THE SONNET PHILOSOPHY + SONNET COMMENTARIES + PLAY COMMENTARIES + SHAKESPEARE & MATURE LOVE
DARWIN, WITTGENSTEIN & DUCHAMP + JAQUES + INQUEST + QUIETUS + GLOSSARY + CONTACT
|The first edition of the 4 volume set William Shakespeare's Sonnet Philosophy  is still available.|
From fairest creatures we desire increase,In the original 1609 edition of Shake-speares Sonnets, the first sonnet does not have a number. As all the other sonnets from 2 to 154 are numbered, it is possible Shakespeare left the number off the first sonnet to acknowledge the numerology of the set that establishes the logical relationship between nature as a unity, and the Mistress and Master Mistress. The absence of a number from the first sonnet draws attention to the role of nature and the Mistress and Master Mistress as the structural entities that establish the logical preconditions for the content of the individual sonnets within the set.
The arguments and evidence presented in Volume 1 establish that the complete set represents nature and the two sub-sequences represent the Mistress and the Master Mistress or the female and male. The complete set of 154 sonnets as nature has a numerological value of 1 (154 = 1+5+4 = 10 = 1+0 = 1), and the 28 sonnets of the Mistress sequence has a numerological value of 1 (28 = 2+8 = 10 = 1+0 = 1). As the objective of the Poet in the Master Mistress sequence is to restore youth to its unity, the number 1 has a significant role in the logical structure of the set.
If the logical structuring provided by the complete set as nature and its two sub-sequences as female and male is ignored, it is not possible to determine the meaning of the first sonnet or any of the subsequent sonnets. The failure of 400 years of Sonnet interpretation to understand the Sonnets is due to an inability or unwillingness to appreciate the significance of the logical preconditions for determining the meaning of individual sonnets.
Once the logical significance of the overall structuring of the set as nature and the sexual division in nature is accepted, the content of the first sonnet with its theme of increase becomes apparent. Because increase is the logical condition consequent on sexual division in nature, it should not be surprising that the 14 sonnets that present the increase argument occur at the beginning of the set.
So the first sonnet both looks back to the structural logic of the principal elements of the set and looks forward in its role as the first sonnet within the complete set. It is also the first sonnet of the Master Mistress sequence and the first of the 14 increase sonnets. As the first sonnet of the complete set, it introduces the principal condition for the persistence of both female and male. In introducing the Master Mistress sequence, it states the conditions the youth must conform to in order to gain a consistent understanding of truth and beauty. And, as the first sonnet of the increase sonnets it introduces the increase argument for the benefit of the youth.
The connection to the priority of the logical structure of the complete set and its sequences is made in the first line of the first sonnet. The logical theme of the 14 sonnets is confirmed by the mention of the word ‘increase’ in the first line (1.1). The increase argument is then sustained for 14 sonnets culminating in sonnet 14, which gives the logical relationship between increase (as ‘store’) and ‘truth and beauty’. The theme of truth and beauty is twice heralded in the last lines of sonnet 14 (14.11,14). Once the logical structure of nature and the sexual dynamic within nature is established in the organisation of the complete set and the 14 increase sonnets, the remaining 140 sonnets examine the implications for truth and beauty or human understanding.
While the logic of the truth and beauty dynamic is explored in the commentaries on sonnets 15 onward, the dynamic gets a preliminary introduction in the first two lines of the first sonnet. The word ‘fairest’ combines the sense of both beauty and judgment, and the phrase ‘beauty’s Rose’ combines both the sense of singular beauty and the potential of the Rose, with its petals and thorns, to be contrary. The absence of the word ‘truth’ from these lines, and from all the increase sonnets until the last few lines of sonnet 14, is a logical consequence of the sensory nature of the increase or sexual dynamic.
Shakespeare deliberately uses the word increase because it best expresses the logical requirement that human persistence is necessary for the survival of humankind beyond the present generation. The word persistence is used here to convey the determination required for humankind to continue in existence in the face of beliefs that prioritise eschatology or the concern with death, judgment, heaven and hell over the sexual dynamic in nature. As every person is born of parents, it is logical that the next generations be formed through the dynamic of increase. Consistent with his logic, sonnet 3 mentions that the youth had a mother and sonnet 13 that he had a father. The implication is that every person is logically part of the increase dynamic even if they are unable or unwilling to have children.
So, the first two lines of the first sonnet both acknowledge the external structure of the Sonnets and introduce the principal themes examined in the 154 sonnets. Even the mythic relationship between the erotic (‘desire’) and the sexual (‘increase’) is foreshadowed. The ‘content’ (1.11) of the complete set is evident in the first sonnet. But the immediate role of the sonnet is to introduce the increase argument.
The Poet, then, argues that the youth should increase so ‘beauty’s Rose might never die’ (1.2). As the youth’s ‘ripeness’ decreases, he should produce an ‘heir’ to bear his ‘memory’ (1.4). The youth is presented with the natural logic of life, but his ability to appreciate it is affected by his idealistic selfconcern. He is ‘contracted to (his) own bright eyes’ as he feeds his own flame with ‘self substantial fuel’ (1.6). A typical excessive idealist, he generates contradictions that make ‘famine where abundance lies’ and ends up being a ‘cruel’ foe to himself (1.8).
The image of the ‘Rose’ (which is capitalised throughout Q) is symbolic of the logic of beauty or sensations. The first sonnet also introduces the image of ‘thine ... eyes’ whose logical function is articulated in sonnet 14. Commentators ignorant of the logical function of the eyes in the Sonnets unnecessarily interfere with the meanings of critical words associated with eyes.
The youth should be the world’s fresh ornament that ‘heralds the gaudy spring’ (1.9). Instead, he buries his ‘content’ in his ‘bud’ (or penis), and so ‘makes waste in niggarding’ (1.12). In this first sonnet, Shakespeare identifies the generative relation between the potential to increase and the ‘content’ of his verse. The word ‘content’ is used again in the set to refer to the mythic quality in Shakespeare’s verse that distinguishes it from that of other poets (55.3 and 74.13).
In the couplet, the Poet warns that the youth should ‘pity the world’ or else his self gluttony will eat what is the ‘world’s due’ and become the ‘grave’ for humanity. The logic of the increase argument applies not to any particular youth but to the consequences of adolescent idealism when they are universalised. In the Sonnets, increase is the primary means to immortality, on which other forms of gaining immortality, such as art, are based.
So, the first sonnet argues that the youth should appreciate the signifi- cance of increase if he is to understand the ‘content’ of the Poet’s verse. It presents the logical argument that without increase there will be a famine of ‘fair creatures’, because the ‘gluttony’ of self-regard will lead not to abundance but to a ‘grave’ for all.
When forty Winters shall besiege thy brow,In Q the last two lines of sonnet 2 are printed at the top of the following page. From then on, throughout the set of 154 sonnets, every second or third sonnet straddles two pages. Despite the seeming arbitrariness of the arrangement, the system has an order in that after the first 9 sonnets every twelfth sonnet (numbers 10, 22, 34, 46, etc) begins at the top of a page. After the first 9 sonnets, there are 12 groupings of 12 sonnets (144 sonnets), leaving sonnet 154 to head a page on its own.
The significance of the sets of 12 for the temporal structure in the Sonnets is examined in Volume 1. In the following commentaries the temporal relationships are considered only in sonnets such as 12 and 60 in which time is a theme. It is sufficient to note that the grouping of 12 x 12 is the pattern for time in the set and the numbers 1 and 9 are the numbers for the Mistress and Master Mistress. The deliberate pattern of 12s supports the contention that the original arrangement of the Sonnets was purposeful. And the straddling of pages reinforces the effect of a continuous and coherent argument throughout the set. Arrangements in modern editions, which do not respect the original layout, cannot convey its full meaning.
Sonnet 2, then, is the second of 14 sonnets whose logical subject is increase. The dominant image is Winter. The process of aging, with its ‘deeply trenched brows’ (2.1-2) and ‘sunken eyes’ (2.7) brings with it the prospect of having no child ‘fair’ (2.10) or ‘warm’(2.14) to succeed the ‘cold’ of age or account for ‘beauty’ spent. The image of ‘Winter’ from the first line haunts the sonnet till the couplet, where keeping ‘thy blood warm’ by ‘succession’ is a bulwark against ‘cold’.
The word ‘Winter’ has a capital W in Q. In most modern editions of the Sonnets this is not respected. The use of capitals in the original is not arbitrary but highlights significant words in the set. Logical entities such as the Rose, the Muse, and the Poet are capitalised throughout Q.
These commentaries do not indulge in the traditional speculation about the identity of a youth or Mistress known to Shakespeare. Because the Sonnets present the logical relationships between nature, the female and male, and truth and beauty, such speculation is irrelevant to their content. If there was a youth who inspired the Sonnets, speculation about his identity adds no substance to their philosophic or poetic meaning. No person is mentioned by name in the Sonnets (except the ubiquitous ‘Will’ in sonnets 135/136), and no personal particulars or historical dates and events are given. The names that do appear, such as nature, the Mistress, the Master Mistress and the Poet, are logical types basic to Shakespeare’s philosophy.
Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest,Sonnet 3 uses the recurring image of a mirror or ‘glass’ (3.1,9). More often than not Shakespeare’s plays and poems have a readily identifiable image or theme. The word ‘Hamlet’ conjures up not only the character but also the whole dynamic of the play. The singular objects within the play, such as Hamlet’s book, the arras, and the skull, also contribute to the meaning. Similarly, in Venus and Adonis, the poem uses the basic female/male relationship to convey the logical conditions for mythic expression.
So the principal parts of the complete set of Sonnets, and most of the sonnets, are based on singular images or themes that communicate the unity and clarity of Shakespeare’s philosophy. The logical structure of the set of 154 sonnets as nature and the relation of female and male provides an easily conceived base out of which Shakespeare develops his understanding of the significance of increase, truth and beauty and, consequently, the nature of ‘love’.
Sonnet 3 is the first sonnet to feature the word ‘love’ (3.8). In the first few increase sonnets the Poet criticises the ‘self love’ of the youth. By appealing to the youth’s self image he tells him ‘now is the time that (his) face should form an other’ (3.2) If he fails to ‘renew’ himself, he may continue to ‘beguile the world’ with his ‘fresh repair’ or youthful looks, but such selfish love will ‘unbless some mother’ (3.4), or deny the logic of his own existence. The youth cannot claim that no woman will accept the ‘tillage of his husbandry’ (3.6). If he does resist, though, he will become the ‘tomb’ for his own ‘posterity’ (3.8).
Then, for the second time, he is reminded of the logic of his descent. He is his ‘mother’s glass’, as in him she recalls the ‘lovely April of her prime’ (3.10). If he increases he will likewise have ‘windows’ on his ‘golden time’ (3.12). The couplet is merciless in its conclusion. If the youth lives so as not to be ‘remembered’, then he will ‘die single and thine Image dies with thee’.
Traditional sonnet interpretation, ignorant of or profoundly uneasy about the meaning of the increase sonnets, has characterised them as ‘marriage sonnets’. There has even been speculation that Shakespeare was paid to write them to encourage a young Lord to marry. While the words ‘husbandry’, ‘married’, ‘husband’, ‘widow’, ‘wife’, do occur within the increase sonnets, in each case they are used metaphorically to invoke the idea of increase or begetting. The increase sonnets cannot be about marriage because logically marriage does not ensure ‘increase’.
Upon thy self thy beauty's legacy?Whereas sonnet 1 uses the image of the Rose, sonnet 2 the image ofWinter, and sonnet 3 the image of a mirror, sonnet 4 uses terms from accountancy to encourage the young man to have ‘thrift’ with ‘Nature’s bequest’. Words such as ‘spend’, ‘largesse’, ‘usurer’, ‘sum’, ‘traffic’, ‘Audit’, ‘executor’combine to emphasise the logic of saving for the future through increase or begetting, the theme of the first 14 sonnets.
The Poet challenges the youth’s spendthrift attitude toward his ‘beauty’s legacy’ (4.2) As beauty represents the sensory input from the physical world, as well as the intensified sensations generated in the mind, the youth is accused of wasting his potential for increase and so his potential to use his mind. ‘Nature’, the sovereign entity of the Sonnets, does not ‘give’ her ‘bequest’ to the youth for ‘nothing’, but ‘lends’ it only to those who are ‘free’ (4.4) with their sexual favours. So, the Poet asks, why should the youth be ‘niggard’ with his ‘beauteous’ or sexual potential when nature has given him the potential to ‘give’ it to others (4.6). If he remains selfish he gets no return on the great ‘sum of sums’ (4.8) that would allow him to ‘live’ into posterity.
Because the youth indulges himself in self ‘traffic’, as do the celibate, he ‘deceives his sweet self ’ (4.10). How, when nature ends his life, can he make an acceptable ‘Audit’ (4.12) of the potential he has been loaned. In the couplet he is told that his ‘unused beauty must be tomb’d’ with him. If he used his potential for increase, his progeny would become the executor of his will.
The word nature is introduced in sonnet 4. It first occurs in the form of ‘Nature’s bequest’ as the natural process of birth and rebirth, and secondly as the instrument of death when ‘nature calls thee to be gone’. The ‘Audit’ at death takes account of the youth’s appreciation of the significance of increase. In the Sonnets (and plays) ‘Nature’ is Shakespeare’s logical given against which all things in the world, such as ‘time’, the arts and God, are reckoned.
In sonnet 126, the last of the sequence to the Master Mistress, the final ‘Audit’ is made. In the intervening sonnets the youth is both praised and judged till in sonnet 126 he is again brought to ‘Audit’ by ‘Nature’. Sonnet 4 introduces the logical process that is applied at the end of the sequence. In both instances ‘Audit’ in Q has a capital ‘A’ and is italicised. An audit is not required in the 28 Mistress sonnets as the female is logically prior to the male and is already at one with nature.
Those hours that with gentle work did frame,
Then let not winter's ragged hand deface,Comment on Sonnets 5 & 6
Some commentators consider sonnet 5 misplaced because it does not appear
to deal with the theme of increase. Sonnets 5 and 6, though, are logically
united in a single argument by the ‘then’ at the beginning of sonnet 6. The
continuity and integrity of the whole set is logically supported by argumentatively
joined sonnets, and typographically enhanced by sonnets like 2 and
5, which straddle pages in Q.
Lo in the Orient when the gracious light,In sonnet 7, the sun is the unifying image. It provides a punning metaphor that anticipates the ‘son’ of line 14. The course of the sun through the day is compared to a lifetime, with the period from morning to noon ‘resembling strong youth’ (7.6), and the sun’s descent from noon to evening is likened to the onset of old age. The sun resembles a ‘burning head’ whose eyes do homage to his ‘new appearing sight’, which serve ‘with looks his sacred majesty’ (7.4). Shakespeare uses the image of the eye to refer to both the eyes of the face and the sexual eye of the male and female. So the logical relationship between the visual and sexual eyes is inherent in the rising of the sun.
The sexual anthropomorphism is continued more explicitly when the sun, ‘resembling strong youth’, has climbed the ‘steep up heavenly hill’ (7.5), a reference to the mons veneris. Until the sun reaches noon or ‘middle age’ its ‘golden pilgrimage’ is adored by ‘mortal looks’ (7.7). But when from the ‘highest’ point it begins to ‘reeleth from the day’ (7.10), the ‘eyes’, which before seemed ‘duteous’ to the task of rising to the occasion, are ‘converted’ (with ironical religious parody) from ‘his low tract’ and ‘look another way’ (7.12). In the couplet the youth is reminded that unless he ‘gets a son’ before ‘outgoing in thy noon’ he will die ‘unlooked on’.
The argument of the increase sonnets is logically precise. If all like the youth deny the logic of increase, the human capacity for posterity will ‘diest’. The acceptance of the logic of increase is essential before an understanding of the mythic basis of life, and the ability to write poetry with mythic content, is possible. Once increase is accepted as the logical precondition for the idea of human immortality, sonnet 14 can state the logic of the relation of ‘thine eyes’ to truth and beauty.
It is not the intention in these commentaries to explore the literary or mythological allusions in the Sonnets. Traditional commentaries excel in teasing out the references. While the ‘weary car’ is a possible allusion to Apollo’s Chariot, and the identification of the youth with Apollonian values says something of his character, no amount of scholarship can substitute for an awareness of the logic of the Sonnets. Shakespeare’s mythic logic captures systematically the deepest experiences and intuitions behind traditional mythologies.
Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly,Sonnet 8 uses the theme of ‘music’ to argue the case for increase. The Poet questions the youth’s ability to appreciate music when the youth is unwilling to appreciate the logical connection between the production of ‘concord’ and the sexual dynamic.
The Poet asks why the youth ‘hear’st…music sadly’ when music can provide natural harmony and delight without ‘war’ (8.2). How can the youth ‘love’ that which he is not ‘glad’ to understand or which causes him ‘annoy’ (8.4)? If the ‘true concord of well tuned sounds’, which form a ‘union’ (8.6) like a marriage, offend the youth’s ear, the Poet will ‘chide’ him for confounding the component ‘parts’ of the concord with his ‘singleness’ (8.8).
The cause of the youth’s annoyance is the Poet’s explanation of the logic of increase using the metaphor of music. The Poet argues that the strings of the instrument ‘strike each in each in mutual ordering; resembling sire, and child, and happy mother’ (8.11). The natural combination of sounds produces an effect of ‘all in one’, which resembles the logical unity of mother, father, and child.
In the couplet the ‘speechless song’ of ‘many’, seems ‘one’, just as the unification of the Master Mistress with the Mistress produces a unity in concord with the unity of nature. If the youth persists in being ‘single’, he will ‘prove none’ or demonstrate the inadequacy of his idealistic selfishness. The relationship of numbers in the Poet’s argument recalls the numerological structure of the whole set.
The word ‘music’ occurs five times in the 154 sonnets, but only sonnets 8 and 128 repeat ‘music’ in the first line. Volume 1 discusses the significance of sonnets 8 and 128 as the only two sonnets that have ‘music’ as the major theme. It shows that the structure for music throughout the set is associated with the natural interval of the octave. The music structure coincides with the limits of the whole set and so with the unity of nature. In sonnet 8, Shakespeare specifically relates the concord of the increase dynamic in nature with the unity in music.
The logic of sonnet 8 is not an argument for marriage as a legal contract between two people. The logic of increase is not guaranteed by the legality of marriage. Rather, ‘unions married’ is a triangular relationship between parents and child as the logic basic for human survival. It is the ‘song’ that has been repeated in the sexual dynamic countless times as a ‘true concord of well tuned sounds’.
Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye,In sonnet 9 the misfortune of a widow gives the limiting condition to the logic of ‘love’. Even a widow has the consolation of seeing a reminder of her ‘husband’s shape’ in her children. The youth ‘destroys’ the possibility of being remembered similarly by others if he remains single.
The Poet challenges the youth’s reluctance to accept the logic of increase by punning on the sexual logic of the ‘eye’ (9.1). He asks why, by ‘consuming’ himself ‘in single life’, the youth ‘fears’ to ‘wet a widow’s eye’ or excite her sexual desire. If the youth dies ‘issueless’ (9.3) the ‘world’ will weep for him like a ‘wife’ who has not been able to ‘make’ it (9.4), or have her wet desire satisfied. In the logic of the Sonnets, because the Master Mistress represents the generic male whose selfishness threatens human posterity, the ‘world will be thy widow and still weep’ (9.5) when he dies, leaving ‘no form’ of himself behind (9.6).
By contrast, every ‘private widow’ (9.7) can keep her ‘husband’s shape in mind’ by looking into her ‘children’s eyes’ (9.8) to see the logic of life. The widow’s husband, by being ‘unthrifty’ or free with his sexual favours, ‘shifts but his place’ (9.10) from husband to dying, but still the ‘world’ can ‘enjoy’ his progeny. But if ‘beauty’, or the sensuous favours, are ‘wasted’ (9.11), then beauty no longer survives in the world (as in sonnet 129). By keeping beauty ‘unused’ the youth destroys the world (9.12).
In the first few sonnets, the ‘self-love’ of the youth has been the Poet’s concern. The youth was advised to put aside his self-regard because it is a fruitless conceit. Now in sonnet 9, the couplet addresses the logical basis of ‘love’ for others. The couplet states that ‘love toward others’ cannot exist in those who have no regard for the logic of increase. They commit ‘a murd’rous shame’ by disregarding it.
In sonnet 9, Shakespeare presents the logical condition for any form of love. As the number for the youth is 9, it is appropriate that Shakespeare defines the logic of love in sonnet 9. Sonnet 10 then tops the next page. After sonnet 9 defines the logic of love, sonnet 10 introduces the Poet for the first time as ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’.
The Poet argues that the logic of increase is the basis for loving others. Whatever difficulties there may be in reconciling the natural and the idealised aspects of human relationships, the logic of increase is fundamental to the continuation of human life. In sonnet 9, Shakespeare expresses the understanding in the clearest of terms. It is not surprising that sonnet 9, which gives the logical condition for love, has a significant position in the structure of the set.
118-129 130-141 142-153 154 Emendations