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Shakespeare having taken up the relation between a lover and a courtesan originally in wanton humorous defiance of somewhat lackadaisical effusions, his dramatic instinct could not be restrained from pursuing the relationship farther into more serious aspects.
Sonnets I.-cxxvi. tell of a real friendship; there is a sequence in them; they treat of consecutive themes. Mr. W. H. was Shakespeare's friend and patron; a bookseller would not have dared to divert the poet's promise of immortality from a person of rank; no blind was intended in the dedication; it pointed to William Herbert.
Thy mother's glass” (3rd Sonnet), a reference to the Countess of Pembroke, famous for her beauty and talents. 107th Sonnet refers to the death of Elizabeth ; 104th to the three years since Shakespeare first met his friend. Pembroke came to London in 1598, a youth of eighteen. Perhaps the “gaudy spring ” of Sonnet 1. was the accession of James I. The rival poet was Chapman—"a man of overpowering enthusiasm, ever eager in magnifying poetry, and advancing fervent claims to supernatural inspiration.” 1
His chief patron, Sir F. Walsingham, was connected with Pembroke, being father-in-law of Sidney, Pembroke's uncle.
DR. ULRICI. [Shakspeare's Dramatic Art. Translated from the third edition of the
German (1874), by L. Dora Schmitz. 1876. Vol. i. pp. 206-217.]
Ulrici believes that the Sonnets refer to real persons and incidents. He strenuously opposes “the vagaries of Neil and Massey."
1 The same conclusion was independently arrived at by my friend Mr. Harold Littledale.
F. G. FLEAY.
[On the Motive of Shakspere's Sonnets (1-125), a Defence of his Morality
(Macmillan's Magazine, March, 1875).] The Sonnets I.-CXXV. form a complete poem, written on a single subject. This is indicated by the placing of the six couplets called Sonnet cxxvi. at the end. We have no right to disturb the original arrangement; they were addressed to a youth by Shakspere in his own person.
The “shame” which Shakspere speaks of as attaching to him is the feeling produced by unfavourable critical opinions of his productions. (See Sonnets CXII., LXXII., xcv., LXI.). The “idle hours ” of Sonnet LXI. are the “idle hours” of the dedication to Venus and Adonis, and the Earl of Southampton was Mr. W. H. The “ absence," “ journey,” “travel,” spoken of in the Sonnets is the separation between Southampton and Shakspere, caused by the metaphorical unfaithfulness of the latter to the former in producing, not poems dedicated to him, but only dramas destined for the multitude. Shakspere writes under the allegory of the marriage of poet and patron. The "jade," "horse,” or “beast,” ridden by Shakspere (Sonnets L., LI.), is Pegasus. Shakspere's “ travelling ” means “strolling ” as a player. The date of the Sonnets is 1593–1596; the Lord Chamberlain's company was (Mr. Fleay believes) strolling during 1594, 1595, 1596. Southampton forsakes Shakspere by accepting dedications from a rival poet, Nash. Shakspere's lameness (Sonnet LxxxIx.) is the lameness of his verses; the “proud full sail of his (Nash’s) great verse” (Sonnet LXXXVI.), refers ironically to a prosaic Sonnet by Nash in Pierce Pennilesse, accompanying a complaint that Amyntas’ (? Southampton's) name is omitted in the Sonnet Catalogue of English heroes appended to Spenser's Fairy Queen ; for in this paragraph Nash uses the words “ full sail.” The “affable familiar ghost” (Sonnet LXXXVI.) may be compared with Pierce Pennilesse, p. 80 (Sh. Society's ed.), on spirits “called spies and tale-carriers ; but probably it means only “ malicious interpretation.” There are so many allusions to Southampton as a rose, that probably the Rose Theatre is alluded to under a figure. The allusions to lilies probably refer to John Lyly. The two poets, Lyly and Nash, are ironically set up in opposition to the “rose ” Southampton. The “brand” set on Shakspere's name (Sonnet cxi.) is that set by satire or adverse criticism on his writings.
1 Can anything surpass this ?-unless it be Mr. Fleay's later suggestion about the rose and the lily.
Shakspere had promised, 1593, to dedicate all his poems to Southampton. On the reopening of the theatres, December, 1593, or 1594, he returned to the stage, “strolling” with the company. Southampton remonstrated; Shakspere wrote these Sonnets (1.-CXXVI.) as a defence of his conduct. The woman of Sonnets XL.-XLII. is Shakspere's Muse.
A short abstract of the contents of the Sonnets I.-CXXVI., as understood by Mr. Fleay, is given.
PROF. KARL ELZE.
[William Shakespeare. Halle, 1876. pp. 369-380 and pp. 493-505.]
“Begetter” in Thorpe's dedication means “procurer for the publisher. Perhaps Mr. W. H. was, as Neil suggests, Shakspere's brother-in-law, William Hathaway. But Charles Edwards found at Lamport Hall in 1873 a copy of a work, previously unknown, of Southwell, comprising four poems brought together by W. H., and by him put to press with G. Eld, 1606, the printer three years later of Shakspere's Sonnets. It is unlikely that two W. H.s at about the same time were engaged in literary work of this kind. But is it probable that Shakspere's brother-in-law could have added to his agricultural labours this work in literature ?
The Sonnets on the subject of friendship are in the taste of the time; their contents are as conventional as their form. The story of the friends of the Sonnets only repeats what was already told by Lilly in his Euphues (The Anatomy of Wit); it is ridiculed by Ben Jonson, who despised sonnets, in his Bartholomew Fair.
We need not suppose that there is anything of autobiography in these Sonnets. As to the passion for a dark woman-we cannot say. Doubtless Shakspere did not pass through his London experiences without trials of the heart. But these Sonnets may be only a play of fancy to entertain the writer's friends. Prof. Elze replies at length to Kenny.
F. J. FURNIVALL.
[The Leopold Shakspere. Introduction by F. J. Furnivall [the Sonnets,
pp. lxiii. lxiv.]. (London, 1877.)] The Sonnets are autobiographical. “Begetter" means the person-unknown to us—to whom they were ad
dressed. The rival poet was Chapman. Mr. Furnivall gives the following grouping and analysis of the sonnets.
Group I. Sonnets I.-CXXVI. 1 1.-XXVI. a I.-XVII. Will's beauty, and his duty to
marry and beget a son. B XVIII.-XXVI. Will's beauty, and Shakspere's love
for him. 2 XXVII.-XXXm. First absence. Shakspere travelling,
and away from Will. 3 XXXIII.-xxxv. Will's sensual fault blamed, repented,
and forgiven. 4 XXXVI.-XXXIX. Shakspere has committed a fault that
will separate him from Will. 5 XL-XLII. Will has taken away Shakspere's mistress
(see Group 2, § 6, Sonnets CXXXIII.-CXXXVI.). 6 XLIII.-LXI. a XLIII.-LVI. Second absence. Will ab
sent. Shakspere has a portrait of him. B LVII., LVIII. The sovereign ; slave watching ; so
made by God. 7 LIX., LX, Will's beauty, & LXI. Waking and watching. Shakspere has
rivals. 7 LXII.-Lxv. Shakspere full of self-love, conquered by
Time, which will conquer Will too; yet Shak
spere will secure him eternity. 8 LXVI.-LXX. Shakspere (like Hamlet) tired of the
world; but not only on public grounds. Will has mixt with bad company; but Shakspere is sure he is
and excuses him. 9 LXXI.-LXXIV. Shakspere on his own death, and his