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Shakespeare Sonnet 58: "That god forbid, that made me first your slave"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

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 58: "That god forbid, that made me first your slave"

As he often does, he speaker in sonnet 58 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence is addressing his muse. He is performing this task in his sonnets in order to create his little dramas. In this sonnet, he is examining and somewhat lamenting the process of waiting on the pleasure of the muse to inspire his creativity.

The speaker would pray that the muse offer him her services at times that are more convenient for him. However, this talented, gifted speaker, who always remains aware that the muse will continue to remain free-wheeling and unable to pin to an exact schedule, demonstrates that his impatience can be conquered despite his strong urges to create his art on his own terms and on his own time.

Sonnet 58: "That god forbid, that made me first your slave"

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison’d absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

Reading of Sonnet 58

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 58 addresses his muse, as he is examining his feelings about waiting and anticipating the moment when that muse finally decides to inform his creativity.

First Quatrain: Sarcasm Can Be Useful

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!

In sonnet 58, in a somewhat sarcastic tone, the speaker accosts his muse with the notion that far be it from him (the poet/speaker) to try to control the muse. He asserts that he will remain, by God’s grace, a slave of the muse, a position he does not disdain; yet, he nevertheless will remain in his cogitation mode awaiting the muse’s performance of accommodation to provide him nourishment of thought and inspiration more in line with his own schedule.

This talented speaker does know that he is merely a "vassal" of the muse, and his own "account of hours" will never move the muse to act. He might even make things worse by his craving, which will probably be "bound to stay [the muse's] leisure." The speaker’s speculation will drive his drama until he can feel that burst of energetic inspiration that he knows he needs and will thus willingly follow.

Second Quatrain: Exaggeration and Melodrama

O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison’d absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.

Since there is no cure, the speaker goes on to exaggerate his lot, melodramatically asserting, "O! let me suffer, being at your beck." He will always remain at the beck and call of the muse, so he exclaims that he will go ahead and suffer it. He is "imprison’d" by the free will of the muse. He seems to remain acquiescent to the way things are, and at the same he complains about the way things are. Such tension assists him in his plight to continue his mission of drama creation but also annoys him that he even needs such tension.

The speaker knows that he must possess and exhibit "patience." He knows that he is required to "tame" his suffering heart. Each time the muse plays coy, he must "bide each check" and not become disconcerted by the muse’s seeming fickleness. His purely human reaction, however, will continue to provide the material needed for creating his colorful dramas, but if he complains too much he will undermine his own argument. He finds that he is always in need of balance, and he must seek harmony along with balance just to keep his head above water, lest he drown in melancholy, and melancholy would prolong the bouts of dryness that he has come to suffer.

Third Quatrain: The Soul Force of the Muse

Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.

Whatever the muse does must be accepted because its force is soul force, and the mere human cannot understand or control such force or even begin to comprehend its relationship to time. Only the muse can "privilege [the muse's time] / To what [the muse] will." Again, the speaker struggles with issue of balance and harmony of thought and feeling. Complaining must then reveal the issue not cloud it.

So while the speaker can complain, he can also create his poems based on the supposed frustrating schedule of the creative force, and he chides the muse with exaggerated blame, even referring to the muse’s behavior as a "crime." But this always wise speaker insists that the crime belongs only to the muse; he may suffer it, but he does not have to accept blame for it. Again, he knows he has to remain vigilant that he not offer too strong his many insults that he cleverly hurls at his belovèd muse, even as he is so often tempted to do.

The Couplet: Final Acceptance

I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

The couplet might be roughly paraphrased thus: "I know I’ll have to be patient though remaining patient is hellishly painful; it is not for me to sling blame at you who will have your way despite my bootless cries!" And by the time it took to reach that awareness and strength to make such a statement, the speaker has cooled down a bit. He still strenuously hates the cruel waiting on the criminally-terminal schedule; however, "though waiting" seems like hell to him, this pragmatic speaker will not ultimately blame the muse but accept her pleasure whether it suit him "ill or well."

It may seem that the speaker is trying to win both sides of the argument, and, in fact, he is. But he has that prerogative. After all, it is his own muse, his own mind/heart/soul, with which he is arguing. Thus, the sole purpose of splitting into a dichotomy is for creating the stage on which he can joust, equivocate, and finally surrender to the beauty and truth that he so desperately seeks.

The De Vere Society

Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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