Shakespeare Sonnet 89

Updated on March 14, 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

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction: Text and Paraphrase of Sonnet

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 89 knows that sometimes his works may not hold up to his standards. He accepts total blame when he fails to deliver a perfect polished sonnet. He desires to accept such blame because he wishes to remain of the mindset that his muse is perfect and would never lead him astray.

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I'll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee, against myself I'll vow debate,
For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.

The following provides a rough paraphrase of sonnet 89:

Tell me what mistake you think I have made and I will address your claim: if you think I am not walking properly, I will immediately stand still. I will not argue with you, however, about your criticisms. Neither your admiration nor condemnation will bother me as much as your wish to place restrictions on me. I alone will condemn myself, but knowing what you would wish would cause me to disregard my own style and look odd. If you decide not to accompany me as I muse, I will just have to look elsewhere for inspiration. I would not want to garner more of your disdain by continuing to do what you have condemned. I will simply allow myself to provide my own original material, but I will not disdain your absence though you should appear to have grown bitter.

Reading of Sonnet 89

Commentary

The speaker/poet again is addressing his muse, this time professing that he will not argue with the one who ultimately steadies his hand and focuses his spirit on his art.

First Quatrain: No Haggling with Inspiration

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.

In the first quatrain, the speaker addresses his muse, saying that if she will let him know what his misbehavior has been, he will "comment upon that offence." And the speaker will cease whatever activities the muse thinks is unworthy, because he has no desire to haggle with his inspiration.

Second Quatrain: Argument as Enjoyment

Thou canst not love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I ’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;

The speaker then says that his muse cannot "disgrace me half so ill," unless she tries to become too restrictive and "set a form upon desired change." This speaker, as has been seen in many sonnets, enjoys arguing with his muse. And he is apt to change his stance from time to time; even though he often complains about it.

The speaker also avers that he will not defend himself against the muse's accusations. This speaker is willing to "look strange" if, however, the muse desires such, even though he might seem to "disgrace" himself.

Third Quatrain: No Blame

Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.

After the muse has forsaken him, as she all to often is wont to do, the speaker vows that he, henceforth, will no longer keep calling on her "sweet beloved name." Instead, the speaker will permit her to leave, if he finds that he "should do it wrong." If he ever concocts a poem that is deemed "too much profane," he will not allow the muse to be blamed for the bad sonnet.

The speaker insists on to taking responsibility for his own flaws and errors. He desires that the muse remain perfect and a special model of inspiration and motivation. He will not allow his muse ever to suffer for his inadequate outpourings.

The Couplet: Neutralizing of Hate

For thee, against myself I ’ll vow debate,
For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.

The speaker then asserts that he will continue his artistic endeavors alone, "myself I’ll vow debate." The speaker maintains that he cannot love that which the muse hates. However, the speaker knows that the nature of such hatred neutralizes itself in the continued practice of art. The speaker longs to believe that the muse’s bittersweet inspiration keeps him focused even as he occasionally languishes in uncontrolled emotion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Questions & Answers

  • Using Shakespeare's Sonnet 89, can you discuss the notion of foregrounding in practical criticism?

    No, nor could such a discussion be effected with any of the Shakespeare sonnets. "Foregrounding" in literature is the simple technique of throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. "Practical Criticism," as employed by I. A. Richards, was the result of a psychological experiment with the reader response theory. Therefore, this nonsensical question is based on the conflation of two absurd concepts that have little to nothing do to with reading and understanding classical literature.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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