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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: October ::
Sonnet 125
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0919  Tuesday, 17 October 2006

[1] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 10:48:57 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[2] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:25:58 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[3] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 19:41:24 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[4] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 16:03:47 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[5] 	From: 	Ira Zinman <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 17:24:16 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[6] 	From: 	Sid Lubow <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:14:30 EDT
	Subj: 	Before Sonnet 125 and after

[7] 	From: 	Jim Carroll <
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	Date: 	Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:47:07 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[8] 	From: 	Peter Farey <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 15:01:19 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 10:48:57 -0600
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

I have followed with interest the discussion of Sonnet 125 and find that 
many, including Nigel Davies, make interesting and illuminating points. 
  But in his latest posting Nigel Davies greatly overstates 
Shakespeare's supposed "secular outlook on life, devoid of religious 
leanings," and "well clear of religious devotion, practice and 
ceremony."  Four thoughts in response:

(1) Though we have no window into his heart, isn't it true that, after 
retiring to Stratford, Shakespeare served in his parish as a "lay 
rector" (one of the laymen who helped run the parish)?

(2) There are many references to and representations of "religious 
devotion, practice and ceremony" in the plays and sonnets.  So whatever 
Shakespeare may have thought of these, his mind was certainly not "well 
clear" of them.

(3) His "re-purposing of Biblical and religious phrases" is not 
"virtually blasphemous," except perhaps to very strict or oversensitive 
minds.  Many religiously inclined writers, including in Shakespeare's 
time, have used religious phrases and ideas metaphorically, 
symbolically, dramatically, or poetically.

(4) The sonnets and plays include plenty of straightforward expressions 
of religious feeling and belief.  For example (picking just a few among 
hundreds):

. . . by the worth of mine eternal soul . . .

. . . the eternal spirit . . .

For them the gracious Duncan have I murther'd,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man . . .

Then is doomsday near.

The quality of mercy is not strained . . . [the whole speech]

By the eternal God, whose name and power
Thou tremblest at, answer that I shall ask . . .

O thou eternal Mover of the heavens,
Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch!

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long,
. . .
So hallowed, and so gracious, is that time.

I every day expect an embassage
 >From my Redeemer to redeem me hence . . .

The precious image of our dear Redeemer . . .

I charge you, as you hope to have redemption
By Christ's dear blood shed for our grievous sins, . . .

. . . those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail'd
For our advantage on the bitter cross . . .

For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like
Another fall of man.

  Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once,
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy.  How would you be
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that,
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made.

. . . man, proud man,
Dress'd in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Of course, most of these can be explained as fitting particular 
characters or dramatics contexts.  But so can most of the so-called 
secular or transgressive expressions.

And some, as the following, seem to take for granted religious belief in 
a way that cannot be explained away as simply "in character":

Sonnet 55: So till the judgment that yourself arise . . . [i.e., until 
judgment day when you are resurrected]

And of course there's the will, starting with: "In the name of god Amen 
I William Shackspeare, . . . in perfect health and memorie, God be 
praysed, doe make and ordayne this my last will and testament in manner 
and forme followeing, that ys to saye, ffirst, I comend my soule into 
the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredlie beleeving, through 
thonelie merites, of Jesus Christe my Saviour, to be made partaker of 
lyfe everlastinge, and my bodye to the earth whereof yt ys made."

I know great efforts have been made to explain this away as either a 
formula or as not of Shakespeare's composition.  But it appears to me it 
is a formula to which he gave his assent.  I believe the burden of proof 
is on those who imagine Shakespeare's private thoughts were entirely 
different from his official statements or from assumptions (e.g., about 
judgment day, resurrection, redemption, and the soul's eternal nature) 
woven into the sonnets and many of the plays.

ON THE OTHER HAND--so far I am persuaded that Sonnet 125 makes sense 
best if we assume a mainly secular, political context.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:25:58 +0100
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Peter Bridgman wrote:

 >>Was WS one of the "splendidly dressed" gentlemen who took it
 >>in turns to hold up the canopy?  Quite possibly.

I have always interpreted the first line of 125 as a question rather 
than a statement: "Would it mean anything to me if I bore the canopy?". 
WS was certainly present at the event but the mood and tone of the 
couplet suggest that he may have been displaced from being one of the 
bearers. Perhaps he was one of the gentlemen lined up to do so but was 
stood down due to being betrayed by the "suborned informer". Line 13's 
"suborned" informer is literally linked to line 1's "bore" the canopy.

Nigel Davies

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 19:41:24 +0100
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Ben Alexander wrote:

 >>The last words of 126 are an anagram of "storie end(s) there."

Interesting. The only difficulty with this is storie is consistently 
spelled "story" in the Quarto. Perhaps no matter.

I have always thought that there is more to 126 than has so far been 
uncovered. The two main characters, the author and the Young Man, are 
present, as are the two abstract forces that drive 1-126, Time and Nature.

In line 6 "Will" is named, that attracts attention and in the following line

"She keeps thee to this purpose: that her skill" there is a 
tantalisingly close semi-palindromic anagram to Shakespeare in "She 
keeps". In the Quarto it is particularly visibly striking. Furthermore, 
there appears to be a straight, incorruptible reference to his surname 
in the same line:

"SHE Keeps thee to thiS PURpose: that her skill".

He appears to have positioned his own name via "Will Shekspur" at the 
very heart of this final sonnet of the 1-126 series.

With the author, Time and Nature explicitly named I can't help thinking 
that the Young Man is likewise named somewhere in this sonnet via 
assonance, anagram or alike.

Nigel Davies

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 16:03:47 -0400
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Nigel Davies in discussing Peter Farey's observations of Sonnet 125 
(10.6.06) well sums up the conventional opinion that Shakespeare is a 
thoroughgoing secularist who uses religious allusions for profane 
purposes, like expressing a deep love for his young friend, the "sweet 
boy" mentioned in Sonnet 108. Let not anyone fool himself to think that 
the poet is not deliberately using religious terminology in his sonnets, 
allusions that many illustrious commentators have detected and pointed out.

It can hardly be imagined by Davies and some others that this "sweet 
boy" is other than they think he is, namely, one of the alleged young 
noblemen that the poet is supposedly in thrall to. To begin to suggest 
otherwise, it should be noted that the word "sweet" here is unlike what 
today the word is generally regarded as meaning or, otherwise, Horatio 
could hardly have referred to Hamlet as "sweet prince." "Sweet" in 
Elizabethan terms refers to something high and noble, not to anything 
like "sweetheart," which would be a minor, side meaning.

So who could this "sweet boy" be that the poet has met earlier? It is a 
complicated matter but evidence in the Sonnets will show that this 
"sweet boy" is the personification of the poet's higher angel, depicted 
as a beautiful young man, the good angel that visits all young persons 
commencing at the age of about puberty, as described in the Bible's 
episode in the life of Solomon, who at 12 was visited by such an angel. 
This "sweet boy" angel is conceived to have been sent by the Lord to all 
young people to call them to a higher life and it is to be distinguished 
from the Lord.  (This visitation is not dissimilar from that in the 
concept of confirmation that occurs in many religions.)

Sonnet 125 happens to be one of those sonnets that is addressed directly 
to the Lord, declaring the poet's fealty and devotion to Him rather than 
to the idol's of the time that the sonnet's "pitiful thrivers" gaze at 
and try to impress. The poet tells that he does not wish for high honors 
like "bearing the canopy" for the installation of a monarch. That this 
"holding" is not something that the poet experienced is further told by 
the sonnet's third line, which parallels it-"Or layd great bases for 
eternity." The poet did not wish to do this nor did he do that either.

A suggestion that this is indeed the message of Sonnet 125 can be 
brought from Psalm 125, which it parallels in its discussion of real, 
eternally enduring things, opening as follows:

     1  They that trust in the LORD shall be as mount Zion,
     which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.

Could I be wrong? Of course I could be, even in the face of the abundant 
evidence in the Sonnets that I actually bring to my assertions. These 
ideas will often not even be countenanced in order to dare take on and 
defeat their arguments.  Leaving these ideas unexplored runs the chance 
of reducing the poet's vision and slighting the unmatched wisdom and 
deep sensitivity he brings to his readers.

David Basch

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Ira Zinman <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 17:24:16 EDT
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Nigel Davis brings up an important point when he says :"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." Many of the Sonnets may best be interpreted by looking at 
them in groups with a related theme. As I see the related triad, Sonnet 
123,124 and 125, they appear open to the following interpretation:
In Sonnet 123, the Poet reaffirms a Avow@ to Abe true@   despite any 
change wrought by Time and  no matter what events or changes come upon 
the world's landscape.  This I do vow, and this shall ever be; I will be 
true, despite thy scythe and thee.@ (Sonnet 123.13-14).

In Sonnet 124, Shakespeare compares his "dear love" to that of others 
which are "subject to Time's love, or to Time's hate".  Shakespeare's 
love is not like that of hypocritical courtiers which rise and fall by 
the changing whims of circumstance.  "No, it was builded far from 
accident; it suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls under the blow of 
thralled discontent".  In contrast, Shakespeare's "dear love" is "hugely 
politic".  Politic can mean wisely directed, or like the poles of the 
earth, are fixed in their place and direction, never altering or 
changing.

Ben Alexander makes the comment that "Sonnet 125 is simply saying that 
kudos comes at a cost and that cost can lead to ruin. The poet has loved 
him in a simple way but time has moved on and even the most faithful 
person must look to their own."

In that regard, one might look at Sonnet in the following manner:

Sonnet 125 echoes the sentiments of Sonnets 66 and 91.  In Sonnet 66, 
our poet asserts that he "tired" with all the hypocrisy and "folly" he 
sees in society.  "From these would I be gone".  In Sonnet 91, 
Shakespeare states that "glory in birth ... wealth ...garments" (Sonnet 
91.1-3) and every other kind of "adjunt pleasure"(Sonnet 91.5)  are not 
his "measure"(Sonnet 91.7).  "Thy Love is better than high birth to me, 
richer than wealth, pronder than garments' cost  .. and having Thee, of 
all men's pride I boast".  (Sonnet 91.9,10,12)

It is no surprise then that Shakespeare in his constancy would shun the 
temptations of a superficial life "which prove[s] more short than waste 
or ruining" (Sonnet 125.4)   Shakespeare is not interested in external 
honors, but offers his "oblation, poor but free, which is not mix'd with 
seconds, knows no art ,but mutual render, only me for thee". One cannot 
ignore the fact, however, that Shakespeare injects the possibility of a 
religious thread on one level of  interpretation by mentioning "a true 
soul."  Looking at it in this manner of interpretation,  it is the 
worldly-enthralled ego then which he calls the "suborn'd informer" that 
tries to ensnare the soul.  But "a true soul" , when assailed by 
temptation, remains fixed and aloof, out of the reach of egoistic 
temptations.  "A true soul when most impeach'd stands least in thy 
control"  This is the soul of Sonnet 124 which "all alone stands hugely 
politic"(Sonnet 124.11).  The poet's soul was made "better" and learned 
from "wretched errors". (Sonnet 119). In Sonnet 125, our poet stands 
firmly out of reach of the "frailties" (Sonnet 121.7) that previously 
assailed him.  His soul is "true" and perhaps surrendered to a more 
spiritual outlook on life....as opposed to one who is enamored with 
"outward honouring" by bearing " the canopy."

As always with Shakespeare, he is open to various levels of 
interpretation, which make interest in his works ever new and exciting.

With best wishes to all,
Ira Zinman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sid Lubow <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:14:30 EDT
Subject: 	Before Sonnet 125 and after

Friends, we have been attempting to parse sonnet 125 and only succeeded 
to admit to a disagreement.  What in blazes is the Bard talking about at 
this late stage in these sonnets that have baffled the world for almost 
exactly four-hundred years? (400)  And more differences to come where 
our finest scholars find it "convincing" that the Bard might have 
written an even later sonnet, 145.13, while wooing Anne "hate away", his 
future wife, supposedly written when the Bard was eighteen.  (How old 
must the Bard have been when he started way back on number one, which, 
by the way, was correctly parsed, but not pursued, by Jonathan Bate, 
saying that it referred to "the self-regarding eye" of Narcissus in 
Golding's Metamorphoses, "my plentie makes me poore", and in sonnet 
1.5-8, and sonnet 5.10, the "liquid prisoner prisoner pent in walls of 
glass)

In these sonnets, based on the fable of Narcissus, the Bard, in my 
opinion, has played out a love affair with himself, the lad with the 
"sweet and lovely lips," "the lovely neck" that Echo "longed" for, the 
"son" created in his own "Image".  S. 20's, "Mafter Miftris" {the 
"lovely Boy" of whom he speaks in sonnet 126 who has been "wooed" away 
by the "fickle maid" of A Lover's Complaint.  (The prologue, the real 
back-story of the Sonnets)

The woman, not the mute Echo, but the one who could speak so eloquently 
while crying bitterly over her lost lover, a young Bard himself.  The 
Muse of tragedy, who inspired her "grace" into his "spongy lung" and 
who, insultingly, thought of her, anagramatically, as a "hower" in a few 
sonnets.  At the end of sonnet 125, the Bard in 126 has already reached 
the climax of his play, wherein by changing his rhyme scheme and, 
cleverly, by losing the last of the seven couplets, he has alerted 
scholars that "Nature...will pluck thee backe".

She has called for "Her Audit" which must be "answer'd". Note how the 
Bard calls attention to this climactical sonnet, following which he will 
see, strangely, the aforementioned "Image", "a false borrowed face" on 
the Muse's neck, the re-appearance of the dark lady herself, "one on 
another's neck" in sonnet 131.

In sonnet 125, the Bard has lost all respect for his "louely Boy".  He 
calls him a "subbornd Informer", instigated by the fickle Muse, "the 
carcass of a beauty spent and done", the "reconciled Maide" of ALC.

SONNET 126

O Thou my louely Boy, who in thy power
Dost hould times fickle glaffe, his fickle, hower:
Who hast by wayning grown, and therein fhou'ft
Thy louers withering, as thy fweet felfe grow'ft
If Nature (foueraigne misteres ouer wrack)
As thou goeft onwards ftill will plucke thee backe,
She keepes thee to this purpofe, that her skill
May time difgrace, and wretched mynuit kill.
Yet feare her O thou minnion of her pleafure,
She may detaine but not ftill keepe her trefure!
Her Audite (though delayd) anfwer'd must be,
And her Quietus is to render thee.
      (                                                            )
      (                                                     )

Respectfully,
Sid Lubow 
 
 
 


[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jim Carroll <
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Date: 		Monday, 16 Oct 2006 18:47:07 -0400
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Peter Bridgman <
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 >wrote on Thursday, 12 Oct 
2006 19:13:04 +0100
Subject: 17.0900 Sonnet 125
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0900 Sonnet 125

 >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.

Thus sabotaging a fine exegesis of Sonnet 125 with a wild surmise.

Jim Carroll

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Farey <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 15:01:19 +0100
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Peter Bridgman rehearses the main arguments for the 'Coronation' 
interpretation of "canopy", with which those of us who have copies of 
Duncan-Jones's "Sonnets" and Michael Wood's "In Search of W.S.", from 
which he quotes at length, are of course already familiar. What he still 
does not do, however, is to address the main point of my original post, 
which is that - whilst this *could* have been what was meant - the 
finding of various hitherto unnoticed connections with the Eucharist 
means that several other lines in the Sonnet can now be explained in a 
far more satisfying way than was possible before.

For example, as I point out in my response to Nigel,  "Or layd great 
bases for eternity" is an almost perfect conversion into iambic 
pentameter of the quotation from the Book of Common Prayer (Holy 
Communion) "laying up in store for them selves a good foundacion, 
against the time to come, that they may attayne eternal lyfe". So it 
just as perfectly explains precisely what the line means - something 
that commentators have had to simply guess at before - and also explains 
why line four says "MORE short then wast or ruining", which most are 
compelled either to paraphrase as "lasts no longer than...", which is 
not what it says, or to ignore it altogether.

Similarly, "Noe,let me be obsequious in thy heart" really has most 
commentators puzzled. The link with respect for the dead is often 
mentioned, but nobody really has a clue why this might be relevant or 
why "in thy heart". Think of it as coming from "...take and eate this in 
remembraunce that Christ died for thee, feede on him in thine heart...", 
however, and it makes perfect sense, as does his use in the next line of 
the word "oblation", which the OED actually defines as "2. The action of 
offering or presenting the elements of bread and wine to God in the 
Eucharist; also, the whole office of the Eucharist".

It hardly needs saying either, of course, that "not mixed with seconds" 
makes real sense only in this context, and that (at least as far as I 
know) nobody really had a clue as to why a "suborned informer" should 
suddenly appear out of nowhere in this way before I reminded people of 
Judas's role at the Last Supper?

According to Peter Bridgman, "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 don't see it this way. What I do see is that he has experienced the 
effects upon real people of being passionately Catholic, and of working 
for a return to Catholic forms of worship. Whether he had experienced 
the ceremonies himself or not is irrelevant. He knows about them, as 
anyone who knew of the Babington or Gunpowder plots (or any of the 
executions between them) would have done, and is using it as a *symbol* 
of the difference between the two forms.

As his finale, Peter thinks it unlikely that someone brought up in a 
certain faith by their parents - and with Shakespeare's intellect and 
imagination - would ever depart from it. Forgive my laughter!

Meanwhile, Joe Egert asks: "But Peter, why must the choice be "either 
or" rather than "both and"?".

The poem is, of course, mainly about his love for his friend, but he 
uses another image to illustrate this, which may be that he is either:

1) using the 'Coronation' image or the 'Eucharist' one, but not both,
or
2) using one of them, but with just a side-glance at the other.

What he is certainly *not* doing is to give equal weight to both of 
them, which would (in my opinion) have totally wrecked the poem.

Peter Farey
http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/index.htm

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