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Shakespeare Sonnet 36

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare," pen-name for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare," pen-name for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 36

Again, the speaker in Sonnet 36 is musing and addressing his sonnet, as he dramatizes the dual nature of unity and separation. The speaker is expressing his own unique view regarding those two phenomena that he has gained through experience.

Sonnet 36

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Shakespeare Sonnet 36

Commentary

The speaker/poet of sonnet 36 again addresses his poem, dramatizing the unique duality of unity and separation, as the artist experiences those two phenomena.

First Quatrain: Addressing the Poem

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

In the first quatrain of Sonnet 36, the speaker/poet, addressing his poem, confirms that although he and his poem are essentially individual beings, they share a common goal, "our undivided loves are one." And though both the speaker/poet and the poem are united in their quests, the speaker admits that any error that occurs in his poem-inspired art is his alone and does not belong to his poem.

Such a confession reminds the reader of the artist who thanks his assistants by giving them much credit for the ultimate production of the art but still claims that if there is anything wrong the art, it is the artist’s flaw and not the assistants.

Second Quatrain: The Drama of Unity

In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.

The second quatrain again dramatizes the closeness and unity of the poet and the poem. Despite the fact that they covet a common goal, their individual beings remain an obstacle with which the artist must ever contend.

The poet and the poem may never completely merge, but they may share the same “sweet hours” that they acquire “from love’s delight.” The poet, during his creative hours, may sometimes be deceived into believing that the poem will always complement his creative nature, even as the dark times return repeatedly to emphasize their separation.

Third Quatrain: No Honor in Blaming Others

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:

The speaker says that perhaps he will not credit his poem for his poetry, because his failure, if he fails, would then attach to the poem, and the speaker/poet avers that there is no honor in blaming anyone but himself for his failures.

And the speaker then opines that the poem will not announce its relationship to his work, unless it does so in its own name. The speaker is, obviously, citing a situation that is impossible, but he, nevertheless, avers that his own inspiration in the form of an imaginative poem can do no other than agree.

The Couplet: Poem Need Not Fret

But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Finally, the speaker tells the poem not to be concerned. The poem need not do anything other than inspire the speaker/poet.

The speaker/poet will continue to honor and love the poem because as he asserted in the beginning, they are, in fact, one and indivisible in matters of the heart, and whatever the speaker accomplishes, so does the poem: "mine is thy good report."

A Publishing Error?

In sonnet 96, the reader will find that the couplet—"But do not so; I love thee in such sort / As thou being mine, mine is thy good report"—is identical to the couplet of sonnet 36—a mysterious event which will be addressed in the commentary about Sonnet 96.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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