Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 96: "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"

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 - the real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 96: "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"

The speaker variously addresses his muse, his poems, and sometimes he bemoans writer’s block in this group of poems, sonnets 18 through 126, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence. A close reading of this group of sonnets reveals that there is, in fact, no person in them at all.

Sonnet 96, similar to Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 36, is addressing the poem itself.

Sonnet 96: "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deem'd.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
But do not so; I love thee in such sort,
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Reading of Sonnet 96

Commentary

Sonnets 18-126 are traditionally identified as being addressed to a "young man." However, in this set of sonnets, the speaker appears to be exploring the many aspects of his writing talent.

First Quatrain: Converting Fault to Grace

Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and less:
Thou mak'st faults graces that to thee resort.

In the first quatrain, the speaker tells the sonnet that some people discredit its value by claiming that it merely portrays adolescent values or mere lust, while others say it is that very youth that gives the sonnet "grace" and "gentle sport." But the speaker simply avers that both grace and faults have their place in poetry, and people "more and less" recognize that fact.

And besides, the speaker claims, the sonnet is the place where the crafty writer converts those faults into graces. The speaker is, once again, addressing his poem in order to compliment its value as well as he own writing talent that accomplishes that value.

Second Quatrain: Power of Language

As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem'd,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deem'd.

The second quatrain employs a simile to compare "errors" in a sonnet to "the basest jewel" on the finger of a queen. The jewel will be considered valuable because of who wears it; the errors will be "translated" from error to truth in the sonnet. Use of the term "translate" supports the speaker’s idea that his sonnets have power through language.

Translation refers primarily to language, particularly conveying one language into another. The speaker is confident that error and lack can be "translated" into truth and value in the sonnet, created by a talented craftsman.

Third Quatrain: Attracting Readers

How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!

In the third quatrain, the speaker makes another comparison, between the sonnet and a wolf. If the wolf could "translate" or change himself into a lamb, he could make off with his prey. The speaker asks rhetorically, "How many lambs" might the wolf be able to attract through his mutation? The speaker is implying that the number is substantial.

Then the speaker asks, how many readers might the sonnet attract, if it would "use the strength of all [its] state!" The sonnet has the power to capture the minds of its readers, as a wolf has the power to capture lambs, if only the wolf and the sonnet appear in the proper form.

The Couplet: Truth in Art

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

The speaker informs his sonnet that it need not change, because the poem has the speaker's heart. The sonnet belongs to the speaker, and through his substantial talent, he has created a truthful and viable piece of art.

The speaker tells the sonnet that it will represent him well as it moves through the centuries. He knows that his own skill is responsible for the value of his worthy creations.

Repeated Couplet in Sonnets 36 and 96

Sonnet 36, in which the speaker also addresses the sonnet directly, has the identical couplet of Sonnet 96. The couplet works well with either sonnet because in both cases the speaker is affirming his identity as the poem’s creator.

In both sonnets, the fact that they will go forth and engage readers in a way that reflects on the poet is asserted. However, even though, or perhaps because, the couplet works with both sonnets, the possibility of a publishing error exists. It is difficult to see how that would occur, but it cannot be ruled out.

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is  dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Shakespeare Authorship / Crackpot to Mainstream

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the critical appreciation on the sonnet 96 by Shakespeare?

Answer: Sonnet 96 belongs to the group of Shakespeare sonnets that are traditionally classified as the "Fair Youth" (young man) sonnets. In my opinion, that designation is faulty because there is no young man or any person in that group of poems. The poet in sonnets 18-126 explores his writing talent as he often addresses his Muse and/or the poems themselves.

Question: What is the theme of Shakespeare's sonnet 96?

Answer: The speaker is addressing his poem in order to complement its value as well as his own writing talent that accomplishes that value.

Question: What is the meaning of wantonness?

Answer: It means lascivious, lewd, careless.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes