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Sample 5

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

SONNET 52:  Here, it seems, finally, are reconciliation and renewed contact between Shakespeare and Southampton.

     This apparently innocuous sonnet becomes heavy with secondary suggestions when one focuses on the terms, “blessed” and “sweet”, in lines 1 and 2. Why should a key be blessed and what sort of “treasure” is sweet? To the Elizabethans, “treasure”, in such a context, was used as a metaphor for a sexual object or adjunct, and, in this light, the “blessed key” takes on a distinctly phallic shape, reinforced by the wording of the final line. Christopher Marlowe had used a similar metaphor in his play, The Massacre at Paris, where, in Scene 19, Mugeroun is accused of cuckolding the Duke of Guise, by using his “key” to access the “privy chamber” of the Duchess. 

     Ledger points out that the use of the expression, “ward-robe” (as it was spelt in line 10), in close proximity to “robe” seems uncharacteristically clumsy, suggesting that a secondary meaning was intended. I agree. I offer the thought that Southampton was at the time a ward of state. In this light, the line might be construed by someone, privy to an existing in-joke, as: Or like the robe of a ward, whom the garment hides.

     Interestingly, under either of its parallel themes, the sonnet seems to carry an excuse for the poet not seeking moments of intimacy as often as the Earl thinks appropriate.


So am I as the rich, whose bless-ed key

Can bring him to his sweet uplock-ed treasure,

The which he will not every hour survey,

For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare

Since, seldom coming, in the long year set,

Like stones of worth they thinly plac-ed are,

Or captain jewels in the carcanet.

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,

Or as the ward-robe which the robe doth hide,

To make some special instant special blest,

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.

Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,

Being had, to triumph; being lacked, to hope.


I’m like a fortuned man whose bless-ed key

Will let him come to joy in his hid treasure,

Which he won’t wish to do incessantly

And blunt delight that comes from rare-felt pleasure.

For so are feast days made much more profound,

With their sparse scattering throughout the year,

And major jewels, when in a necklace bound,

Shine out the more for spacing wide and clear.

And so our time apart is like a chest,

Or that containment of a robe unspied,

Which makes some special moment specially blest

When it yields up the wonder kept inside.

How blest are you whose person has such worth:

Gloried in the having; longed for on dearth.