Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 117: "Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all"

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 117: "Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all"

The speaker in sonnet 117 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence is once again facing his muse. Apparently, he has been keeping company with "unknown minds," and he now must ask for forgiveness. Such carousing has led to his failing to fulfill his duty to his art.

Naturally, it would be to his muse that the speaker must apologize and then beg forgiveness; however, the speaker is well aware that his muse is only another name for his own soul. And he remains well aware that his talent and all creative ability emanate from his soul—that spark of the Divine that informs his being.

As the speaker often bases his little dramas on an imagined split between himself and his muse/talent, the likelihood arises that the poet has been composing the three themed sections of the sonnet sequence in tandem. He goes off carousing with the "Dark Lady," takes on a certain amount to lackadaisical guilt, and then comes begging forgiveness from his muse/talent/soul/artist-self. He possibly even deems the time he is spending trying to convince the "young man" in the "Marriage Sonnets" sequence to marry less well employed, and thus is including that time in his lamenting his wasted hours.

Sonnet 117: "Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all"

Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchas’d right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your waken’d hate;
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.

A rough paraphrase of sonnet 117 might sound something like the following:

Go ahead and find fault with me because I have been avoiding everything that I owe for the great gifts you afford me. I have become unmindful of your special affection even though I am bound to you eternally. I have been carousing with certain vacant minded folks when I should have been giving my time to you. I have sailed off into faraway places where I fail to catch a glimpse of you. So go ahead write down my list of trespasses add them up as you prove my infidelity. Screw up you face against me, but please do not hate me. I have assure you that I have always tried to confirm that I continue to seek only love and other virtues.

Reading of Sonnet 117

Commentary

The speaker is now addressing his muse, as he often does. He speaks partly in jest as he feigns begging forgiveness for neglecting his art after having wasted time carousing with minds that do not offer him the necessary challenges he needs.

First Quatrain: Confronting the Muse

Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;

In the first quatrain of sonnet 117, the speaker once again is addressing his muse in a confrontational tone. Yet as he seems to be accosting his muse, he is, in reality, dressing down himself for his failure "upon your dearest love to call." Every time this speaker allows himself to put space between himself and his duty to his muse, he feels the necessity of confronting those lapses.

As any reader of the sonnets has experienced many times, this speaker’s whole being is so bound up with his writing and creating art that he disdains any time spent that does not in some way contribute to his all consuming passion.

This speaker reveals time and again that truth, beauty, and love are of greatest importance to him. He has dedicated himself to crafting a world in which those qualities live and breathe. Thus, after each time he finds himself averting his gaze into activities that attend upon mediocre events (and even to people whose motives he deems incompatible with his own), he will be found seeking redemption from his muse-self, not always promising to improve but at least to show that he is aware of his lapse.

Second Quatrain: Lamenting Wasted Time

Recommended for You

That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchas’d right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.

The obsession continues with this speaker lamenting that he has spent time with "unknown minds," that is, minds that are foreign to his own soul nature and by extension to that of the muse. Through cavorting with those unknown minds, he has averted his attention away from his true purpose in his own estimation. When he "transport[s] [himself] farthest from [her] sight," he leaves his most sacred duties and suffers deeply the anguish of guilt.

The speaker in this regard then seeks out his muse as a religious devotee would seek out a spiritual leader for advice or confession. His muse behaves as his anchor as well as his inspiration; she has the power to absolve his transgressions, but this power comes solely through the speaker/artist’s ability to create his salvation in art. The complexity of his relationship with his muse remains a unique achievement with this speaker/poet.

When the speaker of this themed section of sonnets, which focus on his writing, decries having cavorted with those "unknown minds," it is likely he has in mind the central figure of the next themed section of sonnets focusing on the "Dark Lady." She certainly qualifies as an "unknown" or incompatible mind—one that would likely be deemed a waste of his time, as well as a waste of his bodily fluids. It is also therefore likely that the poet was composing this section of poems at the same time he was composing the "Dark Lady" section. With that contemporaneous activity in mind, the two sets of sonnets inform each other quite well.

Third Quatrain: Evidence of Misdeeds

Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your waken’d hate;

As the speaker continues his little drama regarding his lapses and errors, he uplifts the nature and value of his muse, contrasting her importance with all other engagements. He will allow himself the space to generate his dramas in order to improve both his ability to concentrate and focus on each issue. That he will always dedicate himself to the chosen qualities of art for the sake of truth and beauty becomes a fixture and guiding element determining the special status of each sonnet's dramatic features.

Exaggerating his guilt, the speaker begs his muse to write down his errors and his proclivities for them; then, she may offer evidence of his misdeeds, and he admits that they are substantial. He then commands her only to frown at him but not to hate him. Using legalese to court the muse's favor, he continues his plea in the couplet.

The Couplet: The Reality of Virtuousness

Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.

The speaker declares that he deserves clemency because he always attempts to follow the virtuous path of love as provided so generously by his beloved muse. He deems his faithfulness, as he returns to her again and again, makes him worthy of her appreciative forgiveness. He considers his relation with his muse-talent to remain a two-way street. While he knows his sins and failures are significant and many, he still keeps within his mental grasp the reality of his virtuous muse. And he is convinced that his relationship with his muse can, in fact, assist in his transcendence of all errors, despite their gravity and number.

As the speaker is cleverly laying out in abundance his folly and the gravity of his ability to exhibit depravity of behavior in the "Dark Lady" sequence, he straddles the line between good and evil in his little dramas, suggesting full well that he will eventually come squarely down on the side that leads him in his desired direction to his ultimate goal of truth and beauty.

A Note on the Nine Muses

The Greek epic poet Hesiod names and describes nine Muses in The Theogony:

  1. Thalia: Comedy, depicted with theatrical mask—Cheerful One
  2. Urania: Astronomy, holds a globe—Heavenly Persona
  3. Melpomene: Tragedy, in theatrical mask—One Who Sings
  4. Polyhymnia: sacred poetry, hymns, wearing a veil—Sacred Singer
  5. Erato: Lyric Poetry, playing a lyre—Loveliness
  6. Calliope: Epic Poetry, depicted with a writing tablet—Voice of Beauty
  7. Clio: History, depicted with a scroll— Proclaimer
  8. Euterpe: Flute-playing, depicted with a flute—Pleasing One
  9. Terpsichore: Dance, depicted dancing, playing a lyre—Delighted by Dance

From these original creativity inspirers, writers, poets, musicians, and other artists have all built a veritable encyclopedia of "muses." Each artist who recognizes such an inspiration in their creative endeavor employs a unique muse. Gaining information and knowledge about the notion of these historical and mythological presences merely assists the mind and heart in plumbing its depths for truth and beauty.

If the ancients had such concepts and took the time and effort to delineate them, then modern day, indeed, all current notions of "inspiration" are given a boost of authenticity. The act of creativity is not merely a technological event of mixing words, or paint, or clay, or music notes. The mixings must come from an important place in the soul, else it has little value for the creator or the audience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles