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Shakespeare Sonnet 11: "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st"

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 11: "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st"

In marriage sonnet 11 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker continues to evoke the young man’s pleasing qualities, claiming that the lad has an obligation to marry and pass them on to offspring. The older man seems to believe strongly that the older generation lives through the younger one, or so he would have the young man believe, if it props up the speaker’s argument.

The speaker, with each new drama, demonstrates his creative ability to invent arguments and present them in new and entertaining ways. As he grows more desperate that the young man produce offspring, he grows more inventive, employing colorful and varied metaphors and exciting, bracing images.

Sonnet 11: "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st"

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st,
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest,
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow'd, she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carv'd thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

Reading of Sonnet 11

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles


The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Commentary

It is likely that the young man in these marriage sonnets is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of the real writer of the Shakespeare sonnets Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The older, persuasive speaker continues to urge the young man to marry and produce pleasing offspring. The clever speaker seems to strongly desire a son-in-law, who will bestow pleasing grandchildren upon him.

First Quatrain: The Imploring Continues

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st,
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest,

The speaker in sonnet 11,”As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st,” continues to implore the young man to marry and produce offspring. This time is chides the lad reminding him that he will grow old and wither. But if the lad will just listen to the older, mature fellow, he can mitigate the difficulty: his good looks and amiable personality will live on in his heir, or so the speaker appears to believe.

The speaker has, at least, convinced himself that people will continue living in their offspring. The speaker likely only marginally believe such tripe and still has no compunction against using the notion to persuade the young man to marry his daughter. (It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of the real speaker/writer of the sonnets.) The speaker tries to persuade the young man to believe that his own blood will then be freshened in his offspring, even as the blood in his body becomes broken and stale.

Second Quatrain: To Achieve Wisdom

Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.

The speaker urges the young man to believe he will be wise in his behavior only if he marries and has children. Only by reproducing will be offer beautiful, wonderful acts to the world. He will be productive instead of destructive, giving to the world, instead merely taking from it. The speaker fears that by aging without reproducing, the young man will eventually have to give in to "cold decay." But if he has produced offspring, he will avoid the folly of growing old alone and failing the world by leaving it without his progeny. The speaker then pours out the old chestnut that goes, what if everyone behaved as callously as you, not marrying and reproducing? Well, according to the speaker, the world would come to an end in only two or three generations. A dour thought for sure, something for the young to cogitate upon.

Third Quatrain: Brutish Prigs and Their Ilk

Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow'd, she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:

The speaker then offers the notion that only brutish prigs would allow the world the end this way. If the beautiful, pleasing people fail to multiply, the multiplying will be done by those whose qualities are "harsh" and "featureless" and “rude." The folks who possess unpleasing qualities should not reproduce. The speaker assumes that young man will agree with such a policy. But the speaker also wants to instill in his protege that the latter does possess pleasing qualities in abundance. The speaker hopes to make he young man aware that he should cherish his beauty and be so proud of it that he would choose to produce children who would naturally possess those same qualities.

Couplet: Qualities to be Copied

She carv'd thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

In the couplet, the speaker utilizes a metaphor of a printing press. Nature has given the young man qualities that she would like to have copied. He is the original print copy, and if he will only marry and produces offspring, he will be like a printing press, shooting out copies of the beautiful text of himself. The speaker says, "print more" so the original does not die. The speaker seems to be in a contest with himself, trying to find as many "copy" and "reproduce" metaphors as possible. Of course, the speaker's real mission in these marriage poems is to instill in the young man the speaker's notion that the young man should marry: not just for himself, but for reproducing offspring to continue in the world a set of pleasing qualities of beauty and fine physical features.

Shakespeare Identified Lecture, Mike A'Dair And William J. Ray

The De Vere Society

The De Vere Society

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 02, 2020:

Umesh Chandra Bhatt, thank you for your kind words. The Shakespeare sonnet sequence is one of my favorite collections of poems. The Shakespeare writer is one that readers can always trust for authenticity, in both content and execution. The craftsmanship is always superb and the theme always profound, relevant, personal and at the same time universal. These sonnets stream across the centuries into the hearts and minds of contemporary readers of all climes.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 29, 2020:

Well explained. Interesting.