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Sample 8

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


SONNET 98:  Shakespeare overtly continues and develops the seasonal theme of the preceding sonnet. However, there are clues to a parallel, sexual message in the “spring” and “spirit” of lines 1 and 3 (cf Sonnet 129) and the echo of Lord Capulet in Romeo & Juliet:

Such comfort as do lusty young men feel

When well-apparelled April on the heel

Of limping winter treads, even such delight

Among fresh female buds shall you this night

Inherit at my house. (I , ii, 26-30)

     The flowers of different odour and hew (line 6) are suggestive of lovers, who are pale shadows of Southampton, his original flower - his “Rose”. These flowers of different “hew” (Appendix E) are probably women: “lap” (line 8) was, in context, a term for the female genital area, linked here with “where they grew” or “where they produced children”.1

     The final couplet can be construed as Shakespeare's excuse: I was depressed with you away, so I fooled around with these lesser substitutes for you.

     From this, we can surmise that Earl and poet have become close again, after their extended separation. On hearing Shakespeare's claims of missing him, Southampton has commented on the women in the poet’s life, whereupon he responds thus.

     “Saturn” (line 4) was probably invoked in astrological terms, rather than as a reference to the god. In astrology, Saturn was, and is, symbolic of discipline, privation, dourness, age and steadiness.


SONNET 98

From you have I been absent in the spring,

When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim

Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.

Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell

Of different flowers in odour and in hew,

Could make me any summer’s story tell,

Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.

Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,

Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;

They were but sweet, but figures of delight

Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

Yet seemed it winter still and you away,

As with your shadow I with these did play.

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From you I was apart in lusty spring,

When April, boasting dappled finery,

Pumped youthful essence into everything

And sombre Saturns gambolled merrily.

Yet neither lays of birds, nor the sweet smell

Of other flowers of different scent and type,

Could move me to enjoy a summer’s spell,

Or take them in their beds, where seed grew ripe.

Nor did I marvel at the lily’s white,

Or praise the rich red tones within the rose,

For these were but reflections of delight,

Pale tastes of you, from whom all joys arose.

Yet it seemed winter still with you away,

As with these shades of you I’d sport and play.


1 For example, in Romeo & Juliet, Romeo says, of his first love, she will not “ope her lap to saint-seducing gold” (I, i, 211); Nurse says in ribaldry “No less? Nay, bigger! Women grow by men” (I, iii, 96). See also commentary at Sonnets 109 and 133.