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Shakespeare Sonnet 5: "Those hours, that with gentle work did frame"

Updated on March 23, 2018
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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

The Real Shakespeare
The Real Shakespeare | Source

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles in My Article Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. The rule according to the MLA style for citing an untitled poem's first line as the title is to place the first line in quotation marks and capitalize according to the way the line appears in the poem. Along with the number of the sonnet, this is the format I follow for titling my articles featuring the Shakespeare sonnets.

Reading of Sonnet 5

First Quatrain: "Those hours, that with gentle work did frame"

The first quatrain of "Those hours, that with gentle work did frame" has the speaker reminding the young man that the self-same passage of time that has worked its black arts to render the lad a thing of beauty, and a pleasing creation, will eventually transform into a tyrannical depot and thus will undo his handsome, lovely characteristics.

The young man is deemed as very attractive, so much so that “every eye doth dwell” upon his features. Time has worked marvelously in “fram[ing] / The lovely gaze.” Yet that same time will be unmerciful in transforming his lovely youthfulness to ugly, old age. The speaker then employs the passage of time to argue and to persuade the lad to marry and procreate lovely offspring, who will inherit the young man’s pleasing qualities.

Second Quatrain: "Those hours, that with gentle work did frame"

The speaker then names time as “never-resting” and as he compares summer to winter. He qualifies s winter descriptively as “hideous.” Of course, the darkest coldest season of the year can be thought "hideous" with the sap in the trees can no longer flowing smoothly, as it is “check’d with frost.”

The speaker metaphorically compares the sap in winter trees because when the frigid temperature prevents it from flowing smoothly, it will resemble the young man’s blood after the lad has acquired old age on his body.

Not only does the sap cease flowing in the trees, but also the “lusty leaves [are] quite gone,” with “Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where.” The “lusty leaves” compare with the other outer physical attractiveness of the young man; his features reflect the physical beauty to which so many folks have been attracted. The lad would be well advised to employ the summer or his young adulthood, before winter or old age leaves his blood lethargic and modifying his pleasing qualities rendering them barren, withered, and ugly.

Third Quatrain: "Those hours, that with gentle work did frame"

The speaker now asserts a creative epitome, dramatizing the summer’s essence as being conserved in the distillation process of flowers to make perfume. The speaker could likely be alluding to dandelion wine into alcohol: “A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass.”

But without the offspring of summer, the beauty that had been would have disappared, and no one would recall that summer had ever been. Comparing the result of summer to perfume or wine, the speaker attempts to demonstrate to the the young man that re-creating his own likeness would be a grand gift to the world as well as to himself.

The Couplet

The couplet finds the speaker again referring to the perfume/alcohol created in summer. The “flowers” were distilled to produce the “liquid prisoner.” The speaker retorts that even though those flowers were met with winter, they gave up only beauty to the eye of the beholder, while their “substance” or essence, that is, the liquid they yielded, “still lives sweet.” The speaker continues in the hope that his persuasion will appeal to the lad’s vanity and make him to want to preserve his own youth.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

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 (Erroneously "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.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


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