Sunday Sonnet – 7 August 2016

Sonnet 8

Two of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets use music as their central metaphor: the one I’m about to read, and one of the later Dark Lady sonnets, which I promise to read some other day.

This one uses the idea of a single note of music and how, when combined into a chord makes even more beautiful music. The Poet is trying to a convince the Young Man, who’s a bachelor–a single note–to marry and make a family–a chord. The argument sounds ridiculous, but the logical steps of the argument build a perfect metaphor, the beauty of the verse with its musical rhythm are a progression not unlike a song, and Shakespeare’s evident knowledge and love of music, are plainly evident. Was there no end to Shakespeare’s many areas of expertise?

I have no sense of rhythm, and so my reading butchers that aspect of this verse: but I love this sonnet for its creative analogy and the questions it asks. What kind of music filled Shakespeare’s life? Historians have some ideas, but we’ll never know for certain.  

8

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?

Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:

Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,

Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?

If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,

By unions married, do offend thine ear,

They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds

In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.

Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,

Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;

Resembling sire and child and happy mother,

Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:

   Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,

   Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’

 

Sunday Sonnet – 29 November 2015

Will_Kemp_Elizabethan_Clown_JigOne of the amazing things about Shakespeare–and one of the things that has led to the conspiracy theories that a glove-maker’s son from the country couldn’t have possibly written such a vast and wide ranging body of work–is the vast sweep of the Poet’s knowledge: law, language (English, French, Latin), geography, horticulture, the royal court, the lives of commoners, the military, all manner of avocations and professions. And, as shown in Sonnet 8, musicianship:

8

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?

Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:

Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,

Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?

If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,

By unions married, do offend thine ear,

They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds

In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.

Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,

Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;

Resembling sire and child and happy mother,

Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:

   Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,

   Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’

Number 8 comes from early in the Young Man sonnets, when Shakespeare was possibly being paid by Lord Burghley to try and convince the young Earl of Southampton to marry–by writing Southampton sonnets! Southampton, by all accounts, adored verse, and back then trading verse was like trading iPod tracks today.

Here Shakespeare contrasts harmony and chords–‘the true concord of well-tuned sounds / by unions married’–against the sounds of single notes or parts, ‘who confounds / In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.’ A single man is like a single note. But a family is like the delight of musical chords.

Resembling sire and child and happy mother,

Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing

Another sonnet which illustrates that Shakespeare must’ve loved music is one of the later sonnets, Number 128, where the Poet finds the Dark Lady playing on the virginal (harpsichord).

Music played an important part in Elizabethan Theatre. During the early years of Shakespeare’s career (till about 1600), many of his plays’ performances ended with impromptu musical numbers. Shakespeare’s fellow player, Will Kempe, was an accomplished dancer and singer, and many of Shakespeare’s comedies contain songs (which we no longer have the music for, just the lyrics).  

The image is an Elizabethan woodcut of Will Kempe. Kempe was one of Shakespeare’s fellow Lord Chamberlain’s Men.