king-james-I

Like so many of Shakespeare’s sonnets written to his beloved Young Man, number 107 asserts the poem will outlast both Poet and Young Man. But this verse is different. Beyond the beauty of its language, this Sonnets seems to give us clues as to when it might’ve been written. For despite the celestial and timeless nature of its language, we’re able to connect it with history.

107

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

Some lines in this sonnet likely reference great events in Shakespeare’s time:

The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured:

  • Lunar eclipses in 1595 and 1605
  • Elizabeth I survives a serious illness in 1599
  • Elizabeth I dies in 1603

Incertainties now crown themselves assured

And peace proclaims olives of endless age:

  • After Elizabeth’s 45 year reign, a new monarch, James I, ascends the English throne in 1603
  • That new King signs a peace treaty with Spain in 1604 (whom Elizabeth had warred with for decades)

Shakespeare was notoriously cagey when referencing contemporary events; it’s how he escaped censorship in Elizabethan England, which was for all intents and purposes a police state. Here he seems to intentionally show his hand a bit, eloquently incorporating great events of the day into his paean of Romantic love for the Young Man, another thing he most certainly had to be circumspect about.

Shakespeare must’ve truly believed in the power of poetry, for once again he asserts that this verse to his Young Man would outlast all ‘tyrants’ crests and tombs.’

The image is of King James I, Elizabeth’s successor. James was generally not considered a tyrant, but this verse outlasted him too.   

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