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Shakespeare Sonnet 72: "O! lest the world should task you to recite"

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 72: "O! lest the world should task you to recite"

There exists growing awareness of the controversy regarding the real writer of the Shakespearean works, both plays and sonnets. This controversy exists primarily in the world of literature, but thinkers in other fields are also becoming aware of its nature and impact. Many scholars and critics are convinced that Edward de Vere is the writer who actually composed the works attributed to "William Shakespeare." Thus the name "William Shakespeare" is, in fact, merely the pen name of the 17th Earl of Oxford.

This sonnet 72 offers further support for the assertion that de Vere was using the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." Its theme demonstrates the desire of the sonnet’s speaker to have his works speak for themselves and not be influenced by the poet’s name.

Sonnet 72: "O! lest the world should task you to recite"

O! lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death,—dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O! lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am sham’d by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

Reading of Sonnet 72

Commentary

The speaker/poet addresses his poem again, creating a drama about his death and advising the poem not to advertise the speaker/poet’s merit after he has departed.

First Quatrain: Distinguishing Self from Poem

O! Lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death,—dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;

In Shakespeare sonnet 72, the speaker establishes a distinction between himself and his poems. He does not sanction the notion that his poetry will be a reflection of his own personal merit. He understands that as a flawed human being the art that results from his talent is greater than his idiosyncrasies.

The speaker realizes that after the death of an artist, that artist’s stock often rises considerably, and he does not want that to happen to him. He wants his art to shine for itself, not because of some imagined superior state of the poet.

Second Quatrain: No Fawning over Personality

Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:

The concocting of "some virtuous lie" would serve only to elevate the poet above his poetic productions. He knows that his poems deserve great adulation for they reflect "[his] own desert." But to fawn over his personality and lavish "more praise" upon him after his death denigrates the truth that he has always aspired to dramatize and promote.

The speaker is forming his request as "don’t fawn over me when I’m dead, unless you want to diminish my poetry." As his readers have repeatedly experienced, this speaker is playing with language structure to produce original discourses. This speaker is, therefore, loath to have his creations upstaged by an emphasis on his personal life or personality. Such a desire remains the primary impetus for writers to engage noms de plume, stage names, or pen names.

Third Quatrain: Emphasis on Works not Poet

O! lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.

The speaker then provides further reasoning for keeping the emphasis on his works and not himself. The "true love" that he has consistently dramatized in his poem would appear "false in this." This speaker feels that his life remains quite humble and unassuming and in order to elevate his virtue, lies, or at best exaggerations, would have to be slipped into his eulogy.

This talented speaker, therefore, requests that "[his] name be buried with [his body]." His flawed human personality will, after his death and burial, no longer be present to "shame" his muse, his talent, or even other people. This insightful speaker insists that only his poetry be allowed to shine, without his flawed biography to co-opt it.

The Couplet: His Shames Do Not Write His Verse

For I am sham’d by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

The speaker admits that he has committed shames in his life, and if much is made of him after his death, his poetry will suffer in value. This speaker wishes to bury his personality so that his works can speak for themselves without critics and scholars attempting to account for the events with biography. In the early 20th century, a school of critical thought called the New Criticism took this very tact as its foundation.

New critics such as Allan Tate, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Cleanth Brooks believed that, "The reader does not need outside sources, such as the author’s biography, to fully understand a text." Edward de Vere would have agreed because as an aristocrat he would not have benefited by being linked to the lowly craft of writing sonnets and stage plays.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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