Poetry Series VII: Shakespeare Sonnet 78

okay guys so if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s this dude that Shakespeare is absolutely OBSESSED with. and now in this sonnet, he’s sad because the man is not also obsessed.

enjoy sonnet 78!

Sonnet 78

Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require. 
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Analysis

In this sonnet, Shakespeare is once more talking to the young man who the majority of his sonnets are about. However, in this particular sonnet, he seems to be complaining that the young man is not giving him enough attention. He writes that other poets do not put as much work and heart into their writing as Shakespeare himself does. Because, after all, the young man is “all my art”, whereas these other people just use the young man to “mend” their “style”, not create it wholly.

One interesting element of this sonnet is the repetition of both the words “learned” (or a form of learned), and “ignorance”. Part of which makes this strange is that, although he is making the claim that he is the better poet, he is using “ignorance” to refer to himself, as shown in “my rude ignorance” in the couplet. It is the other poets who have “the learned’s wing”. However, Shakespeare attempts to show that the young man has drawn him out of his ignorance and into a more erudite state, saying that he “dost advance // as high as learning my rude ignorance”. It appears as though Shakespeare started out at a disadvantage compared to the “alien pen” of others, but after using the young man as his muse he became more successful than ever before.

The last quartet of the poem is essentially begging the young man to be proud of him, which seems at odds with the rest of Shakespeare’s poems. In the former sonnets, Shakespeare built up the young man and told him how amazing he was. Now, he has reversed it to a form of self love and a desire to be loved himself, perhaps indicating that Shakespeare’s obsession with the young man is not reciprocated the way which he would like (shocking!).

This is the start of a series where Shakespeare seems extraordinarily insecure, hinting at the fact that he gave his former sonnets to his young man lover, and only decided to continue writing them when he was spurred into an emotional response as a result of being ignored.

let's talk

What’s your favorite part of sonnet 78? Has your opinion on Shakespeare changed over this series?

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