Shakespeare Sonnet 105: "Let not my love be call’d idolatry"

Updated on December 19, 2017
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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.

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.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Introduction and Text of Poem, "Let not my love be call’d idolatry"

In sonnet 105, the speaker creates a new trinity, an artist's trinity perhaps, consisting of the three qualities, "fair, kind, and true." He begins by railing against the blasphemy of "idolatry," as he demonstrates that his devotion is dedicated to only One Being.

As the speaker declares that he will not have his beloved thought of as "an idol show," he is employing a pun on the term "idol." In his usage, he is working the term to mean both "idol" and "idle." Thus he is warning against interpreting his love as "idolatry" and his beloved as a graven image or a meaningless demonstration.

Let not my love be call’d idolatry

Let not my love be call’d idolatry
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse, to constancy confin’d,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
‘Fair, kind, and true,’ is all my argument,
‘Fair, kind, and true,’ varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
‘Fair, kind, and true,’ have often liv’d alone,
Which three till now never kept seat in one.

Reading of Sonnet 105


First Quatrain: "Let not my love be call’d idolatry"

In the first quatrain of sonnet 105, the speaker exhorts his listener/reader not to interpret his reverence to his beloved as idol worship and by extension not to think of the object of his passion as a trivial target. He does not put on display his discourse for the purpose of pomp and glitter. His poetry not only reflects his considerable talent, but it also engages the world with respect and love for its subject matter.

The speaker insists that his entire canon speaks with a unity that no one can denigrate or deny. He praises only one and that one is the spiritual reality that creates and upholds all creation. Nevertheless, this speaker time and time again demonstrates that his particular interest and talent lay in creating poems about love, beauty, and truth. All of his "songs and praises" pay homage to the reality he calls, "my beloved."

Second Quatrain: "Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind"

The consistency of this speaker's love stabilizes his reality, and his poetry reflects this stability. His love is "kind" "to-day" and "to-morrow." It is by grace and "a wondrous excellence" that he has the ability to devote himself so single-mindedly to his preoccupation. His poetry shines as a monument to "constancy."

Because of this dedication, this devoted speaker is committed to conveying a single message, which "leaves out difference." Without such a focused heart and mind, "difference" would sever his grasp and break the concentration required to remain integrated with his soul power.

Third Quatrain: "‘Fair, kind, and true,’ is all my argument"

The speaker then spells out his stance; he argues only for what is "fair, kind, and true." These seemingly three qualities become a trinity for his invention: "three themes in one." The speaker alludes to the mystery of the holy trinity, wherein abide three Gods in one. And as the holy trinity upholds and explains the nature of spirit, this speaker/poet’s trinity offers "wondrous scope."

The Couplet: "'Fair, kind, and true,' have often liv’d alone"

The speaker repeats the three names that compose his artist's trinity: "Fair, kind, and true." This trinity is so important that he has now chanted its name a third time. The speaker then reveals that the ordinary usage of these terms would define each separately.

However, in this speaker/artist's cosmogony, these three when taken together create a fresh reality that until he had thought them into existence had never combined to create the one that he now maintains. He regards his position as a king reigns over a kingdom or as the Great Spirit Creator reigns over His creation.

The Real "Shakespeare"


A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

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 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 (Erroneously "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.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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