Sonnet Commentaries
             MOTTO: Know you not that I must be about my mother's business

  • The commentaries show how to apply the Sonnet
    philosophy to individual sonnets, and so avoid the
    inadequacies of the traditional paradigm.

    The Institute for the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespearean Thought
    The Quaternary Institute

        Quaternary Institute & Quaternary Imprint



    The first edition of the 4 volume set William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy [2005] is still available.

    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    The complete set of 154 sonnet commentaries, the earliest versions of which were published between 1996 and 2002 in a fortnightly column in the Stratford Press, Stratford, New Zealand.
          The arrangement of these webpages into groups of 12 sonnets reflects and emphasises the temporal pattern of 12 x 12 sonnets evident in the 1609 edition. From sonnet 10 onwards in Q every twelfth sonnet tops the page. This means that sonnets 1 to 9 appear together on the first webpage and at the end sonnet 154 has a webpage to itself - otherwise there are 12 sonnets per webpage.


    The second volume of four

    Volume 2 features commentaries on sonnets 1 to 154 from Shake-speares Sonnets of 1609. It examines the sonnets individually using the philosophy derived from Shakespeare's arrangement of the 154 sonnet set into a meaningful whole that represents Nature and its two sequences that represent the female (28 sonnets) and male (126 sonnets). The commentaries show how each sonnet participates in the logic of the whole set.
          Like Volumes 1, 3, and 4, Volume 2 uses the philosophy Shakespeare purposely structured into the Sonnets as the basis for interpretation. The meaning of each sonnet is revealed in a line by line analysis that uses the Sonnet logic for guidance. Because of the logical precision and philosophic profundity of Shakespeare's writing, the process of understanding involves a gradual clarification of the role of individual words and phrases until the meaning of the sonnet becomes evident.
          By comparison, as the available literature on the Sonnets shows no awareness of Shakespeare's philosophy it invariably fails to understand the individual sonnets. While reading the literature is not a prerequisite for following the commentaries, familiarity with other attempts to understand Shakespeare's sonnets may help the reader appreciate the advantage of approaching them with the philosophy Shakespeare purposely structured into the Sonnets (see Volume 1 for a full analysis).

    The 1609 edition

    The 154 commentaries consider the sonnets as they appear in the original edition of Shake-speares Sonnets published in 1609 and commonly referred to as Q. As thirteen copies of Q still exist, and as there is only one significant variation in spelling throughout the text of the thirteen copies (two copies have 'proface' instead of 'prophane' at 89.11), Q is the definitive source for investigating the Sonnets.
          The evidence presented in Volume 1 for a philosophy structured purposely into the Sonnets by Shakespeare demonstrates that Q is authorial, and the added demonstration in this volume and in Volume 3 that the Sonnet philosophy is the philosophy behind the individual sonnets and the longer poems and plays renders questions about their authorship academic. Because Shakespeare was alive when Q was published, he was in a position to arrange the 154 sonnets to articulate his philosophy, to number them logically, and to add cryptic details as they were nearing publication.
          The facsimiles of individual sonnets from Q that accompany each commentary are included with the proviso that they have their full meaning within Q. The individual sonnets cannot be understood without first appreciating the unity of the 154-sonnet set and its division into sequences of 126 and 28 sonnets. As Volume 1 demonstrates, the overall layout in Q is crucial for understanding the role of the increase sonnets, the poetry and increase sonnets, the division of the Mistress sequence into the dynamic of beauty and the dynamic of truth, the patterns for music and time, and other structural features. (A facsimile of the complete text of Q is available in Volume 1.)
          The accompanying modern English versions are provided to assist those unfamiliar with the Elizabethan/Jacobean typography and spelling in Q. They make no claim to improve or emend the original. Only a handful of obvious typesetting errors and spelling mistakes are included in the modern English version. Because Shakespeare personally configured Q to express his philosophy, this volume rejects the 50 to 100 traditional emendations, or changes to the meanings of words, dating from the time of Edmund Malone (1790). Editors who heed the emendations usually approach the Sonnets from the disadvantage of an inappropriate paradigm.
          In the modern English versions, letters such as 'i' and 'j' and 'u' and 'v' are changed to reflect modern usage. As the word 'then' had both temporal and comparative meanings in Q (there was no 'than' in sixteenth century English), the comparative 'then' is changed to 'than'. The punctuation in Q is retained as many of the traditional changes dramatically alter the meaning of individual sonnets. The exceptions are where line lengths occlude a punctuation mark or where a comma was set at the end of a sonnet.
          In Q, Shakespeare uses the capital 'N' for Nature when he emphasises the priority of Nature over all else, as he does in sonnets 68, 126 and 127. Otherwise he uses the lower case 'n' for nature in nine further sonnets. He also uses the lower case when he refers to human 'nature', as in sonnets 67, 109 and 111. Q's usage is maintained in direct quotations from the sonnets. But because most of the references to 'Nature' in these volumes are to the priority of Nature over all else, for the sake of consistency a distinction is made between 'Nature' as the logical entity that represents all possibilities and the use of the word 'nature' to refer to an aspect of Nature, such as 'my nature'.

    Title Page

    The title page of the 1609 edition announces that the 154 sonnets are Shakespeare's, and claims that they have 'never before' been printed. Even though two of the sonnets were published previously in The Passionate Pilgrim of 1599, they were revised for Q to become part of the 154-sonnet set.

    Title Page

    Title page

          The hyphenated spelling of SHAKE-SPEARES on the title page is used throughout Q at the top of every second page and occurs in WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE under the heading of A Lover's Complaint. The hyphenated spelling suggests a deliberate intention to include the title in the many subsidiary numerological features of the set Shakespeare added before publication. The words SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS could provide a counterpoint to the identification of the Mistress in sonnet 145 with the number 8 or the octave in music. The hyphenation creates groupings of 5, 7, 12, and 19 letters, suggesting the Poet is a composite of standard musical intervals for which the Mistress' natural interval of the octave is the basis.


    The wording of Shakespeare's Dedication is the most debated 'mystery' in English literature. The Dedication, though, as Shakespeare arranged it, does not have a literal meaning. Its function is revealed when its parts are related to the Sonnet logic. The arrangement of the Dedication presents the principal elements of Shakespeare's philosophy. The numerological values for Nature (154), the Poet (145), the Mistress (28), the Master Mistress (126), and the unity in the Poet of the feminine (1) and masculine (9) are all encrypted into the lettering of the Dedication. The numerological relationships are explained in Part 5 of Volume 1.



    Sonnet characters

    The names used by Shakespeare to refer to the entities and persons in the sonnets are clearly stated in Q. His names represent logical places in the relationship between Nature and humankind. Nature is the principal entity that incorporates all possibilities. Because it is the source of the division between the female and the male, Nature is referred to as the 'sovereign mistress' (sonnet 126) to acknowledge the priority of the female over the male. The female is called the Mistress in sonnets 127 to 154, and the male is called the Master Mistress in sonnet 20, the first of sonnets 20 to 126 that address the truth and beauty dynamic in sequence to the male. Consistent with Shakespeare's exploration of the logical implications of youthful idealism, the Master Mistress is frequently referred to as the youth in the commentaries.
          The Poet is the person who understands the natural logic articulated in the Sonnets. The Poet acknowledges the priority of Nature over all else and knows that by accepting the priority of the female over the male he is able to articulate the logical conditions for any mythic expression. By contrast the rival poet, who features principally in sonnets 78 to 86, is an inferior poet whose fascination with rhyme and rhetoric and external appearances identifies him as an immature idealist who fails to appreciate the Sonnet logic.
          All the Sonnet characterisations function as both logical entities in the world and logical states or personae of the mind. In the Sonnet logic the physical maturity of the body has its counterpart in the psychological maturity of the mind. The cryptic numerological structure of the Dedication delineates the two-way relationship precisely.
          The Sonnet logic allows the youth to be considered both as an independent person, and as a persona of the Poet's mind. When John Benson altered all the 'hes' to 'shes' in his rearranged edition of 1640, he negated the logic of the relation between Shakespeare's male and female persons and feminine and masculine personae.

    Approaching the Sonnets

    As a poet and dramatist who bases his philosophy in the natural logic of life, Shakespeare has no need to conform rigorously to conventional patterns for argument and poetics. Because he accepted the priority of Nature over the psychological tendency to be categorical, he frequently broke the arbitrary conventions others held sacrosanct.
          While most sonnets conform to the usual rules of prosody, with their decasyllables and 14 rhymed lines, there are exceptions throughout the set. A number of mis-rhymes, a fifteen and a twelve-line sonnet, and a sonnet in octosyllables show that Shakespeare did not adhere to the purity of form many of his subsequent editors have expected.
          The form of the typical Shakespearean sonnet allows the individual sonnets to participate in the argumentative pattern of the whole set. Each sonnet has three quatrains, the first stating a thesis, the second presenting an antithesis, and the third drawing a conclusion. The couplet then summarises the content of the individual sonnet and in many cases relates it to the content of the whole set. To see a sonnet as a unit of four integrated parts makes it somewhat easier to follow Shakespeare's argument. However, even this general pattern is broken by sonnet 66 that features a consecutive string of propositions occupying the first twelve lines before the couplet summarises the intent.
          By adhering to the natural logic of the complete set and two sequences, and the preconditions of the first nineteen sonnets, Shakespeare is able to write sonnets that are inherently structured and require no further structure to provide content. The individual sonnets in Q need no reordering or editorial interference because their ordering is not based on conventional rules of prosody or rhetoric. This is why Helen Vendlerís dutiful analysis of their poetic devices in The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets reveals nothing of their content.
          Shakespeare uses the sonnet form because it best conveys his content. Having experimented with the long poems Venus and Adonis and Lucrece and the play Love's Labour's Lost as vehicles for his logic, the sonnet proved to be the most appropriate medium to present his argument in verse.

    Order of commentary

    The commentaries in Volume 2 begin with the first sonnet (unnumbered in Q) and follow the original ordering through to sonnet 154. While logically the Mistress of sonnets 127 to 154 is prior to the Master Mistress of sonnets 1 to 126, the organisation of the Sonnets in Q allows the Poet to begin by addressing the inadequate adolescent idealism of the Master Mistress to prepare him for the mature appreciation of natural logic in the Mistress sequence.
          The first sonnet presumes on the logical structuring of the whole set as Nature and its female and male sequences. It follows logically on the initial structuring of the set by introducing the increase argument of the first 14 sonnets. The positioning of the increase argument at the beginning of the set makes sense only if the logical structure of the set and two sequences is acknowledged.
          Then, as described in detail in Volume 1, the 14 increase sonnets are followed by 5 poetry and increase sonnets. The increase sonnets and the poetry and increase sonnets state the logical preconditions for the lengthy consideration of the dynamic of truth and beauty from sonnets 20 to 154.

    The mythic

    When reading individual sonnets and the comments on them it is easy to lose awareness of the mythic perspective Shakespeare brought to all his works. It takes time to assimilate the implications of a body of work that both critiques the inadequacies of all previous philosophy at the mythic level and presents a logically consistent mythic expression of humankind's place in Nature.
          Volume 1 establishes that the Sonnets articulate the logical conditions for any mythic possibility. As a reminder of the logical arrangement of the principal divisions in the sonnets, the complete template derived in Volume 1 is reproduced here.

    Complete Template (Sonnet numbers)

    Complete template (Sonnet numbers)

    A Lover's Complaint

    A Lover's Complaint has a significant role in the philosophic purpose of Q. The Complaint provides a logical link from the Sonnets to Shakespeare's other works. In the Complaint, Shakespeare gives an example of how the Sonnet philosophy articulates the logical pattern for the longer poems and the plays. It shows how the densely structured philosophy of the Sonnets can be cast with more immediacy as an allegorical poem.
          Volume 1 considered aspects of the content of A Lover's Complaint and its numerological structure. It is examined in detail in Volume 3.

    Previous commentaries

    The commentaries in Volume 2 are unique in the Sonnet literature in that they approach the individual sonnets from the vantage of their inherent philosophy. Most commentators over the last 400 years have fallen woefully short of understanding the sonnets because they use the inappropriate Judeo/Christian paradigm or other apologetic systems of thought. In Volume 4 the work of Stephen Booth and Helen Vendler is considered to give some idea of the consequences of attempting to understand the sonnets using inappropriate paradigms.
          However, as these commentaries on individual sonnets do not supply meanings for words and phrases unfamiliar to modern readers, the work of academic editors who have delved into Elizabethan usage can be useful for philological, etymological, historical and literary information.
          The Glossary in Volume 1 provides a brief description of the significant concepts from the Sonnet philosophy. It also provides a brief explanation of other words and names used throughout the volumes.
          Because the 154 sonnet commentaries in Volume 2 are based in the Sonnet philosophy, there are few references to works by other authors. If a work or author is mentioned, bibliographic details can be found in the selected bibliography in Volume 1.


    The possibility of penetrating the logic of the Sonnets came after 25 years of studying thinkers like Charles Darwin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stephane Mallarme and Marcel Duchamp who attempted to base their work in natural logic. A few years after realising the Sonnets expressed a profound philosophy that forms the basis of all Shakespeare's works, the logical structure of the set was applied to the individual sonnets to show how their meaning is based on the Sonnet logic. These commentaries are a record of that investigation.
          Because Shakespeare's is a profound philosophy that challenges the inadequacies of traditional thought, it helps to upgrade the mind to Shakespeare's natural logic to begin the process of understanding his sonnets, poems and plays. Speaking from experience, the upgrade can take a number of years, so the reader should exercise patience and work toward a removal of ingrained prejudices.

    Back to Top

    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005

    Introduction    1-9    10-21    22-33    34-45    46-57    58-69    70-81     82-93    94-105    106-117
    118-129    130-141    142-153    154     Emendations