It’s best to read Part 43 first.

A Lover’s Complaint continued.

The young woman speaks:

‘Yet did I not, as some my equals did,
Demand of him, nor being desired yielded;
Finding myself in honour so forbid,
With safest distance I mine honour shielded:
Experience for me many bulwarks builded
Of proofs new-bleeding, which remain’d the foil
Of this false jewel, and his amorous spoil.’

‘Foil’ = ‘settings for a jewel’.

But unlike some of my contemporaries I did not try to seduce him – nor did I succumb to his sexual approaches. Honour stopped me from doing it. I kept my distance from him and so retained my honour. Also my experience of those he had seduced and destroyed were a defence for me. They were like a setting which shows off the beauty of a jewel – or animals that had been hunted and killed.

Shakespeare here is talking of his own situation. His ‘equal’ was Christopher Marlowe……

……who had attempted to seduce Harry by writing Hero and Leander with a flattering description of Leander/Harry:

‘Some swore he was a maid in man’s attire,

For in his looks were all that men desire,

A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye,

A brow for love to banquet royally;

And such as knew he was a man, would say,

“Leander, thou art made for amorous play.

Why art thou not in love, and loved of all?

Though thou be fair, yet be not thine own thrall.’

Harry loved dressing as a girl – as we can see from this painting……

Also Shakespeare himself describes Harry in drag in Sonnet 67 (53):

Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit

Is poorly imitated after you;

On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,

And you in Grecian tires are painted new…

Marlowe also describes Leander/Harry’s….

‘……dangling tresses, that were never shorn,

Had they been cut, and unto Colchos borne,

Would have allured the vent’rous youth of Greece

To hazard more than for the golden fleece.’

In the poem a gay Old King Neptune tries to seduce Leander/Harry while he is swimming the Hellespont.

Shakespeare – like the young woman – was bound by ‘honour’ not to sleep with Harry. He was employed his mother – Countess Mary – to try to get Harry interested in women – by writing sonnets and Love’s Labour’s Lost – a great paean to heterosexual love.

Also Shakespeare had the example of Aemilia Bassano – the Dark Lady of the Sonnets – whom Harry abandoned when she fell pregnant. She was the proof ‘new-bleeding’ – new-bleeding from (1) heartache and (2) having given birth to a son in 1593 whom she named Henry.

‘But, ah, who ever shunn’d by precedent
The destined ill she must herself assay?
Or forced examples, ‘gainst her own content,
To put the by-past perils in her way?
Counsel may stop awhile what will not stay;
For when we rage, advice is often seen
By blunting us to make our wits more keen.

‘Assay’ = ‘test out by experience’.

But who ever allowed what had happened to others in the past to deflect them from the destiny they must experience for themselves? Advice might stop us for a little while but cannot have a lasting impression on us. If we are sexually excited, advice to desist often makes us more determined and resourceful to get our way.

With ‘blunting’ Shakespeare plays again on the name of Harry’s great friend, Charles Blount, [pronounced ‘blunt’] 6th Baron Mountjoy,….

…….as he does in Sonnets 49 (19), 83 (105), 109 (52), 116 (56) and 143 (115)

‘Nor gives it satisfaction to our blood,
That we must curb it upon others’ proof;
To be forbod the sweets that seem so good,
For fear of harms that preach in our behoof.
O appetite, from judgment stand aloof!
The one a palate hath that needs will taste,
Though Reason weep, and cry, ‘It is thy last.’

This is very similar to the argument in Sonnet 43 (129) : ‘Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ in which Shakespeare catalogues the horror of being seized by physical passion: but concludes that sex is so attractive no-one can resist it.

‘All this the world well knows, yet none knows well/To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.’

‘For further I could say ‘This man’s untrue,’
And knew the patterns of his foul beguiling;
Heard where his plants in others’ orchards grew,
Saw how deceits were gilded in his smiling;
Knew vows were ever brokers to defiling;
Thought characters and words merely but art,
And bastards of his foul adulterate heart.

‘Adulterate heart’ = (1) A heart set on adultery and (2) A heart that has been debased. (adulterated)

The young woman admits she knew her seducer’s history: heard how he had made married women pregnant – and how his smiles were false, seductive and guileful. His promises were simply a means to seduce others – and what he wrote and what he said were completely bogus – the products of his evil, corrupted nature.

The ‘plants’ which grew ‘in others orchards’ is a reference again to Harry’s affair with Amelia. When she became pregnant, she was married off, on 18th October 1592, ‘for colour’ – to a ‘minstrel’ Alphonse Lanier.

The imagery orchards and fertility echoes the imagery of Sonnet 17 (16) to Harry, written for his 17th Birthday in 1590:

‘And many maiden gardens yet unset,/With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers.’

‘And long upon these terms I held my city,
Till thus he gan besiege me: ‘Gentle maid,
Have of my suffering youth some feeling pity,
And be not of my holy vows afraid:
That’s to ye sworn to none was ever said;
For feasts of love I have been call’d unto,
Till now did ne’er invite, nor never woo.’

The young woman says that she resisted the seducer’s advances for a long time – like a city under siege. The young man asked her to pity him and claimed that his vows were holy ones. He said that what he was saying to her was the first time he had spoken like this to anyone. He had been invited to make love to others – but had never before wooed a woman.

Here there is again a fusion between Shakespeare and Harry. When Shakespeare was wooing Anne Hathaway, he managed to gain her pity for his love-suit. See Sonnet 1 (145)

Also the young man’s use of the word ‘holy vows’ echoes Shakespeare’s use of religious imagery in describing his love for Harry. In Sonnet 70 (31) Shakespeare writes:

How many a holy and obsequious tear

Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye

Shakespeare, in Sonnet 149 (108), even quotes the language of the Lord’s Payer when he describes his love for Harry:

like prayers divine

I must each day say ore the very same

Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,

Even as when I first  I hallowed thy fair name.

And in Sonnet 152 (124) Shakespeare fuses sex and religion by turning the obelisk outside St. Peter’s – the last thing St. Peter was said to have seen before he was crucified, and consequently sacred to Catholics – into a phallic symbol of his love for Harry.

See: Shakespeare in Italy.

”All my offences that abroad you see
Are errors of the blood, none of the mind;
Love made them not: with acture they may be,
Where neither party is nor true nor kind:

They sought their shame that so their shame did find;
And so much less of shame in me remains,
By how much of me their reproach contains.’

‘With acture they may be’ = ‘they may be enacted’.

The young man claims that all the sexual sins I have committed were instinctive – not calculated. They were not born out of love: in fact good sex can occur with people who lie and are cruel. He blames women for shamelessly making love to him – and asserts the more they blame him, the more innocent he is.

There is here another ‘fusion’ of Harry with Shakespeare. In Sonnet 120 (121) Shakespeare defends his own gay sexuality with the same bravura as the young man:

For why should others’ false adulterate eyes

Give salutation to my sportive blood?

Or on my frailties why are frailer spies

Which in their wills count bad what I think good?

No, I am that I am, and they that level

At my abuses reckon up their own;

I may be straight, though they them-selves be bevel:

By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown.

‘I am that I am’ is a quotation from Exodus 3. 14 in the Geneva translation which Shakespeare used. It is God describing himself to Moses. So Shakespeare, here, is obliquely comparing himself to God.

‘Nor true nor kind’ is also reminiscent of Sonnet 84 (105) where Shakespeare writes to Harry:

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,

Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,

And in this change is my invention spent.

Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.

Fair, kind, and true, have often liv’d alone,

Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

A Lover’s Complaint (cont)

”Among the many that mine eyes have seen,
Not one whose flame my heart so much as warm’d,
Or my affection put to the smallest teen,
Or any of my leisures ever charm’d:
Harm have I done to them, but ne’er was harm’d;
Kept hearts in liveries, but mine own was free,
And reign’d, commanding in his monarchy.

‘Teen’ = ‘injury’. ‘Harm’ = ‘injure with love’.

The young man describes how of all the people he has seen, not a single one has excited his passions. He has sexually ‘injured’ others – but has never been injured himself. Other people’s hearts were his servants – but he has never been injured himself. His heart has been an unchallenged emperor.

In Sonnet 78 (94) Shakespeare advises Harry NOT to arouse others sexually with the same hurt/harm idea:

They that have power to hurt, and will do none.

So the young man is doing the opposite of Shakespeare advised Harry not to do: he callously exploits his good looks.

Also, when Shakespeare was in Harry’s entourage, he would literally have worn the Southampton Family livery.



It’s best to read Part 42  first

A Lover’s Complaint (continued)

The young woman – who represents the younger Shakespeare – explains to the ‘reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh’ – who represents the older Shakespeare, examining his younger self.

‘But, woe is me! too early I attended
A youthful suit–it was to gain my grace
Of one by nature’s outwards so commended,
That maidens’ eyes stuck over all his face:
Love lack’d a dwelling, and made him her place;
And when in his fair parts she did abide,
She was new lodged and newly deified.

‘Grace’ = ‘sexual favours’.

The young woman confesses she was far too young when she was wooed by a young man who wanted to go to bed with her – a youth so handsome that every woman’s gaze was fixed on him. Love needed somewhere to live – so chose the young man as her habitation and so Love became all the more powerful as a Goddess.

This echoes Shakespeare’s Sonnets about Harry.

Sonnet 19. (20):

A man in hew all Hews in his controlling,

Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.

[Hews is a coded reference to Harry’s initials and his title: Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton]

It is also reminiscent of Shakespeare’s description of Harry in Sonnet 114 (93) when he talks about Love dwelling in Harry’s face.

‘But heaven in thy creation did decree/That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell’.

‘His browny locks did hang in crooked curls;
And every light occasion of the wind
Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls.
What’s sweet to do, to do will aptly find:
Each eye that saw him did enchant the mind,
For on his visage was in little drawn
What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.

‘Sawn’ = ‘seen’.

His long brown hair would be blown onto his lips by the wind – and everyone who saw him was enchanted by him: his face seemed Paradise in miniature.

This is very similar to the description of the beautiful young knight, Musidorus, in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia:

‘His fair auburn hair which he ware at great length and gave at that time a delightful show with being stirred up and down with the breath of a gentle wind’.

Harry hero-worshipped Sidney and based his own appearance on the two handsome young princes in ‘Arcadia’.

Also, in All’s Well that Ends Well, Helena – who also represents Shakespeare’s younger self – talks of Bertram’s/Harry’s ‘curls’.


‘Small show of man was yet upon his chin;
His phoenix down began but to appear
Like unshorn velvet on that termless skin
Whose bare out-bragg’d the web it seem’d to wear:
Yet show’d his visage by that cost more dear;
And nice affections wavering stood in doubt
If best were as it was, or best without.

He only had a tiny show of facial hair – and the woman/Shakespeare compares it to phoenix-feathers. 

Note: Shakespeare has already likened Harry to the fabulous Phoenix Bird in The Phoenix and the Turtle.

The bareness of his chin highlighted the stubble – and people argued as to which was more attractive – the young man with hair or without.

Harry also was famous, in his youth, for his small show of facial hair:

Between 22nd – 28th September, 1592, Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford with Harry in attendance. John Sanford afterwards wrote of him in Latin: ‘There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning , although his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down’.

‘His qualities were beauteous as his form,
For maiden-tongued he was, and thereof free;
Yet, if men moved him, was he such a storm
As oft ‘twixt March and April is to see,
When winds breathe sweet, untidy though they be.
His rudeness so with his authoriz’d youth
Did livery falseness in a pride of truth.

‘Free’ = ‘generous’. ‘Authoriz’d’ = ‘granted allowances’. [The stress should be on ‘thor’]. ‘Livery’ = ‘dress up’.

He was as morally beautiful (or seemed to be) as he was physically beautiful for he had the pure, soft speech of a girl – and was generous and liberal. But he could get angry with people – but it was like the ‘rough winds’ of early spring and, consequently, still sweet. However, what he was doing was masking his deceitfulness with a show of truth.

These are similar to Shakespeare’s observations of Harry. In Sonnet 75. (70) Shakespeare writes:

If some suspect of ill maskt not thy show,/Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts should’st owe.

And in Sonnet 114 (93) Shakespeare writes:

But heaven in thy creation did decree/That in they face sweet love should ever dwell/What ere thy thoughts, or thy heart’s workings be/Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.’

‘Well could he ride, and often men would say
‘That horse his mettle from his rider takes:
Proud of subjection, noble by the sway,
What rounds, what bounds, what course, what stop
he makes!’
And controversy hence a question takes,
Whether the horse by him became his deed,
Or he his manage by the well-doing steed.

He was a great horseman. Some people say the horse takes its qualities from the horseman – others that the horseman takes his qualities from the horse.

‘But quickly on this side the verdict went:
His real habitude gave life and grace
To appertainings and to ornament,
Accomplish’d in himself, not in his case:
All aids, themselves made fairer by their place,
Came for additions; yet their purposed trim
Pieced not his grace, but were all graced by him.

‘Appertainings’ = ‘belongings’. ‘Case’ = ‘outward clothing’. ‘Trim’ = ‘trappings’.

But all were finally of the opinion that it was the young man’s inner qualities that made him attractive, not his outward dress. External ornamentations helped, but they took their beauty from the young man rather than gave it to him.

‘So on the tip of his subduing tongue
All kinds of arguments and question deep,
All replication prompt, and reason strong,
For his advantage still did wake and sleep:
To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep,
He had the dialect and different skill,
Catching all passions in his craft of will:

So his conversation was skilfully manipulative. He could argue any case and tailored his conversations to the needs of his hearers. So he managed to master people of every sort of persuasion by his cunning arts.

This is reminiscent of Harry’s manipulative behaviour in his love-triangle with Shakespeare and Amelia Bassano – the Dark Lady’ of the Sonnets. Harry wanted Shakespeare to be his lover – but Harry wanted to be loyal to Harry’s mother – Mary Second, Countess of Southampton….


(1) She was Shakespeare’s employer and

(2) Shakespeare’s brief had been to ‘heterosexualise’ Harry with the seventeen ‘Birthday Sonnets’

See: The Birthday Sonnets.

To gain Shakespeare’s love, Harry seduced Amelia when Shakespeare asked Harry to plead his love cause with her.

At this stage, Harry was not interested in women at all!

Shakespeare refers to this in Sonnet 41 (40) when he criticises Harry for stealing his mistress:

But yet be blam’d, if thou this self deceivest

By wilful taste of what they self refusest

‘Self’ here, as we have seen, can = ‘penis’. Shakespeare is indicating that by bedding Amelia, Harry is going against his natural gay instincts. he is being emotionally manipulative – just as the male lover in A Lover’s Complaint is.

‘That he did in the general bosom reign
Of young, of old; and sexes both enchanted,
To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain
In personal duty, following where he haunted:
Consents bewitch’d, ere he desire, have granted;
And dialogued for him what he would say,
Ask’d their own wills, and made their wills obey.

Everyone was in love with him no matter what their ages. He enchanted both sexes: they thought about him or LITERALLY followed him about. People submitted to him sexually before he even asked them to go to bed with him. They anticipated what he would say – and said it themselves – and forced their genitals (‘their wills’) to comply with what he wanted.

This is very similar to Shakespeare’s description of Harry in Sonnet 19. (20)

‘Which steals men’s eyes and women’s soul amazeth’.

Also in Sonnet 117 (57) Shakespeare describes Harry in exactly the same tones as the besotted people described in this stanza:

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 any thing) he thinks no ill.


A Lover’s Complaint continued.

‘Many there were that did his picture get,
To serve their eyes, and in it put their mind;
Like fools that in th’ imagination set
The goodly objects which abroad they find
Of lands and mansions, theirs in thought assign’d;
And labouring in moe pleasures to bestow them
Than the true gouty landlord which doth owe them:

‘Moe’ = ‘more’.

Many people had miniatures and portraits of the young man to (1) Please their sight (2) Masturbate over. ‘Eyes’ can = ‘testicles’. Or please their minds, thinking about the young man in his absence.

These people are like idiots who see gardens and stately homes and imagine they own them and work, in their imagination to improve them more than the true gout-ridden owners.

Shakespeare here is describing himself!

We know from Sonnet 103 (46) that Harry gave Shakespeare a miniature of himself that Shakespeare took on tour with him.

Shakespeare also thought he ‘owned’ his lover, Harry and sought to improve his character – much more than Harry himself – who had suffered from ‘swelling in the legs’ in his imprisonment in the Tower and so was ‘gouty’.

‘So many have, that never touch’d his hand,
Sweetly supposed them mistress of his heart.
My woeful self, that did in freedom stand,
And was my own fee-simple, not in part,
What with his art in youth, and youth in art,
Threw my affections in his charmed power,
Reserved the stalk and gave him all my flower.

‘Fee-simple’ = ‘my absolute possession’ – a legal term about land.

Many people, who never even touched the young man, thought he was in love with them. I, who was completely free and my own mistress, because of his manipulation (1) As a young man and (2) As one who was only beginning to be a manipulator, succumbed to his magic and gave him my virginity.

Shakespeare is here talking openly about his relation ship with Harry. He his ‘freedom’ when he first met Harry. He had started to forge a career in the theatre – howbeit poorly paid and tough – by leading Lord Strange’s Company in Lancashire. But he was enchanted by Harry – and allowed him to dominate him emotionally and physically. He allowed himself to be the passive partner in the relationship in every sense of the word. The image of the ‘flower’ being taken suggests that Shakespeare could be the passive partner in the relationship.

This idea is confirmed by Sonnet 106 (50):

My grief lies onwards and my joy behind

And Sonnet 70 (31):

And they, all they, hast all the all of me

And Sonnet 43 (129)

Before a joy propos’d, behind a dream.

A Lover’s Complaint Part III will be posted shortly.





It’s best to read Part 41 – Shakespeare’s Poison Pen first.

The volume of Shakespeare’s Sonnets concludes with an eleven page poem entitled A Lover’s Complaint.

To understand the meaning and significance of this poem, we must examine what happened after Shakespeare sent his ‘poison pen’ Sonnet 153 (126) to Harry Southampton in 1605.

Harry’s rejection of his lover, Shakespeare, led to rage and despair. To madness even.

Shakespeare had lost his own son, Hamnet, in 1596 – now, nearly a decade later, he had lost his surrogate son, Harry.

[See Sonnet 132 (37) in which he describes the death of Hamnet as ‘fortune’s dearest spite’ and adopts Harry as a replacement son.]

On top of this, Amelia Lanyer – the ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets – kept re-printing her satire against Shakespeare and Harry  – Wiollobie his Avisa – which kept Shakespeare’s ‘friendship’ with Harry alive in the public mind.

She had satirised how W.S. ‘An Old Player’ had attempted to seduce her in the figure of her persona ‘Avisa’- but had been rebutted.

‘Old Player’ refers 

(1) To the fact that, even though he was only in his 30s when he had his ‘liaison’ with Amelia, his baldness had made him look like an old man, and

(2) He was vastly experienced in love-making – with a suggestion also he was bisexual.

Amelia/Avisa also claims a  preposterous inadequate, Henrico Willebego ( also referred to as H.W. = Henry Wriothesley) had been rebutted in the same way.

Also ‘Willebego’ = ‘Williebegging’ (1) Begging for Will (2) Begging for Shakespeare’s penis.

H.W. is also described as ‘Italo-Hispalensis’ – in reference to Harry and Shakespeare’s ‘secret’ journey to Spain and Italy in 1593.

See: Shakespeare in Italy.

All of Shakespeare’s dark passion erupted in his brutal masterpiece King Lear – which deals with rejection, female cruelty and the death of children.

Shakespeare even changed the happy ending of the old play to have Cordelia die and be carried dead in the arms of her father. Shakespeare was finally facing the death of his son.

And in Shakespeare’s original ending, the old King wills himself to death – in the way Shakespeare has wished for ‘restful death’ in Sonnet 127 (37)

See: Shakespeare’s Original Ending to ‘King Lear’.

But there were compensations. On 3rd March 1606, William Davenant, Shakespeare’s illegitimate son…..

……was baptised. And on 5th June 1607, his daughter. Susanna, married the doctor John Hall – a man Shakespeare liked and often travelled to London with.

On top of that, the couple presented him with a granddaughter, Elizabeth, who was baptised on 21st Feb. 1608, and who was to be a beneficiary from Shakespeare’s will.

Shakespeare moved out of his mad, despairing phase – but still wanted revenge on his past lovers. He had even waited fifteen years to get his revenge on Sir Thomas Lucy for whipping him for poaching his deer.

By 1609, Harry had become an establishment figure – and was heading a venture in the Americas. Now was the time to attack him and publish the Sonnets.

There would be a double effect. Harry would be embarrassed – and the greatness of Shakespeare’s private poetry revealed. 

But Shakespeare also feels the need to objectify his experience: to look at the fatal love triangle, in which he became entangled, from the outside. 

How could he have possibly fallen in love with Amelia, an ambitious, promiscuous courtesan who treated him with nothing but contempt and Harry, a borderline psychopath and ingrate?

Shakespeare starts his self-examination by re-writing Love’s Labour’s Won as All’s Well that Ends Well – turning Bertram into a selfish, obnoxious young man and himself into a woman –  Helena – who adores Bertram, in spite of the facts.

See: Why did Shakespeare write ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’?

Shakespeare does the same sort of thing with A Lover’s Complaint – a longish poem which concludes his Sonnet Sequence. In this, Shakespeare splits himself in two – as his older self, an experienced man who has seen life and his younger self, a young woman who has been jilted by her lover. It is her ‘Complaint’ that is the basis for the story.

A Lover’s Complaint

FROM off a hill whose concave womb reworded
A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain.

‘Plaintful’ = ‘full of complints. ‘Fickle’ = ‘changeable’.

An older man (Shakespeare 1) hears the echo of the voice of a young distraught woman (Shakespeare 2) tearing up papers and destroying love-rings. Shakespeare must have been tempted to tear up his compromising love sonnets himself: they revealed him to be gay (at a time when ‘buggery’ still carried the death penalty) and adulterous

Upon her head a platted hive of straw,
Which fortified her visage from the sun,
Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw
The carcass of beauty spent and done:
Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven’s fell rage,
Some beauty peep’d through lattice of sear’d age.

‘Hive’ = ‘hat’.

She wears a straw hat to shield her face from the sun – and on her face could be detected some vestiges of beauty saved from the ravages of time. Shakespeare, too, claims in Sonnet 132 (73) that he has pre-maturely aged.

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,
Which on it had conceited characters,
Laundering the silken figures in the brine
That season’d woe had pelleted in tears,
And often reading what contents it bears;
As often shrieking undistinguish’d woe,
In clamours of all size, both high and low.

She had a handkerchief with embroidered words and figures with which she dabbed her eyes and which her tears drowned. She would look at the symbols on her handkerchief and cry out in misery.

This is a picture of Shakespeare’s grief at being rejected by Harry.

Sometimes her levell’d eyes their carriage ride,
As they did battery to the spheres [planets] intend;
Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied
To the orbed earth; sometimes they do extend
Their view right on; anon their gazes lend
To every place at once, and, nowhere fix’d,
The mind and sight distractedly commix’d.

‘Levell’d eyes’ = ‘aimed like a gun’.

Sometimes she looks up to the sky, sometimes down to the earth and sometimes all over the place – such was her disturbed state of mind.

This echoes the frantic state of mind in which Shakespeare wrote King Lear.

Her hair, nor loose nor tied in formal plat,
Proclaim’d in her a careless hand of pride
For some, untuck’d, descended her sheaved hat,
Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside;
Some in her threaden fillet [ribbon] still did bide,
And true to bondage would not break from thence,
Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

She wears her hair half up and half down and her tresses sometimes cascade down her cheek with an art that conceals art.

This ‘artfulness’ with her hair is very like Harry’s own obsession with his own hair. Shakespeare begins to fuse himself and his old lover. These references multiply as the poem progresses – and echo the theme that Harry and he are the same person – a theme which runs right through the Sonnets – and takes its origin from the Southampton family crest – ‘Ung par tout’ = ‘all for one’ or ‘all is one’.

[See Sonnets 9 (8), 47 (42), 70 (31), 84 (105), 108 (39) and 136 (36).]

A thousand favours from a maund she drew
Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,
Which one by one she in a river threw,
Upon whose weeping margent she was set;
Like usury, applying wet to wet,
Or monarch’s hands that let not bounty fall
Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.

‘Favours’ = ‘love gifts’. ‘Maund’ = ‘pallet’. ‘Margent’ = ‘bank’. ‘Usury’ = ‘money-lending’

The woman throws her love-gifts into the river which she weeps into – the way money-lenders lend money to those who are already rich and the way Kings give money to people already rich rather than to beggars who need it.

This is reminiscent of King Lear who says:

Take physic, pomp

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel

That thou may’st shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just.

The young woman is throwing the valuable gifts she has received from her lover into the river. Shakespeare also received valuable gifts from Harry – jewels, horses and a gift of £1,000 – at least £500,000 in today’s money.

[Note: Shakespeare mentions his jewels in Sonnet 105 (48) and his horse in the Touring Sonnets – see: Part 33. Shakespeare on Tour Again.]

Of folded schedules had she many a one,
Which she perused, sigh’d, tore, and gave the flood;
Crack’d many a ring of posied gold and bone
Bidding them find their sepulchres in mud;
Found yet moe letters sadly penn’d in blood,
With sleided silk feat and affectedly
Enswathed,  and seal’d to curious secrecy.

‘Schedules’ = ‘papers’. ‘Moe’ = ‘more’. ‘Sleided’ = ‘cut’. ‘Enswathed’ = ‘cunningly warpped up’. ‘Sealed to curious secrecy’ = ‘to keep their contents from prying eyes’.

The woman tears up letters which she has received and throws them into the river. She destroys her rings – but then finds letters penned in blood which have been ingeniously wrapped in strips of silk so they cannot be opened and read by strangers.

This gives us insight into how Shakespeare sent his secret, erotic, sonnets to Harry – when he was away from him – in a way that kept them private. Shakespeare might also have written some of them in his own blood – especially Sonnet 126 (116) in which he tells Harry he will love him for ever:

If this be error and upon me prov’d

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Shakespeare must also have been tempted to destroy the incriminating sonnets he himself had written.

These often bathed she in her fluxive eyes,
And often kiss’d, and often ‘gan to tear:
Cried ‘O false blood, thou register of lies,
What unapproved witness dost thou bear!
Ink would have seem’d more black and damned here!’
This said, in top of rage the lines she rents,
Big discontent so breaking their contents.

‘Fluxive’ = ‘flowing’.

She often bathed the papers in her tears, sometimes kissing them and sometimes tearing them to pieces. She accused them of being full of lies, and the blood, with which they are written, bearing false witness. Black ink, suggesting damnation, would have been more appropriate.

Shakespeare here is admitting his ambivalence in his feelings to Harry – hatred mixed with love.

A reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh–
Sometime a blusterer, that the ruffle knew
Of court, of city, and had let go by
The swiftest hours, observed as they flew
Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew,
And, privileged by age, desires to know
In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.

‘Blusterer’ = ‘boaster’. Thomas Nashe – in his satires against Shakespeare – often portrays him as arrogant and over-wheening – especially when he was touring with Lord Strange’s company.

‘Ruffle’ = ”quarelling’. ‘Fastly’ = ‘quickly’.

The older figure of the listener – who has experienced the hustle and bustle of life in the court and the city and observed and experienced ‘life in the fast lane’ – quickly approaches the woman to hear her story.

Old Shakespeare lends a sympathetic ear to Young Shakespeare.

So slides he down upon his grained bat,
And comely-distant sits he by her side;
When he again desires her, being sat,
Her grievance with his hearing to divide:
If that from him there may be aught applied
Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage,
‘Tis promised in the charity of age.

‘Ecstasy’ = ‘madness’.

He sits at an appropriate distance from the young woman and invites her to share her story with him in the hopes he can relieve her madness – something the older people can do to younger people.

Shakespeare here is trying to acknowledge and understand his own madness when Harry rejected him.

‘Father,’ she says, ‘though in me you behold
The injury of many a blasting hour,
Let it not tell your judgment I am old;
Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power:
I might as yet have been a spreading flower,
Fresh to myself, If I had self-applied
Love to myself and to no love beside.

The young woman tells the old man that she may look old but that she is in fact young. It is sorrow that has pre-maturely aged her – a sorrow she could have avoided if she had kept her love for herself and not given it to somebody else.

This is reminiscent of Sonnet 78 (94):

The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet

Though to itself it only live and die

But if that flower with base infection meet

The basest weed outbraves his dignity.’

Shakespeare is blaming his pre-mature aging on the stress of his affair with Harry. He refers to his hair falling out in Sonnet 132 (73), likening himself to a tree which has lost its leaves…

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

‘A Lover’s Complaint (II) will follow shortly.


Please Note: Part 33 – which deals with William Shakespeare’s Sonnets written on the 1595 tour of The Chamberlain’s Men – is being re-issued with the addition of 7 Sonnets.

The reason for this revision will be given in detail in a subsequent post.

It’s best to read Part 32 first.

Harry Southampton came of age on 6th October 1594 – and took charge of his own finances.

He paid his guardian Lord Burghley a £5,000 fine because he refused to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth de Vere….

 And, according to William Davenant, Shakespeare’s natural son…….

……gave Shakespeare a gift of £1,000.

Harry – impressed with the huge popular success of his mother’s commission, A Midsummer Night’s Dream….

…..and the succes d’estime of The Rape of Lucrece which Shakespeare dedicated to him…..

Titian’s ‘Rape of Lucrece’ which The Shakespeare Code believes inspired Shakespeare’s poem. The use of colours is identical. See ‘Shakespeare in Italy’.

…….drops George Chapman as his lover and protegee…..

….and re-instates Shakespeare.

Shakespeare uses part of this money  to buy a share in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – and on 15th March, 1595, goes with Burbage and Kempe go to Whitehall to be paid for their Christmas performances in 1594….

….one of which was The Dream…..

Mickey Rooney as Puck.

There were riots in London in June, 1595. Martial law was imposed and the theatres were shut. Shakespeare was forced to tour with his new company to Ipswich and Cambridge…..

Harry gave Shakespeare a miniature of himself…..


……as a keepsake.

And Shakespeare resumed his affair with Harry.  But after Harry’s earlier infidelity – and flirtation with Chapman, the relationship was never to be as ecstatic as it was before.

ON TOUR. 1595.

100. (43)

When most I wink then do mine eyes best see,

For all the day they view things unrespected;

But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,

And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

When I have my eyes shut tight, my eyes see best. All day long, on tour, they have to look at things they don’t value: but when I’m asleep and dreaming, they look at you, Harry. My eyes are both dark and bright – and they become bright in the darkness of night when they are led to the image of you.

We can see from the Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare, which Davenant possessed, that Shakespeare’s eyes were indeed ‘darkly bright’ – dark and bright.

Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,

How would thy shadow’s form form happy show,

To the clear day with thy much clearer light,

When to un-seeing eyes thy shade shines so?

You, Harry, whose image brightens the shadows of night – how would you yourself – the source of your image (‘shadow’) – create a joyous spectacle in bright daylight with your own light, clearer than day itself, when your image manages to dazzle my eyes that are blind in the dark.

How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made

By looking on thee in the living day,

When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade

Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?

My eyes would be truly blessed by looking at you in broad daylight when in the dead of night your beautiful but not fully-formed image rests on my unseeing eyes when I am deeply asleep.

All days are nights to see till I see thee,

And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Day is as dark as night to me till I see you at night – and then night becomes like day.


If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,

Injurious distance should not stop my way,

For then despite of space I would be brought

From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.

If my solid flesh were thought instead, then the harmful distance between us would not stop me from coming to you: for it would not matter how far away I was, I could come to wherever you are.

No matter then although my foot did stand

Upon the farthest earth remov’d from thee,

For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,

As soon as think the place where he would be.

Even if I were in the remotest part of the earth it wouldn’t matter because quick thought can leap over sea and land and be with you as soon as I think of you.

But ah, thought kills me that I am not thought

To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,

But that so much of earth and water wrought,

I must attend time’s leisure with my moan.

But the thought that I am not composed of thought – which would allow me to leap over all the miles to you when you are absent –  is a thought that kills me. I am composed of the heavy elements of earth and water (as opposed to fire and air) so I am bound to the confines of time in my misery.

Receiving naught by elements so slow

But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

Earth and water are elements that are so weighty and slow-moving that they can only produce  tears – tokens of our joint misery at being parted from each other.

102. (45)

The other two, slight air and purging fire,

Are both with thee, wherever I abide;

The first my thought, the other my desire,

These present absent with swift motion slide.

The remaining two elements of which I am composed – weightless air and purifying fire – are always with you, wherever I am. Air is my thought about you and my fire is my sexual passion for you – they move quickly – ‘present’ with you, but ‘absent’ from me.

For when these quicker Elements are gone

In tender Embassy of love to thee,

My life being made of four, with two alone,

Sinks down to death, oppresst with melancholy,

So when the lively elements of air and fire are gone to tender my love in homage to you, I am left with heavy earth and water which make me earthbound and sad.

Until life’s composition be recurred,

By those swift messengers return’d from thee,

Who even but now come back again assured

Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.

Until I am restored to the full four elements, when fire and air are sent swiftly back to me, assuring me that all is well with you.

This told, I joy; but then no longer glad,

I send them back again and straight grow sad.

Knowing you are in good health, I am full of happiness. But I am obliged to return them to you, and immediately feel sad.

103. (46)

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war,

How to divide the conquest of thy sight;

Mine eye, my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,

My heart, mine eye the freedom of that right.

My eye and my heart are engaged in a deadly war about how to divide the spoils of the miniature of you which you gave me.

My eye wants to stop your heart from looking at you – and my heart your eye.

My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,

(A closet never pierst with crystal eyes)

But the defendant doth that plea deny,

And says in him thy fair appearance lies.

My heart pleads in evidence that you, Harry, reside in my heart, a private room never broken open by the eye with its cutting crystal edge: but the defendant, my eye, refutes that argument and says that you, Harry, reside more in your reflection in his eye.

To ‘cide this title is impanelled,

A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,

And by their verdict is determined

The clear eye’s moiety, and the dear heart’s part.

To judge this case a jury of thoughts are summoned, all dependent on the heart – and their judgement will determine the case for the eye – full of clarity – and the case for the heart – full of devotion.

As thus, mine eye’s due is thy outward part,

And my heart’s right, thy inward love of heart.

My eyes case rets on your appearance: my heart’s case on your inner love.

104. (47)

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,

And each doth good turns now unto the other;

When that mine eye is famisht for a look,

Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,

My eye and heart have come to an agreement – and now they are working as a team. When my eye is starved of your sight or my heart is suffocated with sighing for you….

With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast,

And to the painted banquet bids my heart;

An other time mine eye is my heart’s guest,

And in his thoughts of love doth share a part.

Then my eye feasts on the sight of your miniature and invites my heart to the banquet. At other times, my eye is the guest of my heart and shares my hearts thoughts of love for you.

So either by thy picture or my love,

Thy self away, art present still with me,

For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,

And I am still with them, and they with thee.

So either by means of my miniature of you – or my love for you – you are with me even if you are absent from me: because you cannot move further away from me than my thoughts of you: I am with them and they are with you.

Or if they sleep, thy picture in my sight

Awakes my heart, to heart’s and eye’s delight.

And if I do stop thinking about you, your miniature acts as prompt to arouse my thoughts of you and my love for you.

105. (48)

How careful was I when I took my way,

Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,

That to my use it might un-used stay

From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust;

When I left to go on tour I made certain that even my least valuable possessions were safely locked away – so they might be kept for my own personal uses and not be vulnerable to people I do not trust – locked up with keys that I DO trust.

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,

Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,

Thou best of dearest, and mine only care,

Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.

But you Harry, compared to whom even my jewels are of no consequence, who in the past has been my moral comfort – but now, because of your infidelity, has become my greatest source of anxiety, who are the most valued of all those I hold dear, and the only person (1) about whom I care and (2) causes me worry – because of their propensity to be unfaithful – I have left vulnerable to be snapped up by every ‘vulgar thief’ = (1) every common thief and (2) every lower class thief – e.g. male prostitutes.

Thee have I not lockt up in any chest,

Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,

Within the gentle closure of my breast

From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;

I haven’t locked you up in any chest Harry – except the chest of my bosom – where, though I know you are not literally there, it seems to me that you are metaphorically there, where you can come and go as you please.

And even thence thou wilt be stol’n I fear,

For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.

But even in my chest you will not be safe from theft.  For you are so valuable that Truth itself would become a thief in order to obtain you.

Note: Clearly at this stage of his career, Shakespeare was rich enough to possess jewels – either a gift from Harry or bought with the £1,000 that Harry had given him.

106. (50)

How heavy do I journey on the way,

When what I seek (my weary travel’s end)

Doth teach that ease and that repose to say:

‘Thus far the miles are measur’d from thy friend.’

How slowly and sadly I ride when, the very thing I seek – rest and repose after a hard day’s travelling – reminds me how far I have travelled from my friend.

The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,

Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,

As if by some instinct the wretch did know

His rider lov’d not speed being made from thee:

The horse, who seems to empathise with my sorrow is reduced to a dull, plodding pace, because of the weight of my sadness, as though the horse instinctively knows that I don’t like speed – at least when I’m speeding away from you.

Shakespeare is now rich enough to ride on a horse when he tours.

The bloody spur cannot provoke him on,

That some-times anger thrusts into his hide,

Which heavily he answers with a groan,

More sharp to me than spurring to his side,

Sometimes I get angry with the slowness of the horse and thrust my spurs so sharply into him that he bleeds. This sometimes causes him to give a groan – which I feel more keenly than he does my spur.

For that same groan doth put this in my mind:

My grief lies onward and my joy behind.

The reason for this is the groan of the horse echoes my own realisation that the only thing in front of me is sadness and all my joy lies (1) in the place I have left you and (2) when I engage in anal sex with you.

‘Joy’ also introduces a coded reference to Charles Blount……

…..who, on the sudden death of his brother, had become 8th Baron Mountjoy on 27th June, 1594. He was also High Steward of Portsmouth – just a few miles away from Harry Southampton’s favourite country residence, Place House in Titchfield.

This code is picked up in the next two sonnets 107 and 108 (old order numbers are 51 and 52). Sonnet 106 was originally Sonnet 50 – so Shakespeare intended them in sequence.

107. (51)

Thus can my love excuse the slow offence

Of my dull bearer, when from thee I speed,

From where thou art, why should I haste me thence,

Till I return of posting is no need.

This way I can excuse the slowness of my horse: why should I travel quickly when my journey takes me away from you? There is no need of speed till I make my return journey to you.

O what excuse will my poor beast then find,

When swift extremity can seem but slow?

Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind,

In winged speed no motion shall I know;

What excuse will my horse dream up in those circumstances, when even the fastest gallop will seem slow? In returning to you I would use my spur even if I was riding on the wind: then I will be moving at such speed it will seem as if I am not moving at all.

Note: ‘Mounted’ introduces the next coded reference to Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy.

Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;

Therefore desire (of perfect’st love being made)

Shall neigh no dull flesh in his fiery race,

But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade:

In these circumstances, no horse alive will travel as fast as I’d want him to travel – so my desire for you Harry, made up of my complete love for you, will not tolerate the physical limitations of a horse in his gallop towards you. But my love for you will make me pardon my horse.

Since from thee going, he went wilfull slow,

Towards thee I’ll run, and give him leave to go.

Since my horse purposely went slowly when he carried me away from you, I myself will run towards you – and give my horse his freedom to run at whatever rate pleases him.

108. (52)

So am I as the rich whose blessed key,

Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,

The which he will not every hour survey,

For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

So I am similar to a man of wealth whose hallowed key can unlock the sweetness of his treasures to him.  He doesn’t look at his treasures every hour of the day because it would spoil the treat of looking at them every so often.

Note: Shakespeare here completes his coded reference to Charles Blount, 8th Lord Mountjoy. He uses the word ‘rich‘ – a reference to Penelope Rich…..

…..who played the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost, where Shakespeare plays on the word ‘rich’ six times in the final scene in the play….

Beginning with the Princess of France’s first line:

‘Dear friends, we shall be rich ere we depart…’

Penelope Rich also played Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare also uses the word ‘blunting’ to refer to Charles Blount: ‘Blount’ was – and is – pronounced ‘Blunt’.

Blount played Longaville in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Maria in the play describes him as having…

‘A sharp wit matched with too blunt a will’.

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,

Since seldom coming in that long year set;

Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,

Or captain Jewels in the carcanet.

It is for this reason that religious feasts in the church are so significant and valued as they come so rarely within the church year. Like valuable jewels they are spread out over caskets – leading and setting off the less valuable stones.

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 imprison’d pride.

Similar to this is the time when I am separated from you by touring, when you become like a chest or a wardrobe that hides clothes from me – but which can sometimes open and give me delight.

Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,

Being had to triumph, being lackt to hope.

You are special and blessed by God: I triumph when I am with you – and am full of hope tom see you again when I’m not.

109. (39)

Oh how thy worth with manners may I sing,

When thou art all the better part of me?

What can mine own praise to mine own self bring,

And what is’t but mine own when I praise thee?

How can I write about your worthiness when you are all that is best in me myself? How can I praise myself – for that is what I do when I praise you.

With ‘manners’ we have another coded reference to the Southampton circle of friends: Roger Manners, the 5th Earl of Rutland….

…who was a close younger friend of Harry.

He played Dumaine in Love’s Labour’s Lost at the age of sixteen – and there are constant references to his youth and beardless state.

Dumaine himself plays upon the Rutland family name when he talks about ‘the grosser manner of the world’s delight’ – and in a three speech exchange between Costard and Berowne, the word ‘manner’ is used seven times.

Even for this, let us divided live,

And our dear love lose name of single one,

That by this separation I may give

That due to thee which thou deserv’st alone:

For this reason – that we are the same – let us live for a time apart: that way I can praise you as something separate from me.

‘Name of single one’ recalls the Southampton family motto: ‘Ung par tout’ = ‘All for one’ or ‘all is one’.

Oh absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove,

Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave

To entertain the time with thoughts of love,

Which time and thoughts so sweetly dost deceive.

Being away from you, Harry, would be torture if it didn’t also give me the free time – however distasteful I find it – to think about my love for you which sweetens both time itself and my mental pre-occupations.

And that thou teachest how to make one twain

By praising him here who doth hence remain.

Harry’s absence teaches Shakespeare how to make one thing into two by praising Harry and making him present in verse – whereas he is in fact somewhere else.

110. (75)

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,

Or as sweet season’d showers are to the ground:

And for the peace of you I hold such strife

As ‘twixt a miser and his wealth is found.

You are as essential to my thoughts as food is to living or showers of rain are to the earth. And for the ‘peace of you’ = (1) The deep tranquility I find in your presence and (2) A bit of you – with implications of Harry’s penis.

Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon

Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;

Now counting best to be with you alone,

Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure;

Pleased to enjoy your company, but worried that you will be stolen from me by these thieving times, sometimes thinking that it’s best to be alone with you and at other times wanting to show you off to the world.

Some-time all full with feasting on your sight,

And by and by clean starved for a look,

Possessing or pursuing no delight

Save what is had, or must from you be took.

Sometimes I make such a feast of you that I am completely satiated: at other times I scarcely get a look from you. I have no joy – obtained or sought after – but I only what I possess or take from you.

Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,

Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

In this way I either starve with hunger or make a pig of myself: I either gobble you all up – or you are completely absent from me.

111. (61)

Is it thy will thy Image should keep open

My heavy eyelids to the weary night?

Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,

While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?

Is it your ‘will’ = (1) wish or (2) penis or (3) the nature of your William Shakespeare, that keeps me awake when I am exhausted? Is it your wish to wake me up when images of you appear before my eyes?

Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee

So far from home into my deeds to pry,

To find out shames and idle hours in me,

The scope and tenure of thy Jealousy?

Do you send your spirit so far away from our home to spy on me – to find out about any shameful behaviour or laziness on my part – because you are jealous of me?

O no, thy love though much, is not so great;

It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,

Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,

To play the watch-man ever for thy sake.

No: you love me a lot, but not enough to make you jealous. It is my love for you that keeps me awake – my own, faithful love of you that stops me getting to sleep. I cast myself in the role of night-watchman.

For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,

From me far off, with others all too near.

I keep watch over you – awake somewhere else in the night – far off from me but close up to someone else.

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It’s best to read Part 40 first.

Harry did NOT become the favourite of King James. He had aged in the Tower – and the King preferred younger men.

Even at the Coronation itself, the Venetian Ambassador reported how the young Earl of Pembroke’s had kissed the King full on his lips. The Ambassador had made a mistake, though, it was Pembroke’s nineteen year old brother, Philip who had done this – but the Earl was vying with him for James’s favour as well.

Harry, pushed from the centre of power – and not trusted by the Secretary of State Robert Cecil…..


 …….started to become bitterly homophobic.

There is a two year Sonnet silence from Shakespeare…….

……then matters come to a head on St. David’s Day, 4th March, 1605…….

Elizabeth Vernon finally produces a son for Harry who was christened in the Chapel at Greenwich on 24th March. King James was in attendance as the boy’s Godfather.

Shakespeare, it seems, was not.

As we know from his Sonnets (and some of his plays) Shakespeare was terrified of rejection by Harry.

Now it happened. Harry wanted his son to be a brave, masculine soldier….

So his father’s gay past had to be denied….

And Shakespeare, the player, had to go.

Shakespeare responded by writing Harry the most poisonous poem of all time…..

153. (126) . Shortly after March 1605…

O thou my lovely Boy who in thy power

Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle’s hour:

Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st

Thy lover’s withering, as thy sweet self grow’st;

My ‘lovely boy’ who seems to have complete control of Father Time’s capricious hour-glass and his ‘sickle’s hour’ – the hour of death when his scythe cut’s life away – who has performed the miracle of growing bigger by diminishing (‘waning’ like the Moon).

i.e., he has produced a son, the way Shakespeare urged him to do in Sonnet 11. (12) where he uses the same ‘waning’ imagery.

‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

In one of thine, from that which thou departests.

And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

Thou may call thine, when thou from youth convertest’

Who by doing this has caused his lover (i.e., me) to wilt while his baby boy grows…..

‘Self’ can mean child – as it does in Sonnet 10. (11)

‘Make thee another self for love of me

That beauty may still live in thine and thee’.

And Shakespeare also uses the phrase ‘sweet self’ to mean Harry’s baby in Sonnet 4. (5):

‘For having traffic with thyself alone’ (i.e. by masturbating and not having sexual intercourse)

‘Thou of thyself they sweet self dost deceive’. (i.e. you deprive yourself the joy of having a sweet baby boy).

The printing of Sonnet 153. (126) Contains an error in the second line:

Cambridge Editors have amended this line to:

‘Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour’.

While an Oxford Editor amends it to:

‘Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his fickle hour’.

It is much more likely that the comma after ‘sickle’ – which makes no sense – was actually intended to be an apostrophe followed by ‘s’ – hence The Shakespeare Code’s emendation to ‘sickle’s hour’ – the hour of the sickle, the hour of death.

If Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack)

As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,

She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill

May time disgrace, and wretched minuit kill.

If Dame Nature – who is the supreme controlling mistress of decay – keeps you forcibly young as you age – by preserving your ‘loveliness’ and giving you a son – her motive for doing this is to humiliate Father Time and kill the grim midnight hour.

This is reminiscent of Venus holding back Adonis from the boar-hunt in Venus and Adonis……

Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure;

She may detain, but not still keep her treasure!

Her Audit (though delayed) answer’d must be,

And her Quietus is to render thee.

But be frightened of your mistress – you plaything of her lust – just as Essex had been Queen Elizabeth’s! She can hold on to her goods – but can’t keep them. Her Final Demands from Father Time must be honoured – and her settlement of the bill is to ‘render’ you = (1) Give you back (2) Break you down in the ground, like rotten meat.

This Sonnet is NOT a Sonnet. It is only ten lines long – and where there should be a clinching couplet Shakespeare has put two pairs of brackets.

See above.

He is destroying his relationship with Harry and destroying the form of the Sonnet at the same time.

The brackets look like the yawning grave waiting for Harry – beautiful as he might look now.

So, having promised Harry eternal life through his poetry, Shakespeare now promises him death and decay.

He wants his lover dead.

When Shakespeare described Harry two years earlier as a ‘sweet boy’ in Sonnet 149. (108) he truly meant it….

Now ‘lovely boy’ is intended by Shakespeare to be sarcastic and contemptuous…..

His rage – and despair – was to continue for the next four years.
















It’s best to read Part 39 first.


James was crowned the King of England (as well as Scotland) on 25th July 1603. A plague was raging, the rain gushed down, high winds blew down the few ornamentations and the King was reluctant to appear in public.

As a member of the King’s Men, Shakespeare was a Groom of the Chamber. This meant he wore red livery and, on one occasion at least, served with his company at the King’s Table.

Shakespeare held the canopy over the King in his procession to the Abbey – and with his theatre company helped construct pasteboard obelisks (which were known as ‘pyramids’) to line the route.

A trio of Sonnets, addressed to Time.

150. (123)

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange,

They are but dressings of a former sight;

Shakespeare says that with a new King everything has changed – but he won’t change in his love for Harry. The pasteboard obelisks, dedicated to Time, are built up with a different sort of ingenuity from the original ones of stone – but they are nothing strange to him. He has seen obelisks before in his journey to Rome with Harry in 1593 – especially the one newly erected in front of St. Peter’s – the last sight St. Peter was said to have seen before he was crucified.

Our dates are brief and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them born to our desire,

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Because we are only alive for a short time, we admire things that Time foists on us – supposedly from the past – and think we have invented them ourselves, rather than copied them from experience.

Thy registers and thee I both defy,

Not wond’ring at the present, nor the past,

For thy records, and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste:

Time, I defy you and all of your manifestations and will not be taken in either by your present or your past – for all historical records and what we see around us are lies – things are increased or decrease by you at random because you are always in a rush.

This I do vow and this shall ever be:

I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

I make this eternal vow. I will be faithful to Harry, despite Father Time’s scythe – which cuts all things down – and his grim nature. nature.

151. (125)

The Venetian Ambassador described how the King arrived under a canopy supported by four rods with silver bells hanging from them, borne by men in the King’s red livery.

Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honouring,

Or laid great bases for eternity,

Which proves more short than waste or ruining?

Do I care that I had the honour of holding the canopy over King James – the external part of me honouring the outward appearance of things? Or set up what were meant to be obelisks representing eternity but which blew away in the wind?

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour

Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent

For compound sweet, forgoing simple savour,

Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent.

Have I not seen your friend, the Earl of Essex, who lived on outward appearances – seeming to be in love with Queen Elizabeth – lose everything – including his head – by paying too much ‘rent’ to the Queen.

‘Rent’ is a reference (1) To the farm on sweet wines which the Queen gave to Essex for his livelihood, and then took away after his return from the Irish Campaign (2) The semen he expended on being the Queen’s lover.

People like Essex were ‘successful’ – but all the same to be pitied – destroyed by their ‘gazing’.

‘Gazing’ refers to the moment when Essex burst into the Queen’s bedroom on his return from Ireland before she had put on her wig and make-up.

Still from Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Gloriana’.


No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,

And take thou my oblation, poor but free,

Which is not mixt with seconds, knows no art,

But mutual render, only me for thee.

No, I have no wish to be a favourite of King James as Essex was to Elizabeth. Let me honour you in my heart and take my offering of verse – of poor quality but free from any political flattery – which is not mixed up with inferior things and is not artful and insincere – but we give love to each other mutually – I give you myself and you give me yourself.

‘Obsequious’ is reminiscent of ‘obsequy’ – a prayer used in the funeral service. This is an echo of Shakespeare’s love poem to Harry, The Phoenix and the Turtle – ‘Keep the obsequy so strict.’ – and the mention of ‘obsequious tears which Shakespeare sheds for dead gay lovers in Sonnet  70. (31)

Favourites of Kings and Queens are ‘obsequious’ in another way. They creep around in order to stay in favour.

‘Oblation’ = ‘offering or gift’ and is used in the Book of Common Prayer referring to Christ:

who made there,
by his one oblation
of himself once offered,
a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice,
oblation and satisfaction
for the sins of the whole world

Shakespeare often employs religious imagery in describing his love for Harry.

‘Mutual’ is also reminiscent of The Phoenix and the Turtle: ‘Phoenix [Harry] and the Turtle [Dove = Shakespeare] fled/In a mutual flame from thence.’

Hence, thou suborn’d Informer, a true soul

When most impeacht, stands least in thy control.

Go away Time – you false witness – who the more you try to control a loyal lover by aging him, the more free he will be.

153. (124)

If my dear love were but the child of state

It might for fortune’s bastard be unfather’d,

As subject to time’s love, or to time’s hate,

Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather’d.

If my love for you, Harry, was the product of circumstance it might be disavowed if those circumstances changed – vulnerable to the caprices of Time – regarded as worthless or lovely – but subject, in either case, to the destruction of death.

No, it was builded far from accident;

It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls

Under the blow of thralled discontent,

Whereto th’ inviting time our fashion calls:

My love for you was created far away from circumstance: it cannot be hurt by the tyrant with false smiles or damaged by imprisonment as your two years in the Tower demonstrates – when there is every temptation to change with the times and the fashions.

It fears not policy that Heretic,

Which works on leases of short number’d hours,

But all alone stands hugely politic,

That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with show’rs.

My love for you, Harry, isn’t afraid of short-lived political expediency but stands huge and wise, just like the holy obelisk in Rome: it is an eternal thing which doesn’t increase with flattery (‘heat’) or diminish with discouragement (‘showers’)

To this I witness call the fools of time,

Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.

To bear witness, Harry, I call on the ‘fools of time’ whose goodness is the reason for their death and whose one crime is to be alive.’

The ‘fools of time’ are the Roman Catholic martyrs, slaughtered by Queen Elizabeth – especially Ernest Gennings – hanged drawn and quartered on 10th December, 1591,outside the London home of the Southampton family in Holborn.

He was made to wear a jester’s outfit as he was paraded through the streets.