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Shakespeare Sonnet 114

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 114

Sonnet 114 continues its thought from sonnet 113. Addressing his muse, the speaker asks two questions in the first and second quatrains. The speaker is once again weighing options to determine the better path. He is engaged in a struggle to determine the genuine from the fake. He knows that the mind is easily trick by the eye and the ear, of which is also easily tricked. This conundrum appears to be only a beginning of much larger inquiry into truth.

The speaker of the Shakespeare sonnets reveals that he is on a spiritual journey, and he tries to use all of his talent and every poetic tool in his too chest to create his journey for posterity. He is thus aware that he must always pursue the genuine and forsake the fake. He knows that the mind can be a tricky friend, as it desires to accept only what it wants. The speaker wants his mind to sharpen beyond the point of easy acceptance for he knows that discernment is the way to true art.

Sonnet 114: "Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with you"

Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with you
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?
Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchymy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
O! ’tis the first, ’tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is ’greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
If it be poison’d, ’tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

Reading of Sonnet 114

Commentary

The speaker is continuing his thought from sonnet 113, and in sonnet 114 he again is dramatizing an aspect of this struggle between the mind and the senses.

First Quatrain: The Perfidy of Flattery

Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with you
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?
Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchymy,

The speaker’s first question poses the possibility that because he is blessed with an able muse, he might be susceptible to flattery, which he calls "the monarch’s plague." A king, and thus any person holding a lofty societal position, always has people looking for favors, and those seekers are prone to say kind things about the king simply to win those favors.

The artist who gains some critical attention during his/her own lifetime has to guard against useless criticism. While some critics will be unfairly harsh, others who aspire to their own notoriety may offer false compliments to the artist. The artist must be aware of both useless poseurs as he practices his art for genuine purposes.

The speaker then begins his second question, which is completed in the second quatrain.

Second Quatrain: Senses of Belief

To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?

The speaker’s second question asks whether he should believe whatever he sees and hears. The muse has taught his mind "this alchymy" that turns "monsters" into angels, and the muse, of course, resembles the angels. He wonders if, because his own talent is able to turn all bad into "a perfect best," that makes it so.

The speaker has been calculating these thoughts, weighing the possibilities, and by verbalizing them and dramatizing them in his sonnets, he thinks he may be able to make decisions. This speaker is constantly thinking and rethinking his position in certain areas. While he remain confident in his own talent, he knows he must guard against accepting flattery and fakery, and his senses of belief must remain sharp as he aspires to deeper wisdom.

Third Quatrain: Dangerous Flattery

O! ’tis the first, ’tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is ’greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:

The speaker then decides that the answer to his question lies in the first possibility: "’tis flattery in my seeing." That he may want to choose to believe nice things said about him even when he knows they are not true simply demonstrates his proclivity to succumbing to sheer flattery.

That struggle between the mind and eye is a continuing one: his mind has to discern what to believe. When the eye (or ear) wants to accept something as true, the mind must determine the value of what the eye sees and ear hears. The speaker realizes how tricky the eye/ear can be and how willing the mind often is to allow itself to be fooled. The desire to accept ideas that affirm one's worth must constantly be probed in order to determine if the criticism is mere flattery or if it has some merit. This speaker knows that he is struggling for the positive in life that includes beauty, love, and truth, but he also remains aware that he can be susceptible to wolves in sheep's clothing.

The Couplet: Soul Awareness

If it be poison’d, ’tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

If the eye/ear at first accepts something that may "be poison’d," that is "the lesser sin" from what the mind will do when it accepts the poison as potion. Information first comes to the mind through the senses; thus, the pleasantry striking the senses initiates the thought and feeling with which the mind must contend.

It is because of this series of events that the speaker knows he must not let is guard down in accepting what he first finds to be pleasant. His goal of production pure and truthful poetry keeps him ever aware that he must think deeply about all profound subjects and no subject is more profound that the realization of his own soul.

Introduction to the 154-Sonnet Sequence

For a brief introduction to this 154-sonnet sequence, please visit "Overview of the Shakespeare Sonnet Sequence."

Shakespeare Authorship / Crackpot to Mainstream

© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes

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