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Shakespeare Sonnet 25: "Let those who are in favour with their stars"

Updated on May 7, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17h Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 25

Once again, the speaker is honoring his talent because the love he speaks of is not limited to that of another human being. Many of these poems in this group 18-126 address the poem directly, or speak about the happiness and enrichment the speaker derives from being able to compose such poems.

This speaker is in love with his talent, and he considers his achievement more important than the approval of any other human being. The speaker in Sonnet 25 is asserting that only unconditional love is worthy of one's attention because fame and status are nothing but fleeting favors, while love will continue to give joy and gladness, along with the sustenance each human heart craves.

Sonnet 25

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 25

Commentary

The speaker in Sonnet 25 claims that only unconditional love is worth cherishing—fame and status are fleeting, but love will continue to give joy and gladness.

First Quatrain: High Regard Personally

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.

In the first quatrain, the speaker states that those famously honored by the public may “boast” of their accomplishments, while he, who has attained no such exalted status, will remain inconspicuous as he continues to enjoy that which he personally holds in high regard.

At this point, the reader does not become aware of what it is the speaker treasures above name and fame and must wait until the couplet to find out what it is.

One might argue that the speaker is also “boasting” as he makes his own humble situation sound more attractive than those famous ones who garner public attention.

They have their “proud titles” while he delights in what he implies is something more substantial.

Second Quatrain: Humility Wins

Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.

Even the favorite celebrities rewarded and regaled by royalty hold a position no higher than a simple flower such as the marigold, who has the attention of the sun, but without that attention, the flower shrivels up and dies.

And when the fame wears off and the “princes” no longer look favorably upon those famed individuals, their “glory” simply dies, as the glory and beauty of the marigold does.

Third Quatrain: Twin Fickle Partners—Fame and Favor

The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:

The third quatrain finds the speaker offering yet a further description of those twin fickle partners—fame and favor. Even battle-scarred formerly winning warriors continue to be afforded high regard only if they keep on winning.

If a loss comes to these hero-warriors, they lose their accolades and are “from the book of honour” deleted.

The poor warrior's “thousand victories” then are not enough to keep him in high regard, so he has toiled in vain in this speaker's opinion.

The speaker wants to the reader to see that trying to elevate one’s self by deeds that win the attention of others is a vain activity.

The Couplet: Vain Strivings

Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

So the speaker says that the great warriors and politicians and others who rely on the good will of authorities and the public can have their vain strivings. For him, he is happy because of love: he is made happy by being able to love and to be loved. He honors unconditional love, which “may not remove or be remov’d.”

And the place where this speaker's unconditional love finds its ground and movement is in his art. His poems receive his love and reflect it back permanently and without condition.

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

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