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Shakespeare Sonnet 132

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 132

In Shakespeare sonnet 132, addressing his dark lady, the speaker again focuses on her foul disposition, as he wishes for a better attitude from her. He dramatizes her moods by comparing them to sunrise and sunset, and punning on the word “mourning.” He wishes for “morning” but continues to receive “mourning” instead.

Sonnet 132

Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me
Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even,
Doth half that glory to the sober west,
As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
O! let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.
Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.

Reading of Sonnet 132

Commentary

The speaker is dramatizing the dark lady’s “pretty ruth,” likening her “mourning” eyes to the sun in the morning and then in the evening.

First Quatrain: The Eyes of Disdain

Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me
Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.

The speaker in the first quatrain of sonnet 132 asserts that he loves his lady’s eyes even as they look at him “with disdain.” She wrongs him, and he suffers, but he then dramatizes his suffering by focusing on her eyes, which he claims “put on black and [become] loving mourners.” Her eyes seem to mourn for his torment, yet they continue to gaze at him, or at his pain, with “pretty ruth.”

Second Quatrain: Glorifying the Face

And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even,
Doth half that glory to the sober west,

The speaker then asserts that sunrise and sunset do not beautify the land so well as her “two mourning eyes” glorify her face. The second quatrain is only part of the complete thought that continues in the third quatrain. The thought straddles the two quatrains more for the purpose of form than for content.

The speaker has likened the darkened landscape before sunrise to “grey cheeks,” which implies those dark cheeks of his mistress. The sun that is “usher[ing] in” evening is a “full star,” but it offers less than “half the glory” that the lady’s eyes give to her face.

Third Quatrain: The Drama of Mourning

As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
O! let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.

The speaker labels his lady’s eyes, “those two mourning eyes” dramatizing them with a pun on “mourning,” and then punning again in the line “since mourning doth thee grace.” The pun implies the wish that the speaker projects: he wishes this beautiful creature had the grace of “morning,” but instead she constantly delivers the characterization of “mourning.”

The woman's eyes mourn for him not out of love but out of the pity she feels for him after she has caused his misery. His humiliation is a cross he has to bear in having a relationship with this woman.

The Couplet: Looking Past Pain

Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.

In the couplet, “Then will I swear beauty herself is black, / And all they foul that thy complexion lack,” the speaker again decides to accept the situation and even support the woman for her beauty. Unfortunately, the idea, beauty is a beauty does, eludes this speaker, at least for now. He will continue to look past the pain she causes him as long as he can enjoy her beauty.

The De Vere Society

The De Vere Society

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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