dearths, or seasons quality’ (14.4). Neither is he
interested in telling ‘fortunes’ (14.5) or pleasing Princes by saying it ‘shall
go well’ by pretending to know the will of ‘heaven’ (14.8).
Instead he finds ‘knowledge’in the ‘eyes’ of the youth (14.9). They are the
‘constant stars’ in which he reads his ‘art’ (14.10). ‘Truth and beauty…thrive’
(14.11) in the ‘eyes’ because the ‘eyes’ are the archetypal sensory organs that
enable the mind to make ‘judgments’ and gain ‘knowledge’. The natural
relation between body and mind, mediated principally by the eyes, is the
logical source of ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’ for human beings. Many sonnets make
the logical connection from the ‘eyes’ to the ‘mind’ and so to the ‘heart’. The
connection relates the ‘eyes’ of the head to the sexual eye of the body.
The final lines of sonnet 14 are uncompromising. If the youth does not
appreciate the logic of ‘increase’ or ‘store’ (14.12) he will not grasp the
relation of truth and beauty to life. His death will be ‘Truth’s and Beauty’s
doom and date’ (14.14). This is not a threat of a biblical Day of Judgment
but an irredeemable consequence for the youth if he ignores his logical
relation to the natural world. His life, his poetry, his knowledge and
judgment will be awry or void if his selfishness toward life persists.
Sonnet 14 is the pivotal sonnet for the whole set of 154 sonnets. Not
only does it state the nature of the relationship between the body and the
mind with crystal clarity, the number 14 is structured numerologically into
the whole set. There are 14x11 = 154 sonnets in total, 14x9 = 126 sonnets
to the Master Mistress, and 14x2 = 28 sonnets to the Mistress. There are
also 14 lines in a regular sonnet. The dynamic of female and male derived
from Nature and the argument of the first 14 sonnets establish the
foundation on which the remaining 140 sonnets are based. As sonnet 55
makes clear, without the foundation in natural logic, the set of 154 sonnets
would become a monument to self-regard.
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the Stars in secret influence comment.
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory.
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Comment on Sonnets 15 & 16
Make war upon this bloody tyrant time?
And fortify your self in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers,
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair
Which this (Time's pencil or my pupil pen)
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair
Can make you live your self in eies of men,
To give away your self, keeps your self still,
And you must live drawn by your own sweet skill.
Sonnets 15 and 16, like sonnets 5 and 6, are considered together because
sonnet 16 continues the argument of sonnet 15. These, and other logically
connected sonnets, which occur throughout the set, indicate Shakespeare’s
intention to present evidence and argument for his philosophy in the poetry
Sonnets 15 and 16 are the first of 5 sonnets that form an interlude
between the 14 increase sonnets and the sonnets from 20 onwards that
examine the logic of truth and beauty. Sonnets 15 to 19 provide the logical
transition from the increase argument, with its focus on the body, to the
truth and beauty dynamic, with its focus on the mind. They signal
Shakespeare’s awareness that he presents the relation between the physical
process of increase and the conceptual functions of the mind through the
written medium of sonnets.
Sonnet 15 initiates the logical transition by restating the increase
argument. When the Poet considers ‘everything that grows’, it seems that
they hold their ‘perfection but a little moment’ (15.2). By comparison, the
‘Stars’ can only comment ‘in secret’ on the succession of ‘shows’ of fleeting
lives (15.3). The word ‘increase’ then appears in line 5 where the Poet
compares the life cycle of ‘plants’ to that of ‘men’ because they too are
‘cheered and checked even by the self-same sky’ (15.6). ‘Men’ expend their
‘youthful sap’, and then wither or ‘decrease’with no ‘memory’ of ‘their brave
state’ (15.8) or sexual prowess.
But the ‘conceit’ of an ‘inconstant stay’ (15.9), or the illusion that life
ends with death, merely emphasises the richness of ‘youth’ in the Poet’s eyes.
Although ‘wasteful time’ (15.11) seems to change the ‘day of youth’ to
‘sullied night’ (15.12) the Poet’s love for the youth, founded on the logic of
increase, makes ‘war with Time’ so, as time ages the youth, he wishes to
‘engraft’ him ‘new’ (15.14).
The Poet’s double offer in the last line of sonnet 15 to engraft the youth
in verse, because his verse argues for the logical requirement to increase, is
the first direct allusion to poetry in the set. Appropriately, the first sonnet
of the poetry and increase group introduces the idea of poetry. The double
meaning of ‘engraft’ begins the transition from the logic of increase to the
logic of verse. In Shakespeare’s mythic logic, the two are irretrievably intertwined.
The first sonnet of the poetry and increase group introduces the
possibility of poetry but only as a logical outcome of the increase dynamic.
So, if the Poet is to ‘engraft’ the youth, the youth needs to fulfill a
condition. The ‘but’ at the beginning of sonnet 16 prepares for the logical
condition he must meet if the engrafting in verse is to be meaningful.
Immortalising the youth in verse is no substitute for the life-giving process
So, the Poet asks, why ‘do not you a mightier way make war on this
bloody tyrant time?’ (16.1-2). The youth should not forget to ‘fortify’ himself
with a ‘means more blessed than (the Poet’s) barren rhyme’(16.4). As sonnet
14 stipulated, increase is prior to truth and beauty. There are ‘many maiden
gardens yet unset’ that could bear his ‘living flowers’ (16.7). Such an issue
would be much ‘liker’ to him than any ‘counterfeit’, painted or written.
If the youth wants to be immortal, only the ‘lines of life’ (16.9) or
increase can ‘repair’ or renew life. Neither ‘Time’s pencil’, or a penis
constrained by time to draw the line from birth to death, or ‘my pupil pen’
(16.10) that draws a live-less portrait (see Lucrece 1374), can capture the
youth’s inner worth or his outward beauty. Only through increase can the
youth live in the ‘eyes of men’ (16.12).
In the couplet, paradoxically, the youth has to give himself away through
increase, to ‘keep your self still’. To ‘live’ he ‘must live drawn’ by his own
‘sweet skill’ or his capacity to increase.
Shakespeare differs from other poets in rejecting the practice of offering
unconditional life replacement ‘immortality’ through poetry. Sonnets 15 and
16, which begin the transition from increase to truth and beauty, state
categorically that increase is prior to truth and beauty. They introduce the
Poet’s understanding of the logical role of poetry into the set when he offers
to record an image of the youth when young.
Who will believe my verse in time to come
Sonnet 17 continues the presentation of the logic of poetry and increase
begun in sonnets 15 and 16. It is the middle sonnet in the transition from
increase in sonnet 15 to poetry in sonnet 19. The mention of ‘verse’ in the
first line, the introduction of the Poet twice by name, and the use of the
words ‘beauty’ and ‘truth’ indicate its pivotal role in the group of 5 sonnets.
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life, and shows not half your parts:
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say this Poet lies,
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.
So should my papers (yellowed with their age)
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a Poet's rage,
And stretched meter of an Antique song.
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice in it, and in my rhyme.
While this is the central sonnet of the group, the priority of increase over
poetry weighs its argument back toward the increase sonnets. The Poet
asserts that no one will ‘believe my verse in time to come’ (17.1) if the youth
does not persist in ‘some child’ (17.13) through increase. If he wrote about
all the ‘graces’ of the youth or of his ‘high deserts’ (17.2) his poetry would
amount to no more than ‘a tomb, which hides your life, and shows not half
your parts’ (17.3-4). Verse cannot do justice to a living being. Even less can
it substitute for the continuation of human life through posterity.
The Poet insists that poetry or writing provides no true record of beauty.
If poetry claims the youth had ‘heavenly touches’ on his ‘earthly face’ (17.9)
without acknowledging his persistence through increase, it would be like
the ‘stretched meter of an Antique song’ (17.12). The ironic use of the words
‘heaven’, ‘tomb’, ‘heavenly/earthly’ and possibly ‘Antique song’ in sonnet
17 is consistent with Shakespeare’s critique of Bible-based idealism.
In keeping with Shakespeare’s understanding of the logic of beauty and
truth, ‘beauty’ is associated with the ‘eyes’ or sensations (17.5), and ‘truth’
is associated with the ‘tongue’ or saying (17.10). Only when the youth appreciates
the need for humankind to increase, and so his own potential for
increase, can the logic of truth and beauty be restored.
In the couplet, the Poet argues that the youth can ‘live twice’ in his child
by accepting the logic of increase. First, when he engenders the child, and
second when the child recalls its paternity. Only then does it make sense to
say that the youth could ‘live’ in the Poet’s ‘rhyme’. The position of the
comma in line 14 in Q is consistent with Shakespeare’s Sonnet logic. Most
editors move the comma back two places to create the impression that
immortalisation in poetry is at least an equal option for the youth. In doing
so they reveal an ignorance of Shakespeare’s philosophy.
The word ‘Poet’occurs in the Sonnets six times. Its introduction in sonnet
17 occurs before sonnets 18 and 19 round out logical preconditions and
prior to the truth and beauty argument of the following sonnets. The Poet’s
first appearance by name in sonnet 17 is a reminder that the ‘Poet’ is also
the ‘I’ who appears 340 times from sonnet 10 onwards for 145 sonnets.
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Traditional commentaries claim that sonnet 18 signals a dismissal of the
concerns of the so-called ‘17 marriage sonnets’. They consider sonnet 18
is the first mature or accomplished sonnet to the youth. They read it psychobiographically
as evidence of a Platonic or homoerotic relationship between
Shakespeare and a young man of his acquaintance.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd,
And every fair from fair some-time declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The Sonnet analysis in these volumes, though, has argued that sonnet 14
is the last of the purely ‘increase’ sonnets. Sonnets 15 to 19 then address the
logical relationship of increase to the medium of poetry. Sonnet 18 fits into
the logic of the 5 poetry and increase sonnets. Its poetic qualities arise not
from dropping the theme of increase but in showing how increase and
poetry are logically inseparable. The traditional biographical reading
demeans Shakespeare’s philosophic intent.
In sonnet 18, the principal image of ‘Summer’ floods the majority of
the verses, with the promise of a warmth and light to dispel the ‘shade’
(18.11) that accompanies ‘death’ (18.11). The Poet appeals to the youth’s
inevitable fate by drawing a ‘comparison’ (18.1) between his life and the
cycle of the seasons. The ‘fair’ season of Summer will dim because of
‘nature’s changing course untrimmed’ (18.8). But the youth’s ‘eternal
Summer shall not fade’ (18.9) because he can combine the potential of
increase with the possibility of being memorialised in the Poet’s verse. In
sonnet 18, the potential of increase and the possibilities for poetry are
expressed simultaneously in line 12.
In keeping with the position of sonnet 18 in the poetry and increase
group, the line, ‘When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st’ (18.12), has a
double meaning generated by the logic of the previous sonnets. The words
‘lines’ from sonnet 16, and ‘grow’st’ from sonnet 11, unite to provide ‘eternal
lines’ of descent growing to ‘time’ or posterity. What was stated in two lines
in the couplet of sonnet 17 is condensed into one line in sonnet 18. The
Poet simultaneously offers the youth the logic of ‘growing’ through increase
and the lesser opportunity to ‘grow’ by being depicted in his poetry.
The couplet celebrates the double meaning with images of breathing,
eyes and life, which invoke a sense of living through increase as well as living
metaphorically in the Poet’s ‘lines’. Sonnet 18 has a decided argument within
its lyrical beauty. Its beauty, the intense lyricism, comes not from a change
in subject matter as is traditionally suggested but rather from an effortless
combination of the themes of increase and poetry. The sonnet not only
presents the logic behind the perseverance of human life, but also celebrates
its poetic role as the bearer of the message.
Devouring time blunt thou the Lion's paws,
The first 14 sonnets established the logical precondition for the possibility
of truth and beauty. They argued that the youth should appreciate the significance
of ‘increase’ for the continuation of human life. Sonnet 14 introduced
the logical relationship or priority between ‘increase’ and ‘truth and beauty’,
or the relation between the body and the mind. It stated there could be no
truth and beauty without increase. This has a double consequence. If there
were no increase then there would be no humans to appreciate truth and
beauty. The dependence of truth and beauty on increase means, in turn,
that increase in Nature provides the logical basis for truth and beauty. The
two-way relationship forms the foundation for the whole set of Sonnets, and
for the poems and plays of Shakespeare.
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood,
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce Tiger's jaws,
And burn the long lived Phoenix in her blood,
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st,
And do what ere thou wilt swift-footed time
To the wide world and all her fading sweets:
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime,
O carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen,
Him in thy course untainted do allow,
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst old Time despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
Sonnets 15 to 19 provide a second precondition. They establish the
logical condition for the Poet to be able to write sonnets expressing the
relation between Nature, increase and truth and beauty. They consider the
limitations of poetry for representing the youth. The 5 sonnets acknowledge
that the Poet’s arguments are presented in sonnet form. As sonnets they
cannot substitute for the logical conditions in Nature that guarantee their
Sonnet 19 is the last of the poetry and increase sonnets. The Poet says
he accepts the function of ‘time’ (19.1) that cuts short the life of the creatures
of the earth. By blunting the ‘Lion’s paws’ (19.1) and by plucking the
‘Tiger’s…teeth’ (19.3) so they cannot feed themselves, and by burning the
Phoenix in her prime, ‘time’ makes the ‘earth devour’ some of her ‘brood’
(19.2) in untimely death. It is a fact of life that some creatures die before
they are mature enough to produce and nurture progeny.
But the Poet ‘forbids’ time ‘one most heinous crime’ (19.8). He forbids
time to age the youth without allowing him to transfer his ‘beauty’s pattern’
to ‘succeeding men’ (19.12); that is, to have children of his own. But, in the
couplet, because time can get it ‘wrong’, in that the youth might be unable
to have children for some genuine reason, the Poet offers a form of compensation.
The youth will be remembered as he was when ‘young’ in the Poet’s
‘verse’. The offer, though, is conditional on the youth accepting the logic
of the Poet’s argument.
With these conditions or priorities clearly understood, the Poet, and
potentially the youth, is able to write poetry with a logical appreciation of
‘truth and beauty’. For Shakespeare, promises in writing are no substitute
for the processes of life.
A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou the Master Mistress of my passion,
A woman's gentle heart but not acquainted
With shifting change as is false women's fashion,
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:
Gilding the object where-upon it gazeth,
A man in hue all Hews in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till nature as she wrought thee fell a doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.
So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Comment on Sonnets 20 & 21
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven it self for ornament doth use,
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With Sun and Moon, with earth and sea's rich gems:
With April's first born flowers and all things rare,
That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems,
O let me true in love but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair,
As any mother's child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air:
Let them say more that like of hear-say well,
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.
Sonnets 20 and 21 are connected logically with a ‘so’. They are the first
sonnets specifically devoted to considering the implications of the dynamic
of truth and beauty for the Master Mistress or youth. They follow the 14
increase sonnets and the 5 poetry and increase sonnets, which established
the logical preconditions for the possibility of truth and beauty. And, as
shown in the commentaries on sonnets 127 to 154, the possibility of beauty
and truth derives from the natural sensibility of the Mistress in the Mistress
sequence. Having provided the logical foundation for writing in Nature, the
Poet now expresses his understanding of the human mind in sonnets that
use the full resources of human expression.
The sexual arguments of the first 14 sonnets and the quasi-sexual
arguments of the 5 transitional sonnets allow the Poet to invest his subsequent
verse with an eroticism logically consequent on the sexual dynamic
in Nature. If he adheres to the relation of Nature and female and male in
the structure of the whole set, and the natural logic established in the first
19 sonnets, then his verse will have an undeniable and irresistible beauty and
Sonnet 20 begins by presenting the logical status of the Master Mistress
or youth in the first two lines. The Master Mistress, as the male derived from
the female or ‘woman’, is made by ‘nature’. The words ‘Master Mistress’
(20.2) identify the youth as the male derived from the female or Mistress.
In sonnet 126, the last sonnet to the youth, ‘Nature’, who brings the Master
Mistress to judgment, is called the ‘sovereign mistress’.
Clearly, then, the Master Mistress is subordinate to the ‘Mistress’. The
Master Mistress reveals by his feminine looks that he is logically determined
by the female. She is his biological progenitor. As a male he is ‘pricked’ out
for ‘woman’s pleasure’ (20.13). The Poet’s love toward the youth is not
sexual, but emulates Nature’s ‘doting’ on the Master Mistress’ youthful
In sonnet 21, the Poet contrasts his ‘true’ poetry with that of another
‘Muse’ (21.1), who is deceived by ‘false women’s fashion’ or ‘painted beauty’
(21.2). The ‘Muse’, who makes her first appearance in sonnet 21, is that of
the lesser poets who ‘proudly compare’ (21.5) the ‘sun and Moon’, ‘rich
gems’, ‘first born flowers’ (21.7), and other sentimental images. The
distinction drawn is between the Muse of the lesser poets and the Poet’s
Muse (see sonnets 32 and 38). The Poet then affirms that his ‘true love’ and
‘true writing’ (21.9) are based on the logic of increase out of sonnet 14 (‘any
mother’s child’) even though the stars (‘gold candles’) seem ‘brighter’ in the
The couplet concludes by distinguishing between the depth of love
evident in the Poet’s verse and the ‘hearsay’ or gossip of the lesser poets.
While they ‘like’ to use ‘hearsay’ the Poet will not use such unfelt ‘praise’
to make a commodity of love’s natural logic. It is not logically possible to
sell love short and write as Shakespeare writes.
In the Sonnets, the Muse is invariably associated with verse, or thought,
or argument, or any form of ‘saying’ where saying is the dynamic of truth.
So sonnet 21, immediately after sonnet 20 restates the relation of Nature
and female and male and the possibility of sex, begins with the truth and
beauty dynamic. The logical relationship between natural ‘beauty’ and ‘truth’
in poetry is established in these two sonnets. The examination of the implications
of truth and beauty for the youth then continues throughout the
remaining Master Mistress sonnets.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005