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Shakespeare Sonnet 35: "No more be griev’d at that which thou hast done"

Updated on April 26, 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, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 35

The Shakespeare sonnet speaker remains a fairly optimistic fellow. He seldom sinks into melancholy, no doubt, because of his confidence in his remarkable ability to compose despite those writer's block periods of dryness. In sonnet 35, the speaker addresses the writer’s block blaming it colorfully on mere failure of his muse to inspire him, but he realizes that along with the positive, always comes the negative.

This speaker continues to battle his periods of dryness, but his battle remains a civl war for it is internal. He does remain ever hopeful for he has realized that even his dry spells can serve him as a convenient and colorful writing topics.

Sonnet 35

N0 more be griev’d at that which thou hast done
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorising thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,—
Thy adverse party is thy advocate,—
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
That I an accessary needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Reading of Sonnet 35

Commentary

In Sonnet 35, the speaker addresses the writer’s block or failure of his muse to inspire him, but he realizes that along with the positive, always comes the negative.

First Quatrain: Chiding His Muse

N0 more be griev’d at that which thou hast done
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

In the first stanza of sonnet 35, the speaker directly addresses his lazy muse telling her not to worry about failing to inspire him. Then he reasons that, "Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud." Along with the beauty of the rose come the sharp, ugly thorns that protect it. Also, lovely flowing fountains contain their not so lovely features. The speaker remains aware that this world will always turn on its duality.

The speaker avers that the beauty of the "moon and sun" is often blotted out by "[c]louds and eclipses," and even the most adored flower may provide a home to a worm. Therefore, he reasons that although his muse has let him down on occasion, it goes with the territory that his talent should have some flaws as well as genius.

Second Quatrain: We All Make Mistakes

All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorising thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;

The speaker claims, "All men make faults." He is admitting that even he is at fault for chastising his muse. He admits to "[a]uthorising thy trespass with compare." By comparing the muse’s failure with its success, the confident speaker has legitimized the failure more than was needed. And therefore, he has continued to blame himself ultimately more than he should have.

In blaming himself, the speaker has actually been "Excusing [the muse's] sins more than thy sins are," yet paradoxically exaggerating their worth more than they deserve. He knows that when he chastises his muse, he is in reality chastising himself, and he admits that he is prone to overstating his case.

Third Quatrain: Reasoning Oneself out of Difficulty

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,—
Thy adverse party is thy advocate,—
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
That I an accessary needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

In the third quatrain, the speaker continues to reason himself out of his difficulty. He avers that his muse has committed a "sensual fault," and the speaker will "bring in sense" or reason to correct it. The muse has given in to laziness perhaps, but even overzealousness could qualify as a "sensual fault" as well.

Whatever the fault is, it has prevented the speaker’s talent from creating at the top of his ability, which he feels is a stain on his poetry and ultimately his reputation. The adversity that the muse’s flaw has brought against the speaker has caused him to feel unconstructive thoughts about himself.

The speaker admits that, "[s]uch civil war is in my love and hate": his moods are filled with such tremendous highs and lows. First he loves and then he hates, and the muse shrinks from such violent emotions, favoring calm recollection. As Wordsworth realized two centuries later, "All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity."

The Couplet: Emotional Tug-of-War

That I an accessary needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

The couplet sums up the emotional tug-of-war the speaker is having with his muse. His internal "civil war" converts his muse into a "sweet thief" that robs him of his own better judgment.

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 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.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

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.

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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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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    Linda Sue Grimes 12 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Billie! Glad my Hub caught your eye. And yes, the Shakespeare canon is always a reliable place to go for well crafted writing that always makes abundant good sense as it informs, entertains, and at times even enlightens.

    Have a blessed day? --lsg

  • Billie Kelpin profile image

    Billie Kelpin 12 months ago from Newport Beach

    Love how you analyzed this sonnet by quatrains. It made me want to read the whole poem, but then you added the video and I didn't have to search good ole google!

    I'm what you might call a very lazy Shakespeare lover. I have read very little of this genius, but I latch on to a few brilliant lines and keep them for a lifetime. ("Sleep, sleep, innocent sleep; sleep that KNITS UP the RAVELED SLEEVE of care.") Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! And now I have more lovely words to remember: "Roses have thorns and silver fountains, mud"...."All men have faults, and even I in this".

    (I can't wait for the right time to say the latter to my husband. He'll do a double take, and we'll both laugh, I'm sure.) Thanks for this great piece.

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