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Shakespeare Sonnet 58

Updated on October 18, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 58

The speaker in sonnet 58 is addressing his muse. He often performs this task in his sonnets in order to create his little dramas. In this sonnet, he is examining and somewhat lamenting the process of waiting on the pleasure of the muse to inform his creativity.

The speaker would pray that the muse offer him her services at times that are more convenient for him. However, this talented, gifted speaker, who always remains aware that the muse will continue to remain free-wheeling and unable to pin to an exact schedule, demonstrates that his impatience can be conquered despite his strong urges to create his art on his own terms and on his own time.

Sonnet 58

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison’d absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

Reading of Sonnet 58

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 58 addresses his muse as he often does; this time he is examining the process of waiting on the pleasure of the muse to inform his creativity.

First Quatrain: Sarcasm Can Be Useful

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!

In sonnet 58, in a somewhat sarcastic tone, the speaker accosts his muse with the notion that far be it from him (the poet/speaker) to try to control the muse. He cognizes that he remains, by God’s grace, a slave of the muse, a position he does not disdain. Nevertheless, this amusing speaker would have the muse perform more accommodatingly and provide him nourishment of thought and inspiration more in line with his own schedule.

However, the talented speaker does know that he is merely a "vassal" of the muse, and his own "account of hours" will never move the muse to act. He might even make things worse by his craving, which will probably be "bound to stay [the muse's] leisure."

Second Quatrain: Exaggeration and Melodrama

O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison’d absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.

Since there is no cure, the speaker goes on to exaggerate his lot, melodramatically asserting, "O! let me suffer, being at your beck." He will always remain at the beck and call of the muse, so he exclaims that he will go ahead and suffer it. He is "imprison’d" by the free will of the muse.

The speaker knows that he must possess and exhibit "patience." He knows that he is required to "tame" his suffering heart. Each time the muse plays coy, he must "bide each check" and not become disconcerted by the muse’s seeming fickleness.

Third Quatrain: The Soul Force of the Muse

Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.

Whatever the muse does must be accepted because its force is soul force, and the mere human cannot understand or control such force or even begin to comprehend its relationship to time. Only the muse can "privilege [the muse's time / To what [the muse] will."

So while the speaker can complain, he can also create his poems based on the supposed frustrating schedule of the creative force, and he chides the muse with exaggerated blame, even referring to it as a "crime."

But this understanding speaker insists that the crime belongs only to the muse; he may suffer it, but he does not have to accept blame for it.

The Couplet: Final Acceptance

I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

By the time it took to reach the couplet—"I am to wait, though waiting so be hell, / Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well"— the speaker has cooled down a bit. He still strenuously hates the cruel waiting on the criminally-terminal schedule.

However, "though waiting" seems like hell to him, this pragmatic speaker will not ultimately blame her but accept her pleasure whether it suit him "ill or well."

The De Vere Society

Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford | Source

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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