Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 112

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 112

Most writers, in their heart of hearts, are private people who crave solitude in order to think, muse, and craft. The Shakespearean speaker of the sonnets demonstrates repeatedly his devotion to seclusion and to the muse, who is the queen of his solitude.

Sonnet 112 dramatizes the speaker’s unique relationship with his muse; her attention not only motivates his cogitation but also gives him respite from the scars and wounds inflicted by public interaction. The muse to the Shakespearean sonneteer offers respite in a similar sense that religionists depend upon their Divine Belovèd.

Sonnet 112

Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o’er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel’d sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of other’s voices, that my adder’s sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides methinks are dead.

Reading of Sonnet 12

Commentary

As the speaker dramatizes the advantages of private life, he compares his privacy with his muse to his relationship with society.

First Quatrain: Addressing His Muse

Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o’er-green my bad, my good allow?

The speaker addresses his muse, asserting to her, "Your love and pity doth the impression fill / Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow." He is dramatizing the accusations hurled at him by claiming that they have cut into his "brow" leaving a gaping hole. But fortunately, his muse will bandage his wound and fill it as one would fill in a divot.

The speaker then assures his muse that he does not take to heart what others think of him; he does not "care . . . who calls [him] well or ill." He knows that his own worth is not determined by anyone or anything outside of himself. His own soul, to whom he relates as his muse, can treat any of his trifling trials and tribulations.

Such independence is vital in pursuing the kind of truth-telling to which this speaker continuously aspires. He does not remain beholden to the thoughts and criticisms of others. He knows his own mind, heart, and the extent of his talent, and he has the courage to follow his own path to his own goal.

Second Quatrain: His Muse, His World

You are my all-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel’d sense or changes right or wrong.

The speaker then imparts to his muse, "You are my all-the-world." Because the muse is his world, he can take only the evaluation of himself from her. No one other than his own heart, mind, and soul can offer "shames and praises," because no one knows him so well as his muse. Only his own soul can understand his "steel’d sense." The people of society see only his outward garb; they can never know his inner being.

This profound speaker knows that the outward garb remains changeable in its physical level of existence. He has transcended that level mentally, and he thus aspires to attain to the level of spiritual reality, where truth, beauty, and love exist eternally, even exponentially.

Third Quatrain: Banishing Worry and Care

In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of other’s voices, that my adder’s sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:

The speaker portrays his muse as a deep vessel into which he can toss all worry and the taunting sound of "others’ voices." By tossing his worries into the musian abyss, he loses his need to respond to critics and flatterers. He knows that neither praise nor blame from others makes him better or worse. And though the artist in him is vulnerable to criticism, he realizes the futility of becoming caught up in its grip. Therefore, he will always strive to ignore those voices.

Because of his confidence, courage, and awareness of his own strength, the speaker can vow to his soulful muse that he will continue to toss all dross down that abyss where such travails fall and then vanish.

The Couplet: His Muse, His Strength

You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides methinks are dead.

The speaker can dispense with all societal critics and flatterers because his muse remains his best resource for self-criticism, rendering all outside critiques unnecessary. To this talented, alert, and highly skilled craftsman, social commentary regarding his creations remains moot as though to him the world itself is "dead."

This speaker will continue to take his inspiration and instruction directly from his own muse—his heart, mind, and soul. He has become so sensitive to his own abilities that he can remain certain about his creations, even during the times when he chooses to create dramas that might seem to contradict such certainty.

Thought Food for Writers

While writers who share their products with others will always find the need to face their adversaries, they can take a hint from this speaker after they ask themselves certain pertinent questions:

  1. Do I have the courage of my convictions?
  2. Do I remain convinced of my own creative abilities?
  3. Do I side with my muse instead of allowing critics and flatterers to influence me?

The writer who cannot answer in the affirmative to all of these important questions must keep returning to them as s/he continues to practice the craft of writing. The answers in full, that is, explanation along side the yes or no, may change over time. Thus the maturing writer may keep as a goal the ability to eventually respond with a "yes" to all those questions and really mean it.

The Shakespeare Mystery

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes