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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: October ::
Sonnet 125
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0911  Monday, 16 October 2006

[1] 	From: 	Peter Bridgman <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 12 Oct 2006 19:13:04 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

[2] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 12 Oct 2006 20:19:32 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

[3] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 12 Oct 2006 20:00:29 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

[4] 	From: 	Ben Alexander <
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	Date: 	Friday, 13 Oct 2006 11:16:44 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Bridgman <
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Date: 		Thursday, 12 Oct 2006 19:13:04 +0100
Subject: 17.0900 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

The Venetian ambassador, Nicolo Molin, was present at James's City 
Progress into London.  In a letter home, he wrote this ...

"At eleven yesterday morning the king left the Tower.  He was preceded 
by the magistrates of the City, the court officials, the clergy, Bishops 
and archbishops, Earls, marquises, Barons and Knights, superbly 
apparelled and clad in silk of gold with pearl embroideries; a right 
royal show!  The prince was on horseback, ten paces ahead of the king, 
who rode under a canopy borne over his head by twenty-four gentlemen, 
splendidly dressed, eight of whom took it, turn and turnabout".

Was WS one of the "splendidly dressed" gentlemen who took it in turns to 
hold up the canopy?  Quite possibly.  For this very procession WS was 
issued with four and a half yards (13.5 ft) of scarlet woollen cloth. 
This is listed in the account book of the Royal Wardrobe, with 
Shakespeare's name at the top of the list of the Kings Men.  WS 
presumably took the cloth to a tailor to make a gentleman groom's livery 
jacket and breeches, for he was now a Gentleman Groom of the Most 
Honourable Privy Chamber.  As if he cared a toss ...

Were't aught to me I bore the canopy
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent ...

In the Arden 3rd edition of the Sonnets, Katherine Duncan Jones writes, 
"Sonnets 123-5 can be read as three comments on the 'wonderful year' 
1603-4, during which many poets wrote tributes to James I.  Shakespeare 
did not". In her introduction she writes, "Many other leading dramatists 
were actively involved in designing James's City progress, most 
prominently Dekker, Jonson and Chettle; Shakespeare was not".

All of this suggests that while WS's smart scarlet "extern" was "outward 
honouring" the new king, the poet's guarded thoughts were perhaps less 
patriotic.  That this ceremonial pomp was all show - all spin.

Peter Farey suggests that Sonnet 125 is not autobiographical and has 
nothing to do with James's City Progress.  Peter suggests that WS was 
writing about long-banned Eucharistic processions he had never 
witnessed, and that the "I" of Sonnet 125 was a fictional character.  I 
think this can only be wild conjecture.

I also think it unlikely that WS, with his Catholic upbringing, would 
have considered the processional honouring of the Eucharist to be pomp 
and spin.

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Thursday, 12 Oct 2006 20:19:32 +0100
Subject: 17.0900 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

Peter Farey wrote:

 >>I do feel myself though that the coronation procession of James I is
 >>the most apt occasion that this sonnet comments on, particularly with
 >>the "state", "pomp", "policy" and "politic".
 >
 >These are in the preceding sonnet, of course, where the effect of
 >political change upon *religious* practice is just as likely to
 >be what he had in mind.

I think it important to recognise that 123, 124 & 125 comprise a triad 
of sonnets. He wrote pairs of sonnets and this is the important triad 
that ends the 1-126 series to the Young man with the closing 126's 
couplets being the fitting, final full-stop on the series. This defiant 
triad is structurally linked by the word "No" starting the first 
quatrain of 123, the second quatrain of 124 and the third quatrain of 
125, with 126 resolving to the softer "O". As such, I don't think 125 
should be read in isolation and needs to be seen as part of a broader 
canvas. The "state", "pomp", "policy", "politic", "pyramids", "great 
bases" of this triad do not fit well with the Eucharist for me.

 >>On the points you make:
 >>
 >>- "savours sweet" is a favourite term in the canon, e.g. in V&A,
 >>ToS, MSDN, etc., none with religious reference.
 >
 >I don't know about the "favourite" or the "etc.", these being the
 >only examples I could find.

Others are Hamlet ("I remember one said there were no sallets in the 
lines to make the matter savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might 
indict the author of affectation; but call'd it an honest method, as 
wholesome as sweet"), Henry IV, Part I ("Thou hast the most unsavoury 
similes and art indeed the most comparative, rascalliest, sweet young 
prince"), CoE ("That never meat sweet-savour'd in thy taste"). In 
Shakespeare's famous life-balancing pairing (black/white, hot/cold, 
night/day, good/bad, etc.) this sweet/savour pairing is a typically 
recurring theme.

 >>But I think that you are looking at
 >>this the wrong way round, Nigel. The question is not whether
 >>"sweet ... savour" must have a religious meaning, but which of two
 >>meanings - one to do with the Eucharist and one with the coronation
 >>- is offered better support by it.

I think undoubtedly the coronation. In the context of the obsequiousness 
of 125 "For compound sweet forgoing simple savour" means thrivers who 
desire more and more sweets in return for their fawning, to the point of 
making oneself sick (and certainly the poet), instead of the simpler and 
honest taste of true commitment to the subject. It is literally a 
question of taste: obsequious fawning to the monarch via pomp and 
circumstance like bearing the canopy, or modest, simple, honest devotion 
to the subject.

 >>The V&A reference is particularly close to 125's:
 >>"Find sweet  >beginning, but unsavoury end".
 >
 >Neither the overt meaning nor any metaphorical one need be religious,
 >but, given Shakespeare's undoubted familiarity with the Bible,
 >can one seriously doubt that the very common biblical phrase
 >"sweet savour" was in the back of his mind when he wrote it?

I agree that he was at least familiar with the Bible but what is 
notable, aside from the secular nature of WS, is the fact that he 
utilises Biblical (and associated) phrases to aggrandise or deify the 
subject, not God. 108's "Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name" is 
a clear lift from the Lord's Prayer but WS is clearly not using this as 
a paean to God but to the "sweet boy". 116's "Let me not to the marriage 
of true minds Admit impediments" lifts from the BoCP's "If any of you 
know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be 
joined together in holy Matrimony" but is not addressed to God but to 
the Young Man with the "rosy lips and cheeks". It is not only WS's 
secular outlook on life, devoid of religious leanings, but his virtually 
blasphemous re-purposing of Biblical and religious phrases away from 
religion and to his subject(s) that positions him well clear of 
religious devotion, practice and ceremony.

 >>- The sonnet has striking correlation with Iago's opening statements
 >>in Othello Ii, in which he prepares with Roderigo to inform Brabanzio
 >>of Desdemona's secret marriage to Othello. The themes in this speech
 >>of obsequious two-facedness and an informer, are obviously aspects of
 >>125.
 >
 >I must say that I have always found this supposed correlation a little
 >bit far-fetched. Certainly lines 61-3 express the difference between
 >the outward appearance and what is going on inside in similar terms:
 >
 > For when my outward action doth demonstrate
 > The native act and figure of my heart
 > In compliment extern,
 >
 >and the words 'obsequious' and 'soul' appear there, but these really
 >are, I think, quite trivial compared with the 10 lines out of the 14
 >in the Sonnet where I think I have shown there is a documentary
 >connection with the Eucharist.

I read strong correlation between the Othello passage and 125. Iago is 
the two-faced, manipulating schemer who presents an obsequious fa

 

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