Shakespeare Sonnet 128 - Owlcation - Education
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Shakespeare Sonnet 128

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 128

In sonnet 128, the speaker creates a little drama, featuring his beloved lady friend playing a harpsichord. As he watches, he feigns jealousy of the keys across which the mistress' fingers press and glide as she performs her music.

Sonnet 128

How oft when thou, my music, music play’st
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickl’d, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

Reading of Sonnet 128

Commentary

Sonnet 128 is purely for fun; the speaker plies his clever creativity as he dramatizes his feigned jealousy of the keyboard on which his lady is playing music for him.

First Quatrain: Watching the Woman Play a Harpsichord

How oft when thou, my music, music play’st
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

The speaker claims that it is quite often that when he hears and watches the woman play music for him, he notices how her "sweet fingers" move and how she "gently sway[s]." The first quatrain does not complete his statement, but it nevertheless supplies the details that the lady is playing "upon that blessed wood," and that her music results in "concord that [the speaker’s] ear confounds."

The speaker sets up the claim with just enough detail to allow his reader/listener to observe only a snippet of the event. By beginning his sentence, "How oft when thou, my music, music play’st," the speaker creates ambiguity: this construction could be a question or it could an exclamation.

Second Quatrain: A Joyful Exclamation!

Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!

The second quatrain completes the thought begun in the first quatrain, and the reader/listener learns that the statement is indeed an exclamation: "how oft . . . do I envy!" The speaker is, in fact, dramatizing his envy of the wooden keys of the instrument, probably a harpsichord, upon which his lady friend is playing.

He claims that he envies "those jacks" because they "nimble leap / To kiss the tender inward of [her] hand." While he stands helpless, imagining that his lips should be enjoying that opportunity, instead of the pieces of inert wood.

Third Quatrain: A Strange and Comical Exchange

To be so tickl’d, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips.

The speaker then comically creates the image of his lips changing place with the keys on the keyboard. Her fingers are gently pressing those keys, and he would prefer her fingers be playing over his lips. He offers the melodramatic notion that her fingers playing over those "dancing chips" or keys is "Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips."

The Couplet: Clever Conclusion

Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

The speaker then offers the clever conclusion that is it fine for those "saucy jacks" to be "so happy" that his lady is moving her fingers over them, and thus the speaker will accept their happiness, and he tells his lady directly that she can give her fingers to the keyboard, but she should give the speaker her " lips to kiss."

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

"Shakespeare" revealed as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes