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Shakespeare Sonnet 42: "That thou hast her, it is not all my grief"

Updated on August 3, 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 42

The writer of these Shakespeare sonnets continues to concoct clever little dramas to examine his own talent in this section of the sequence. His exploration of art and artist has revealed that he has a nimble mind that can create many different angles to explore his thought processes.

Can an artist be separated from his art? What is the difference between the artist, the act of creating the art, and the final, created product? Sonnets 30-42 have been exploring, even agonizing, over this conundrum.

In sonnet 42, the speaker continues to contemplate the unified nature of art and artist, or poem and poet. Also once again, this speaker is musing on and addressing his talent. He cleverly personifies that talent as a lover who has attempted to capture the heart of his mistress, the sonnet.

Sonnet 42

That thou hast her, it is not all my grief
And yet it may be said I lov’d her dearly;
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her, because thou know’st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
But here ’s the joy; my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.

Reading of Shakespeare sonnet 42

Commentary

The speaker is contemplating the unified nature of art and artist. He addresses his talent, personifying it as a lover who has tried to pursue his mistress, the poem.

First Quatrain: A Lover's Triangle

That thou hast her, it is not all my grief
And yet it may be said I lov’d her dearly;
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.

In the first quatrain, the speaker uses his ingenuity to set up a scenario of a love triangle. The speaker addresses what seems to be a third party, who has stolen or tried to steal the speaker’s mistress: "That thou hast her, it is not all my grief." However, the speaker ford make it abundantly clear that even if the would-be lover-thief has, indeed, stolen the mistress, the speaker is not devastated by it.

Even though the speaker "lov’d her dearly," he is more upset that the mistress might return the affection of the intrusive lover, that is, be taken by him. If she is willing to take the third party of the triangle, the speaker is more affected.

Second Quatrain: The Drama of Creation

Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her, because thou know’st I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her.

Then the speaker addresses the would-be intrusive lover and the supposed mistress, calling them "Loving offenders" but saying he "excuses" them. And he explains why he is being so magnanimous: he knows that the intrusive lover loves his mistress, only because the speaker loves her. And the mistress’s affection for the intrusive lover is the result of her wishing to keep favor with the speaker.

Such a situation demonstrates that the speaker is not referring to a literal unfaithful mistress and would-be adulterer. The personified concepts stand metaphorically for poem (mistress) and talent, or art and process (would-be stealer of the mistress’s heart).

Third Quatrain: Speculation and the Nature of Loss

If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:

The speaker then speculates about the nature of loss, and he decides that if he loses that particular poem, he still wins because he has the ability to create others.

If the poet/speaker loses the ability to create others, he would lose both that poem and any future poems he might create. And that loss would indeed result in his having a "cross" to bear.

The Couplet: The Realization of Unity

But here ’s the joy; my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.

However, the speaker then triumphantly announces, "here’s the joy; my friend and I are one." Once again, the musing speaker reaches the conclusion that he is eternally united with his talent. So because there is no separation between himself and his ability to create poems, he cannot lose either the poem or his talent.

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 

    17 months ago from U.S.A.

    Good point, Mark. The speaker seems to go through some tortured logic at times, but his contortions always result in those marvelous dramas that make abundant good sense.

    How fortunate we are that this Shakespearean writer wrote so well and so much!

  • Mark Tulin profile image

    Mark Tulin 

    17 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

    I like the realization at the end. It seems to me that talent and the person outweighs any one poem. Because you could always create more poems if you have the talent.

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