Shakespeare Sonnet 100 - Owlcation - Education
Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 100

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 100

The speaker in sonnet 100 isagain addressing his Muse. He rebukes her for remaining at leisure and away from her post in assisting him in composing his dramatic works for posterity. He reminds her of the importance of remaining steadfast in inspiring only those who truly deserve and comprehend her importance.

The speaker employs his questioning technique to prompt the Muse to action. But he finally offers her what may seem to be an egotistical urge as he insists that with her help they both will be able to provide the standard by which all future art may be judged. And by providing that standard, they both will receive credit in terms of fame and recognition.

Sonnet 100

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty Muse, my love’s sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time’s spoils despised every where.
Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.

Reading of Sonnet 100

Commentary

The speaker is addressing his Muse directly, even calling her "Muse"; he audaciously instructs her to inspire only the artist who has skill and right understanding, that is, of course, himself.

First Quatrain: Chiding the Muse

Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?

The first quatrain of sonnet 100 finds the speaker chiding his Muse for keeping silent on issues that provide the Muse with "all thy might." He displays the bitter rebuke with two rhetorical questions.

The first question inquires of the Muse where she has been that she could cause herself to become so lax in offering discourse in such important matters. The second question, which requires an affirmative/negative response wants to know if this Muse has been wasting her powers in creating "some worthless song."

The speaker then accuses the Muse of debasing herself to offer "base subjects light." He subsequently admonishes her that his objectives always remain profound. His only genuine interests remain in beauty, love, and truth. He therefore deems these qualities to be far superior to all lesser subjects, and so he urges the Muse not to become unmindful of these essential facts.

Second Quatrain: Commanding the Forgetful Muse

Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.

The speaker offers a command to this Muse, who has become "forgetful," to return to him, in order to inspire in his creation of the vital works, instead of remaining at leisure. He wants her stop attempting to inspire those with lesser hearts and minds, for example those of poetasters. He is obviously referring to his own poetic talent as he demands, "Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem / And gives thy pen both skill and argument."

The speaker knows that he possesses the educated eye and ear for poetry. He knows that he is able to compose the profound lines that will continue to reverberate down through the centuries, as they carry forth the vital thoughts about his subjects. His dramatic word-paintings will speak for his own age as they continue to inspire and enlighten others with their "skill and argument."

Third Quatrain: Call to Accomplishment

Rise, resty Muse, my love’s sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time’s spoils despised every where.

The speaker then again begins to command his Muse to "Rise, resty Muse." He commands her to come out of her lazy leisure. He demonstrates what he wants her to accomplish. He is requiring her look help him proof-read his works, in order to assist him in ironing out any "wrinkle" that he might have left "graven there." The Muse must assist him in making his poems so nearly perfect that their content and form will become and remain the standard by which beauty will be judged, "every where."

One of this speaker's favorite subjects has been the process of human aging. Here he labels that theme, "a satire to decay." By placing before his memory and before that of his readers the fact that the aging and decaying process of the human physical body are seriously delicate and importantly vital matters, he believes that he is performing a vital service. And at the same time, he is sustaining truth and beauty, which are inherent in his correct thinking. His right thoughts, he believes, assist and inform his ability to dramatize all loveliness in his poetic works and always truthfully.

The Couplet: Sage Assistance

Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.

The speaker continues to hold to the thought that if his Muse will but offer him sage assistance in perfecting his sonnets, both he and the Muse will be capable of achieving "fame faster than Time wastes life."

In order to encourage the Muse in this endeavor, the speaker promises that they both will receive credit in thwarting, "[Time’s] scythe and crooked knife." He is, of course, engaging in hyperbole. He surely must be aware that such speed remains quite impossible, but he also is convinced that his exaggeration merely reflects the truth that life can imitate art, even as art reflects life.

The De Vere Society

The De Vere Society

Shakespeare Authorship / Crackpot to Mainstream

Questions & Answers

Question: Where does the idea of the Muse serving as an inspiration for writing poetry come from? When did it start?

Answer: The idea of the muse's inspiration in the arts has survived since ancient times. The Greek mythological characters of the nine muses offer an excellent example of this inspiration. Because the Western literary tradition has its origins with ancient Greek and Roman texts, including the Greek and Roman versions of the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as Greek and Roman mythology, the first place to consult on an issue such as the "muse" has to be with an ancient Greek poet and his text.


The Greek epic poet, Hesiod, names and describes nine Muses in The Theogony:


Thalia: Comedy, depicted with theatrical mask—Cheerful One

Urania: Astronomy, holds a globe—Heavenly Persona

Melpomene: Tragedy, in a theatrical mask—One Who Sings

Polyhymnia: sacred poetry, hymns, wearing a veil—Sacred Singer

Erato: Lyric Poetry, playing a lyre—Loveliness

Calliope: Epic Poetry, depicted with a writing tablet—Voice of Beauty

Clio: History, depicted with a scroll—Proclaimer

Euterpe: Flute-playing, depicted with a flute—Pleasing One

Terpsichore: Dance, depicted dancing, playing a lyre—Delighted by Dance.

Question: What is the central idea of sonnet 100 by Shakespeare?

Answer: The speaker is employing a questioning technique to prompt his muse to action.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles