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Shakespeare Sonnet 57: "Being your slave what should I do but tend"

Updated on September 29, 2017
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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, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction: A Slave of Independence

In Sonnet 57, the speaker dabbles in a paradox: while he deems himself a slave to his Muse, and at the same time, he declares a soul freedom that the very music-slavery affords him.

This speaker traces his cleverness back to the same source of his dead-on talent. He explores his ability from all sides. He is especially interested in elucidating his own dedication in the sonnet.

By allowing that he is, in fact, a captured slave to the Muse, the speaker is at the same time demonstrating his independence from all kinds of snobbery, puffery, and buffoonish solipsism.

Reading of Sonnet 57

First Quatrain: "Being your slave what should I do but tend"

The speaker begins the first quatrain by addressing his master (mistress), his Muse, declaring that he is, in fact, a "slave" to his music talent.

This speaker cannot do anything without permission from the Muse. He has committed himself to waiting "[u]pon the hours, and times of [the Muse’s] desire."

The speaker declares that he has "no precious time at all to spend." He is so indebted to his music talent that he does not even possess a shred of time.

This dedicated speaker also has nothing to do, no services to perform, until the Muse bids him act. His dedication is complete.

Second Quatrain: "Nor dare I chide the world without end hour"

Despite his absolute obeisance to his Master Muse, this speaker refuses to complain. He has learned to move comfortably in chains, so to speak.

Unlike the ordinary slave who quietly performs his service while plotting revenge and escape, this speaker refuses even to "chide" anyone regarding his slavery.

This speaker does not sulk in bitterness while the Muse is away. He does not dare moan and whine when Master Muse "bid[s her] servant once adieu." He willingly accepts his servitude.

Third Quatrain: "Nor dare I question with my jealous thought"

The speaker does not badger his Muse with jealous demanding of the whereabouts of the Muse, as lovers would likely do to each other. This speaker has dignity and independence, even while deep inside the Muse's constraints.

This confident speaker continues to behave like an independent human force, not like "a sad slave." He never bothers to blight his heart and mind with an imagination gone wild featuring his Muse traipsing off and lavishing her time on others.

The obverse of what the speaker does not do holds especial sway here. The poet/speaker has examined and portrayed many times in many sonnets the strength of his own talent.

The power this speaker possesses and the confidence he displays result from his own self-awareness. He can be content even when his most important possession, his Muse, his poetic talent, takes hiatus, as that creative entity is wont to do from time to time.

The Couplet: "So true a fool is love, that in your will"

Of course, the Muse manifests herself as the spiritual reality of the speaker’s intense love, his strong soul love that informs his art.

The speaker realizes that his own worth allows him to "think[ ] no ill" even while his Muse seems to be off frolicking elsewhere.

This speaker/poet understands that his love is absolutely not a fool but the best kind of genius that will serve him perpetually.

This speaker often employs the poetic device of hyperbole, as he is doing here so freely and eloquently.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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