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Shakespeare Sonnet 91: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 91: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill"

This speaker sonnet 91from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence has observed closely all the things that attract his fellow beings. His deep thinking and discriminating faculties have led him to believe that only one human possession is truly valuable. The crafty and talented scribbler in this speaker allows him to again create a unique drama to both elevate his abilities while remaining quite humble and subtle.

Sonnet 91: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill"

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force;
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

The following offers a paraphrase of sonnet 91:

There are those people who find their fame and grandeur by having been born in the upper classes. Then there are others who bask in the knowledge that they are skilled in their profession, sport, or whatever, while still others admire their lot in life because they are materially well endowed, and others take pride in their physical body endowments of large muscles. There are also people who find pride in their clothing, despite the wretchedness of fashion fads. Then there are those who revel in their animals. Every type of personality finds its pleasure in whatever it will, taking enjoyment and delight from what it deems worthy. But all of these things are mere physical trinkets, and I choose a loftier goal, which I would argue, is far superior to all of those outward ornaments. Your love, O soul, provides a richer arena for me than any accident of upper class birth or any of the other things that attract the masses. Because I possess my own soul, I profess a delight that serves me better all others. My only sadness would be that I should lose touch with you through faulty awareness.

Reading of Sonnet 91

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 91 addresses his own soul, which is the repository of his considerable talent for creating the kind of poetry he uses to express truth.

First Quatrain: Pride of Possession

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force;
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;

In the first quatrain, the speaker catalogues all of the earthly possessions about which people have chosen to feel prideful: high birth, useful skill, prodigious wealth, body’s force, garments, and fine animals.

Second Quatrain: Transcending the Mundane

And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.

The speaker continues as he avers that each personality is attracted to its own particular "pleasure" from which it may take "joy." But to this clever speaker, none of those qualities and possessions seem at all pleasing and desirable. This speaker's choice transcends all the other choices. Because his choice is simple, he regards it as far superior.

Third Quatrain: Soul Elevation

Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:

The love of his soul is the being that elevates him above all others. It is far superior to high birth, wealth, and all of the other items in the catalogue. And because this speaker possess this important soul love, he has everything—not just one choice or other from the physical level of being, because the entire cosmos is contained in every human soul.

The Couplet: Losing Soul Awareness

Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

The speaker summarizes his comparison by averring that the only thing that would make the speaker "wretched" is that he could lose awareness of his most prized possession, this soul love that he cherishes above all else. And the creative motivation of this speaker seems to assure him and his readers that such a loss remains a virtual impossibility.

The De Vere Society

The De Vere Society

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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