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Sample 3

Extract from Part II of Shakespeare: a Hidden Life Sung in a Hidden Song

SONNET 1:  The story begins with this first of seventeen poems urging procreation (implicitly to produce a male heir) on one who, in progressive descriptions, emerges as an aristocratic youth of feminine beauty. As established beyond reasonable doubt in the preceding Part I, the addressee of this and most of the other sonnets was Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

     In what becomes a hallmark of the Sonnets, there are subtle overtones and parallel meanings as well as occasional poetic distortions of grammar (as in line 14), all of which can provide difficulties in interpretation.

     In its original publication, the word “Rose” in line 2 is distinguished by italic printing, probably denoting an unusual significance or extension of meaning. In this case it suggests a nickname, arising from elisions of Southampton's name to its easier and more intimate form of expression:  “Rosely”.

     The phrase “only herald to the gaudy spring” in line 10 appears mildly peculiar until its full context is discerned. As the only surviving male of an aristocratic family, which had sprung from a dynasty of heralds, Southampton was its only potential propagator. The “gaudy spring” suggests a burgeoning of that aristocratic house and carries – given other hints - an overtone of ejaculate.

     The jocular hints of unproductive solo sex are subtle enough that they might be dismissed, were it not for their continuation in a number of the ensuing sonnets.


From fairest creatures we desire increase

That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die,

But as the riper should by time decease

His tender heir might bear his memory:

But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,

Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,

Making a famine where abundance lies.

Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content

And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

Pity the world, or else this glutton be:

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.


We want life’s fairest all to multiply

So beauty's Rose might live eternally

And as the older ones in time should die

Their young offspring may bear their memory.

But you, a moth drawn to your own bright flame,

Feed your life's fire with your own fount's resource,

To turn abundance into sterile shame,

Yourself your foe, to your sweet self too coarse.

Thus you, who are the world’s new bright young thing,

Sole herald of the life-spring, Nature’s gift,

Inhume your own seed in self-pleasuring,

A dear fool, wasting wealth through too much thrift.

Grant us our due or else you’ll come to be

Buried with a glutton's progeny.