Shakespeare Sonnet 102: "My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming"

Updated on June 12, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The read "Shakespeare"
The read "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 102

In sonnet 102, the speaker is musing on the nature and purpose of keeping his creations lean and crisp. He asserts that too much effusion just stands in the way of understanding and the message can be lost. This speaker's primary focus is always on the best manner in which he can convey his message of love, truth, and beauty.

Sonnet 102

My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming
I love not less, though less the show appear:
That love is merchandiz’d whose rich esteeming
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops her pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.

Reading of Sonnet 102

Commentary

First Quatrain: "My love is strengthen’d, though more weak in seeming"

Sonnet 102 finds the speaker addressing a general listener. He is dramatizing his feelings about allowing ideas to remain unexpressed. As he conveys the notion that "less is more," he emphasizes that such a concept is especially necessary when broaching the subject of love. At the same times, he makes it clear that even if he understresses his love, that love never becomes less. If the lover speaks of his love too enthusiastically and too often that love become "merchandize'd."

By scattering his emotion to vehemently and frequently, the lover's emotion begins to appear insincere and false. Readers have come to rely on this speaker's obsession with truth, balance, harmony, and beauty. He cherishes these qualities for his art; thus, the quintessential artist in this speaker requires him to be in search of the nearly perfect, harmonious balance in art as well as in his life.

Second Quatrain: "Our love was new, and then but in the spring"

The speaker's initial awareness that his Muse was operative in his work fostered a strong relationship of love for the speaker with that Muse. This love relationship urged him to create dramatic and melodious sonnets. He alludes to Philomel, the Greek character from mythology that became a nightingale, as he asserts that despite the depth of his love, too excessive a singing would become regressive. Thus, he stresses the necessity of moderation in expressing his truest feelings.

The speaker then will calm his "pipe" like the birds that in summer begin to control their own singing. He stresses that such discipline will result in harmony. Lest his heartfelt longings lead him into wallowing in the slime of zealotry, he will show that he has the ability to remain moderate. He is able to balance his joys and sorrows because he recognizes and comprehends the nature of the onslaught of the promptings of excess in which the human heart and mind are wont to engage.

Third Quatrain: "Not that the summer is less pleasant now"

By the third quatrain, the speaker becomes desirous of conveying the message that the moderation he employs allows the summer of his love to remain and continue to demonstrate all the qualities that make summer and love agreeable to the human psyche. He insists that "wild music" and "mournful hymns" display at to high a decibel level and thus assault the ears of listeners, interfering with their ability to convey their message.

The artist who remains focused on accuracy will never engage in heavy and tinsel-like embellishment. Even though the qualities of overly dramatic discourse may seem appealing at first, they lose their attraction through overuse. This speaker understands that too much of any physical property will diminish its attraction eventually. He then asserts colorfully, "sweets grown common lose their dear delight."

The Couplet: "Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue"

The speaker reasons that his self-discipline remains supported by valid principles. So instead of over-drama coupled with mere lovely verbiage, this speaker will carefully orchestrate his works, keep them crisp and clean. His creations will render the reader satisfied and not bedazzled by a lot of excess effusion. He will always keep his reading audience in mind so that his works may be understood in the clear and bright terms the speaker/writer has used to produced them.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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