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Shakespeare Sonnet 111: "O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 111: "O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide"

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 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence reveals that he has not acquitted himself well in supporting his life financially, and he must take "public means" for his subsistence.

Sonnet 111: "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.

Reading of Sonnet 11

Commentary

Sonnet 111 reveals a biographical tidbit that points to the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, as the true author of the Shakespearean oeuvre.

First Quatrain: Biographical Tidbit

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.

Sonnet 111 reveals a biographical tidbit that points to the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, as the true author of the Shakespearean oeuvre.

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: Living on "Public Means"

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;

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: A Bitter Drink

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.

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: Just a Little Pity

Pity me, then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

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.

Who Wrote Shakespeare? | Sir Jonathan Bate & Alexander Waugh

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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