Shakespeare Sonnet 95

Updated on January 17, 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 and Text of Sonnet 95

Sonnet 95 finds the speaker dramatizing his Muse's force in appointing all things that are lovely and graceful. This insightful speaker remains appreciative of such power, despite the fact that ultimately degradation and decay must come to all physical objects.

The speaker remains once again in celebration of his magnificent talent, which affords him the ability to stay focused intently on his useful and truthful process of creativity. That this scribbling speaker lives in his art becomes clear more and more with every sonnet that he adds to his collection.

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O! in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose.
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
O! what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot
And all things turn to fair that eyes can see!
Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge.

Reading of Sonnet 95

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 95 dramatizes the Muse’s power to appoint beauty despite decay as he again celebrates his own innate talent to remain focused on his creativity.

First Quatrain: Addressing His Muse

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O! in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose.

In the first quatrain of sonnet 95, the speaker is addressing his Muse, capturing her trait of ferreting out the "lovely" from the cankerous "sins." The speaker then asserts colorfully that beauty spouts from the fountain of the Muse's lush abilities.

Despite the fact that vile worms abide ready to attack all that is beautiful and decorous, the Muse’s talent keeps them at bay. Also, it is the Muse's power that ultimately allows artists who woo her to forgo the "sins" that would "enclose" those who are less attentive.

Second Quatrain: To Be a Valiant Artist

That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.

The speaker then begins to dramatize the activities of the valiant artist who narrates the tale of his time on this round mud ball hurtling through space. Despite nature’s ways of degrading all that is heavenly and praiseworthy, the many blessings that are inherent in the Divine Muse erase the ill effects that would despoil all beauty and heartfelt emotion, coupled with courage.

The Muse’s very "name blesses" all that might consort with the dark underbelly of the world. The dark spirits cannot stand because light is a purifier, and the Muse is full of light—not the natural sunlight only, but the light of the soul.

Third Quatrain: Vice vs Virtue

O! what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot
And all things turn to fair that eyes can see!

Vice cannot successfully compete with virtue; therefore, "vices" have no home, where the soulful Muse is enthroned. The heart of the true artist yields itself up as the "habitation" from which the spark of the Muse Divine can reign, and in the place where the veil of beauty can function to hide every jot and tittle that would blot out loveliness. The speaker encapsulates the Muse’s influence, while dramatizing the baser aspects of earth.

In so doing, the speaker is partaking of every item that may transform all fairness, any place where any eyes may detect such. The speaker, who knows himself as a skillful artist, serves as a whisperer for the activity that prevails in the fine home of the heavenly Muse.

The Couplet: From Muse to Heart

Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge.

In the couplet, the speaker shifts from the Muse to address his own heart, that is, his own conscience. The speaker then reminds his own heart as well as his own talent that he enjoys the divine "privilege" of comprehending such mystical and esoteric knowledge.

However, the speaker's boast may yet again lead him astray, but until he loses his sharpness, he will remain well focused on his assigned task. The speaker compares such fine-tuned power to the edge of a knife that when wrongly employed becomes dull.

The speaker is implying that his unique grasp of nature and heaven will protect him from foolishly squandering his useful and always entertaining talent. For this speaker, his creativity remains his life as he is constantly searching for new metaphors to elucidate his soul qualities.

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."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    21 months ago from U.S.A.

    FYI: I've found an even better video for the readings. It includes the text of the Shakespeare folio, 1609 edition. A fascinating find!

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    22 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Louise! Glad these commentaries are working for you. They are fun to write. And I'm so glad that I was able to find a very good reader of the sonnets in Socratica. It does add a deep dimension to the poetry experience to both read and hear the words.

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 

    22 months ago from Norfolk, England

    I love reading your explanations of Shakespeares sonnets. Sometimes they are not easy to understand. I like that you've added the video too to listen to. Thankyou!

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