Shakespeare Sonnet 111: "O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide"
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Introduction and Text of Sonnet 111
According to Gary Goldstein, editor of Elizabethan Review, "In 1586, to rescue him from penury, the Queen granted the Earl an annual pension of £1,000." The speaker in sonnet 111 reveals that he has not acquitted himself well in supporting his life financially, and he must take "public means" for his subsistence.
O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide
O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renew’d;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel ’gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me, then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.
First Quatrain: "O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide"
The speaker in sonnet 111 addresses his muse, continuing his confessional mode from sonnet 110. This time he is broaching the subject of his finances. He feels that he is being "chide[d]" by his muse as well as by Fortune. He distances himself, at least a short way, from the blame, as he implies that he is the victim of "the guilty goddess of my harmful deeds."
Those harmful deeds caused him to lose his inheritance, and only by the grace of the Queen is he sustained financially. He is ashamed that he "did not better for [his] life provide," because taking public assistance causes him to breed "public manners."
Second Quatrain: "Thence comes it that my name receives a brand"
Because he is obliged to accept "public means," the speaker is required to fulfill specific obligations that he finds distasteful. Likely, the speaker is referring to his obligation to compose and stage plays because of his financial situation, instead of because of the love he holds for art creation from pure inspiration.
The speaker's name then becomes "a brand." And this fact likely remains responsible for his employing the pseudonym, "William Shakespeare." By producing these types of works, that is, "works for hire," he fears his own brand will be tarnished. Thus using a pseudonym will guaranteed that he can retain his dignity and privacy.
The speaker reveals to the muse that his nature, while working the plays, takes on the tincture of theatre life, "like the dyer’s hand," and he begs the muse to take pity on him and "wish [he] were renew’d."
Third Quatrain: "Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink"
Even though the speaker must “drink / Potions of eisel ‘gainst [his] strong infection,” he will not become bitter in his thinking. The bitter vinegar drink, though it may be unpleasant on his physical tongue, will not cause his creative use of language, his metaphorical tongue, to turn sour. He will not allow his public endeavors to taint his true love of sonnet creation based on love and truth.
The speaker is again using the negativity that appears in his life to structure his spiritual endeavors. By consulting with his muse and asking her to pity him, he removes the glare of his public image that he feels does not represent his true self.
The Couplet: "Pity me, then, dear friend, and I assure ye"
So again, he implores his muse to "pity [him]." And calling her "dear friend," he asserts that just that small amount of pity will erase the error of having to involve himself in worldly endeavors.
The speaker's utter shame at having to suffer "pity" from his muse or from any other quarter one would assume, is enough to motivate the talented creative writer to plunge himself deep into his art in order to create his best works that they live eternally on his favorite subjects of love and beauty bathed in truth.
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.
Note: 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 Manual:
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.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes