Shakespeare Sonnet 143

Updated on January 23, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 143

The speaker in Sonnet 143 uses a complex structure of adverbial clauses to express his notion that as a housewife runs after her fleeing bird (first quatrain), while her infant tries to follow her and wails after her (second quatrain), thus he behaves toward to his dark beauty (third quatrain), therefore he will make a plea (couplet).

Sonnet 143

Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feather’d creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe, and makes all quick dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent:
So runn’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind;
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind;
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

Reading of Sonnet 143

Commentary

The speaker is likening himself to a naughty baby who chases and cries for his mother after she speeds off to fetch a fleeing chicken.

First Quatrain: A Chase Scene

Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feather’d creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe, and makes all quick dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;

The speaker creates a dramatic scene in which a "careful housewife runs to catch / One of her feather’d creatures" that has managed to escape the coop and is fleeing to parts unknown. The housewife, who is also a mother, plops down her infant and quickly speeds off in quest of the chicken.

The first quatrain offers only one complex clause of the complex sentence of which this sonnet is composed. An entanglement of grammatical and technical elements often pops up in this speaker’s discourse, and his dexterity in sorting them out supplies the evidence that his appraisal of his writing talent is not mere braggadocio in the earlier sonnets.

Second Quatrain: Wailing After His Mother

Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent:

The unfortunate child tries to catch the mother, wailing after her as she chases the bird. The child keeps his eye on his mother, who is hell-bent on retrieving the bird. Although the child is heartbroken while the mother runs after the critter, she is hardly cognizant of her baby at all, because she so covets recovery of the chicken.

Third Quatrain: Hilarious Dramatic Comparison

So runn’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee afar behind;
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind;

In the third quatrain, the speaker then spits out his comparison: the dark mistress plays the role of the mother, while the speaker portrays "[her] babe." The woman continues to fly from the arms of the speaker, chasing the affection of other men.

But the speaker, even as he offers his hilarious dramatic comparison, also hopes to soften the woman’s heart by asserting that the mother will eventually return to her babe and shower him with kisses and be kind to him. He is urging the lady to behave similarly towards him.

The Couplet: Punning His Pen-Name

So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.

The speaker has become so enamored of his "Will" pun that he exploits it again in this sonnet. He will "pray" that the woman "may[ ] have [her] Will." Punning on his pseudonym, he claims he is praying that she achieve her wishes by returning to him.

Whatever she is chasing, whether sexual gratification or vanity of some sort, the speaker tries to assure her that he can fulfill her desires, if only she will "turn back" to him and stop his "crying" for her.

The real "Shakespeare"

Source

A Brief Overview: 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."

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

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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