When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see, For all the day they view things unrespected; But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee, And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed. Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright, How would thy shadow’s form form happy show To the clear day with thy much clearer light, When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so? How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made By looking on thee in the living day, When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay! All days are nights to see till I see thee, And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
This is an interesting sonnet for me, because it appears that Shakespeare is contemplating the nature of reality as it pertains to one’s state of consciousness. On the surface, he is praising the beauty of his beloved as it appears to him while dreaming and compares that to his beloved’s appearance in waking reality. But what strikes me about this sonnet is the repeated mention of words like “shadow” and “form.” I get the sense that Shakespeare is alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, that what we perceive as real is more like a shadow of the divine form cast upon the wall of a cave. Was Shakespeare likening the fair youth to an archetypal form of supreme beauty that we cannot fully comprehend in our normal state of consciousness? I don’t know, but it is definitely something worth considering when reading this text.
That’s all I wanted to say about this poem. Comments will be open for two weeks after post date, so if you have any thoughts you would like to share about this poem, feel free to do so.
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.
In this sonnet, Shakespeare is addressing a love triangle. Essentially, the fair youth, who is described as the speaker’s “friend,” has become romantically involved with the speaker’s mistress. What is most interesting is that the speaker seems less sad about losing his mistress than he is about losing the love of the fair youth. There are a couple ways to interpret this. On one hand, the argument can be made that the speaker has a romantic relationship with his friend, and that this relationship means more to him than his heterosexual relations. But another way to look at it is that Shakespeare is trying to convey the importance of friendship and camaraderie. While sexual relations may come and go, the deep bond of friendship is something rare.
In the final couplet, the speaker states “my friend and I are one.” Regardless of whether you interpret the friendship as a romantic or a platonic relationship, what is evident is the deep connection the speaker feels for his friend. Being as one, his friend’s happiness is essentially his own.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have an inspired day.
Marlowe’s version of the Faustian legend is a cautionary tale for those who are obsessed with learning, the occult, and who suffer from pride and arrogance. “It was written sometime between 1589 and 1592, and may have been performed between 1592 and Marlowe’s death in 1593.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Early in the play, Faustus conjures the demon Mephistophilis and asks him a series of questions, including questions regarding Lucifer.
Faustus. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
Mephistophilis. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov’d of God.
Faustus. How comes it, then, that he is prince of devils?
Mephistophilis. O, by aspiring pride and insolence; For which God threw him from the face of heaven.
(Act I: scene iii)
It is important to note that Faustus also suffers from “aspiring pride and insolence,” like Lucifer. Marlowe is foreshadowing the inevitable tragic fall of Faustus.
As is often the case, it is only when Faustus is faced with his death and eternal damnation that he realizes his mistakes and suffers the pangs of remorse.
But Faustus’ offence can ne’er be pardoned: the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus. Ah, gentlemen, hear me with patience, and tremble not at my speeches! Though my heart pants and quivers to remember that I have been a student here these thirty years, O, would I had never seen Wittenberg, never read book! and what wonders I have done, all Germany can witness, yea, all the world; for which Faustus hath lost both Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself, heaven, the seat of God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy; and must remain in hell for ever, hell, ah, hell, forever! Sweet friends, what shall become of Faustus, being in hell forever?
(Act V: scene ii)
While it is generally accepted that the legend of Doctor Faustus is based upon an historical figure, Johann Faustus, who lived in Germany from about 1480 to about 1541, I could not help wondering if there was another inspiration for Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend. My first thought was that Marlowe was using the character of Faustus to criticize John Dee, one of his contemporaries who was a well-known magician and practitioner of the occult.
John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, teacher, occultist, and alchemist. He was the court astronomer for, and advisor to, Elizabeth I, and spent much of his time on alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. As an antiquarian, he had one of the largest libraries in England at the time. As a political advisor, he advocated for the founding of English colonies in the New World to form a “British Empire”, a term he is credited with coining.
Dee eventually left Elizabeth’s service and went on a quest for additional knowledge in the deeper realms of the occult and supernatural.
While Marlowe could have been writing about John Dee, there is another possibility that I could not avoid considering, and that was that he was writing about himself. Marlowe died shortly after completing the play, and a close reading of the text demonstrates that Marlowe likely had studied occult philosophy. Did he sense that he was nearing his death, and did he harbor any remorse about things he did, or practices he might have engaged in? This is nothing but pure speculation on my part, but I feel that one could make a case.
As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have a blessed day.
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits, When I am sometime absent from thy heart, Thy beauty and thy years full well befits, For still temptation follows where thou art. Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won, Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed; And when a woman woos, what woman’s son Will sourly leave her till she have prevailed? Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear, And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth, Who lead thee in their riot even there Where thou art forc’d to break a twofold truth, Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee, Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.
Comments Off on “Sonnet 41: Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits” by William Shakespeare
Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all; What hast thou then more than thou hadst before? No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call; All mine was thine before thou hadst this more. Then, if for my love thou my love receivest, I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest; But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceives By wilful taste of what thyself refusest. I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief, Although thou steal thee all my poverty: And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury. Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows, Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.
In this sonnet, we are presented with a love triangle that is interesting even by modern standards. The speaker is a man who is in love with a younger man. The younger man decides to have sex with the older man’s wife or mistress. The older man, so enamored by the younger man, seeks to reconcile his feelings of love with the pain of jealousy and betrayal, as he becomes aware that his love for the younger man is not enough to satisfy the younger man’s desires.
What strikes me the most about this poem is the pure honesty. Shakespeare cuts right to the heart of complex human emotion and in a mere 14 lines conveys layers of passion and suffering. You can actually sense the speaker’s feeling of being torn between love and hate, compassion and anger, trying desperately to reconcile the conflicting emotions within. And while we may not have personally experienced the same situation, I suspect we can all relate to the feeling of being torn between love and anger.
I hope you enjoyed this poem. Have a great day, and keep on reading.
O, how thy worth with manners may I sing, When thou art all the better part of me? What can mine own praise to mine own self bring, And what is’t but mine own when I praise thee? Even for this, let us divided live, And our dear love lose name of single one, That by this separation I may give That due to thee which thou deserv’st alone. O absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove, Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave To entertain the time with thoughts of love, Which time and thoughts so sweetly dost deceive, And that thou teachest how to make one twain By praising him here who doth hence remain!
This seems to me a poignant poem considering what we are all dealing with in regard to the COVID pandemic. In this sonnet, Shakespeare expresses the pain of being separated from someone he deeply loves, loves to the point where they are as one when together. And yet, he acknowledges that it is only because of the separation that he is able to compose poetry praising his beloved, for then they are together, they are one and Shakespeare would not be able to differentiate himself from his love.
In the same way Shakespeare was reaching out to his beloved from a distance through poetry, we are also reaching out to those we love in creative ways, via Zoom, social distance outdoor gatherings, and yes, some of us have even gone back to writing letters.
There is an old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is truth here. Not being able to spend time with those I love makes me painfully aware of the love I feel for those people. But at least it seems the end of this isolation is drawing near. We just need to hang on a little bit longer.
I hope this poem provides you with some light in the remainder of these dark days. Many blessings to you and your dear ones.
My friend Robert sent me this book, knowing that I am a bit of a Shakespeare buff. It’s a work of historical fiction intended for a young adult audience. The story is a fictional memoir of a boy actor, John Rice, who assumed the female roles in performances during the rule of King James I.
Similar to what the world is experiencing now with COVID, the plague was rampant in the Jacobean period, and this led to the closing of theaters as a way to control the spread.
In 1603 the plague once again struck London with a terrible ferocity, bringing about the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children. To help stop the spread of the dreaded disease, which at its height was laying more than thirteen hundred innocents dead from one Sabbath to the next, it was ordered that theaters in London be closed.
As John begins his apprenticeship and is groomed to transform himself into female roles on stage, he must confront questions of gender identity and seems to accept the idea of gender fluidity.
This was, or so it seems to me, at the heart of the questions that has haunted my thoughts and even my dreams throughout my life on stage. What exactly is it that makes one a man? Or a woman? Or is it possible to be composed of elements of both? Is there a difference between how you are seen by the world and how you see yourself?
Some of the more interesting aspects of this book, for me anyway, are the fictional dialogs between Shakespeare and John Rice, as Shakespeare provides insight into the plays and various roles to help John better embody the role. One in particular stands out, where Shakespeare claims that the Guy Fawkes conspiracy helped inspire the themes he would explore in Macbeth.
“What concerns me, John, now that all involved in the nefarious Gunpowder Plot have been given the justice they deserved, is how and why it could have happened. Not merely the specific political and religious reasons for the plot, but in a larger sense how does a seemingly normal if ambitious Scottish nobleman become a murderous tyrant and perform such truly unthinkable and unutterable acts of violence? What sort of lies and stories and pretended reasons do such men tell themselves to justify their actions? Is the source of evil within themselves, or are they being acted upon by outside forces?”
These are questions that are just as important today as they were in the 1600s. People somehow convince themselves that the cruel and violent acts they commit are somehow justified, even heroic. Is this a part of who we are as a species, or do we allow the words of others to enter our ears and poison our thoughts?
As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you are well, and please stay safe and sane in these turbulent days.
This past weekend was a milestone for Stuff Jeff Reads. After publishing my thoughts on The Tempest, I have officially covered every Shakespeare play on my blog. Fear not, though. If you are a Shakespeare fan, there are still plenty of sonnets, as well as some longer poems for me to read and write about.
So here is the list of all 38 plays, with links to my reviews. In addition, you can access everything in my archive via the Books & Poems by Author page. Enjoy, and never stop reading!
I like this play a lot, and have read it and seen it performed multiple times. It is such a rich play that one could write volumes on it. Having said that, I decided that I would keep my post short and focus on one of Prospero’s passages that exemplifies the wonder of this play.
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.
(Act IV, scene i)
Reading this gives you the sense of a wise person nearing the end of their life. The revels of youth are over, and one must accept that we are but actors who have a fleeting role in the human drama. We are spiritual beings destined to melt back into the heavens. Our consciousness is but a dream, and when our sojourn is over, we will drift back into the eternal sleep, becoming one with the universal consciousness from which we emanated.
There is nothing I can say that can add to the splendor of this passage. It is, in my humble opinion, perfect in every way.
I hope you enjoyed this post, even though it was short. May it inspire you to make the most of life, before this insubstantial pageant fades away, into thin air.
In this short essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock, Eco provides a brief summary of how Christian Europe assimilated ideas and traditions from ancient and pagan cultures.
In our current society, the adoption of elements from other cultures is now deemed “cultural appropriation” and is definitely something that is frowned upon. But historically, this has not been the case, as Eco points out, and in the past ideas and traditions were shared and incorporated, the result of which was the blossoming of ideas and persistence of traditions.
Europe has assimilated Greco-Roman culture in law, philosophy, and popular beliefs. Often with a certain nonchalance, Christianity absorbed pagan myths and rituals and forms of polytheism that linger on in popular devotion. It wasn’t only the Renaissance that stocked up on Venuses and Apollos as it embarked on the discovery of the ancient world with its ruins and manuscripts. The Christian Middle Ages built its theology on Aristotle’s thinking, rediscovered by the Arabs, and while it knew nothing of Plato, it knew a lot about Neoplatonism, which had a huge influence on the Fathers of the Church. Nor could we conceive of Augustine, the greatest Christian thinker, without the absorption of Platonic ideas. The very notion of empire, which lies at the roots of a thousand years of struggle among European states, and between states and the Church, is Roman in origin. Christian Europe elected Latin as the language of holy ritual, of religious thinking, of law, and of university debate.
(Turning Back the Clock: p. 270)
Personally, I am OK with exploring ideas and traditions from other cultures, and incorporating those that resonate with me on a spiritual and intellectual level. But I will credit those other cultures and give them the respect and acknowledgement they deserve. And this is a very important thing to keep in mind. I believe it is acceptable to learn from other cultures and to incorporate elements for the advancement of humanity as a whole, but it is not permissible to steal from another culture as a way of diminishing or damaging that culture. Cultures are living organisms that benefit from diversity. Respect and consideration are critical, though. And if you are ever in doubt, best err on the side of caution.