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Sample 4

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

SONNET 4:  An image of the Earl in his teens has been identified in a surviving portrait. For many years it was thought to have been that of a long-haired woman wearing lipstick and rouge (see plate at end of Part I). Details of clothing and jewellery date the portrait to the period 1590-3.   

     Later-drawn portraits, including a Hilliard miniature when he was around twenty, show that that the Earl kept his tresses at an unfashionable shoulder-length well into his thirties.1

     In this sonnet, Shakespeare continues a secondary theme of wasteful masturbation, with words and phrases like “spend upon thyself”, “abuse” and “having traffic with thyself alone” - which follow the “treasure of thy lusty days” and “beauty's use” of Sonnet 2, and “die single” of Sonnet 3. Such allusions were presumably for the amusement of the young earl and, perhaps, his friends, but were sufficiently subtle to be missed, or ignored, by other readers (including perhaps his mother).


Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend

Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?

Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,

And, being frank, she lends to those are free.

Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse

Thy bounteous largesse given thee to give?

Profitless usurer, why dost thou use

So great a sum of sums yet canst not live?

For, having traffic with thyself alone,

Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.

Then how, when Nature calls thee to be gone,

What acceptable audit canst thou leave?

Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,

Which, used, lives the executor to be.


O wasteful loveliness why do you spend

Upon yourself your beauty’s legacy?

For Nature makes bequest, but just to lend,

And, open, lends for sharing openly.

So beauteous skinflint why do you abuse

The bounteous plenty given you for giving?

O gainless usurer why do you use

Such treasure if you can’t make life worth living?

For, playing only with yourself alone,

You then deprive yourself and your sweet heir:

When Nature calls you in to pay her loan

How can your life’s account show true and fair?

Your beauty tossed away will die with you,

But used would live in those you pass it to.

1 Such depictions may be readily inspected online, by googling “earl Southampton portraits”