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Shakespeare Sonnet 83

Updated on November 22, 2019
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

Source

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 83

In sonnet 83, this gifted speaker asserts his desire to remain a humble servant of truth. His desire to offer only beauty that bespeaks sincere love will guide him to create honest art. This speaker is aware that many artists turn to flattering language to fill their poems with tinsel and tinker.

This speaker/poet dramatizes the nature of a humble heart that is aware of its gifts but he remains insistent that he will use his considerable gifts to create only works that represent truth and beauty. This speaker seems to be taking a vow or making a pact with his readers that his works will always strive to represent only the most profound subjects. He will reveal his subjects in their own brilliant light and not add glitter to falsely enhance them.

This poet/speaker knows that he possesses to ability to accomplish all of his worthy goals for his writing because he knows how deeply he loves his art as well as the love, truth, and beauty he seeks for his life.

Sonnet 83: "I never saw that you did painting need"

I never saw that you did painting need
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
That barren tender of a poet’s debt:
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

Reading of Sonnet 83

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 83 again offers a tribute to his poetry, as he dramatizes the nature of poetry cosmetics pitted against profound insight and inspiration.

First Quatrain: No Mere Cosmetics

I never saw that you did painting need
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
That barren tender of a poet’s debt:

Once again, addressing his poetry, the speaker/poet avers that he has never engaged in mere cosmetic dressing for his poems. He has always believed that his subjects of love, beauty, and truth provide the profundity that his creations need. This speaker believes that he poet owes a debt to his audience, and this speaker vows that he will always pay that debt.

Unlike many superficial poets, this poet/speaker will not condescend to use poetic devices such as metaphor, simile, and image for mere window dressing. His work will always reflect his dedication to heartfelt art produced by a genuinely workable method.

Second Quatrain: The Shallow "Moderns"

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

The "modern" way always brings with it some shallow writers who depend on disingenuousness and cosmetic touches to make their poetry appear original, even as it merely shows pretension and conformity. Such a situation can be seen in poets who become critics in order to make a case for their own poetry.

These artists behave like adolescents, who must change their style out of an ignorant rebellion and an immature attempt to belong to something they do not completely understand. Instead of studying the nature of love, beauty, spirituality, and truth, they are content to dabble in "worth[less]" pursuits.

Third Quatrain: Base Instincts

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.

The poem may seem to impart "silence for my sin," but for those speakers, who limit their intentions to base instincts, this speaker understands that they "impair not beauty being mute." This sincere speaker's own poems will sing with "life," while the superficial will "bring a tomb."

The speaker’s passion for life will live in his works because he has struggled to maintain his integrity, while paying homage to his own considerable talents. The repetition of his subjects will not be taken as "dumb" but will "be most my glory."

The Couplet: Poetry of the Profound

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

The poet/speaker declares that his own poetry, because of the profound history, philosophy, and spirituality he has struggled to place in it, will contain "more life" than that of any two less honest poets.

The speaker takes such honor for himself only in that he has been able to assist his own poems into creation. This speaker's humility can be achieved by the very talent that could, in a less realized poet, give rise to a presumptuous pride.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | 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."

Source

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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