Saturday, June 1, 2013

William Shakespeare's Sonnet 66

The other day I had the idea of arbitrarily choosing a Shakespeare Sonnet to contemplate. This post is the result of that endeavor. For no particular reason, other then the fact that I like the number, I choose Sonnet Number 66.

In the future, should I have the time and inclination I may set my sights upon additional randomly selected sonnets.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly doctor-like controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

This is a dark view of life. Things are   somewhat redeemed however by the last line, which is a declaration that the object of the writer’s love makes life worth living, despite the despair inherent in existence. There is question that bears asking however: what are these horrific aspects of life that lead the writer to cry for death and rest?

Lines two through twelve are a catalogue of frustrations and disappointments. 

Beginning with,

And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,

We are presented with a list of maddening injuries, rooted in  the corruption of virtue. Faith is abandoned, strength is hobbled, skill is negated as folly triumphs, etc.

I think that Shakespeare gets to the heart of some of the most soul shattering aspects of the human condition here. That is, when the finest parts of us are betrayed, all seems lost. There are indeed villains out there, but when the good are subverted by the vile, the result is a special kind of perversion.

Drilling down further I ponder the following line,

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

Oppressors, both large and small have a long history of stifling expression. Not just governments, but organizations of all types, public figures, even teachers and family members have used all kinds of authority, from the emotional, to the social, to the deadly, to manipulate artists. Censorship and suppression of expression are one thing, but worst of all, aesthetic works are often twisted and contrived to serve those who hold power. Beauty is thus subverted in a particularly nasty way.

I can really relate to disgust over these wrongs that would lead one to question the validity of life. Unsurprisingly an analytical summery of these ills packs little of the emotional power that the Bard infused into the sonnet. Of course expressing ideas in this way is one of the reasons that art exists. When such ideas are expressed by someone with the abilities of Shakespeare, the results are sublime.


Suko said...

Interesting idea, Brian. This is a dark sonnet. (Did you choose 66 because of the song, Route 66?)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - I just like sixes as at least for me they tend to seem mystical and associated with some fiction and television shows that I like (particularly "The Prisoner). I do love that song however.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Hmm, what interesting points you make. Not a fan of reading any of the works of Shakespeare I do however love having them re-enacted, spoken to me which I suppose is what what have originally happened.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Petty - Interesting point about performance verses reading Shakespeare. I have heard some convincing arguments that the plays were written with both performance and reading in mind. Either way live performances bring out aspects that reading does not and vice a versa. One nice thing about the Sonnets is that they can be digested in small bits thus making reading a little easier.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I was just thinking about censorship today. We all acknowledge the obvious censorship of creating laws that stifle freedom of expression. (Nowadays, it seems if someone's beliefs are labeled "intolerant" some people believe they should be censored.)
However, the worst censorship I've come across is the social one where we're not allowed to talk about anything of substance. We have to maintain the light and fluffy quality of the conversation or you make people feel uncomfortable.
This has nothing to do with Shakespeare. Sorry about that. I do love Shakespeare-especially a good performance of his plays. Take care!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. I forgot to mention a website that you might enjoy. It's called
They have mostly modern poetry but they include a lot of classical as well.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I definitely agree that in too many settings substantive conversation is discouraged.

I actually have been thinking of the "intolerant" labeling a bit lately. At least in America it has become part of what I believe is a nasty personalization of attack rhetoric when social, moral or political issues are discussed. From the liberal side (I consider myself a liberal by American standards but I always try to see the short comings of the arguments on my side) there is a tendency to use the labels "intolerant" or even "racist" and "misogynist" at whenever diverging ideas are encountered. From the conservative side there is the tendency to label ideas as "socialist", "unpatriotic", even "communist" at many divergent beliefs. Of course not everyone participates in this but it is becoming more and more widespread. It is stifling meaningful conversation and debate.

In a funny way, I think that this mischaracterization of ideas and opinions is part of what Shakespeare is talking about.

Anonymous said...

Hello Brian, and thanks for that.

I find this one of Shakespeare's most despairing works. the list of all the things that are amiss with life reminds me of Hamlet's list in hi "To be or not to be" soliloquy in which he too makes a similar list "the pangs of disprized love, the proud man's contumely". etc etc) Eleven out of the 14 lines list the "sling and arrows of outrageous fortune", with all but the first starting with "and". Each of these lines is end-stopped, and, in all these lines, there is but a single caesura. This projects for me a sense of weariness, a sense of endless repetition that is life itself.

And I wonder also whether the last line resolves anything: it can surely be read in many ways. In one sense, he is indeed saying "If I die, I leave the person I love on her own".

But he could also be saying: "If I die, the only part of me that I leave behind is what I feel for the person whom I love."

Or: "If I die, the only really worthwhile thing I will be departing from is the love that I feel." (If this meaning is intended, then it is his own feeling of love that the poet feels is worthwhile, and not the object of his love.)

Or even: "If I die, I'll no longer be bothering the person whom I love." ("Leave me alone!" = "Stop bothering me!")

This multiple ambiguity seems to me to offer no resolution at all! It's a most disquieting work.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon Again - I looked at It looks fantastic. I really do not read all that much poetry but I really want to read more of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Himadri - I think weariness is a good word for this. I do find similar despair throughout Shakespeare's works. As you allude to hamlet, and of course King Lear and many of the tragedies. I also sometimes sense it in the comedies.

I did not think of the last line as having so many alternate interpretations. However this is also very characteristic of Shakespeare.

Harvee said...

Here's to Shakespeare! In this day and age, I'm tired of all that "crap" too, and would be gone except for my love...

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - "Crap" is indeed the right modern word to describe all this.

Lucy said...

Thank you for this post! As you know, I spent a lot of time reading the Sonnets last month, and this allowed me to rekindle my love for them.

I've never spent a lot of time on Sonnet 66, although you've made me now want to. It seems to say a lot about a society that Shakespeare feels disillusioned with, and I remember studying the line "art made tongue-tied by authority" some time ago.

Whenever I feel out of touch with the modern world I'll try to return to this poem. It's particularly applicable to the large art cuts lately in Britain, that's for sure.

Thank you for another interesting, eloquent post.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lucy - As many of us become disillusioned with the modern world from time to time another thing about that this Sonnet does is to remind us that some of these bad things have been around for a very long time.

Caroline said...

I'm not familiar with his sonnets, or have just read one or two. A random approach is interesting. I should try that one day. It's a very dark sonnet, the line on art being tongue-tied is very poignant.
Thanks for sharing this. Interesting about the similarity to Hamlet's soliloquy pointed out by Himadri.

JaneGS said...

I wonder if this sonnet is the result of a "bad day" or a true reflection of a discouraged soul. I liked your thoughts on art and authority--the line that stopped me was the one about doctor stifling skill. Definitely the narrator is feeling abused and underappreciated. It has the sound of petulant youth, to me, however, perhaps because all is saved by remembrance of the human love that trumps all.

I like your approach to the sonnets--just a random slice at the canon. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - The random thing may be a little difficult to keep up as some of the Sonnets are connected. I might need to go semi random.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi jane - As I was saying the previous comment I am not sure if the random approach will work out in the long run.

I do find many of Shakespeare's works exhibit a similar negativity. Often I would even describe him as being nihilistic.

@parridhlantern said...

Great idea, liking it

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Parish - It gives me something to write about as I move through The Brothers Karamazov.

@parridhlantern said...

Karamazov is a great book to travel through, have you read any Turgenev another wonderful Russian author

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Parish -I have not read Turgenev but I really want to. He is high on my list.

The Bookworm said...

Great post Brian. Shakespeare was genius at expressing himself in his works. I am particular to his love sonnets, 18 is my favorite.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - 18 Is an amazing sonnet. Perhaps Shakespeare is the greatest expresser who ever was!

Andrew Blackman said...

What a wonderful idea, Brian - I wish I'd brought my Complete Works of Shakespeare book with me to Crete, and I'd do the same thing. Unfortunately it's in a box somewhere in an attic in London. One day...

Great analysis, anyway, and thanks for reminding me of a beautiful and poignant sonnet.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Andrew - One nice thing about the sonnets is that you can always google any one of them and have them instantly.

vb said...

interesting choice this is..However I can't help but in complete awe for Shakespeare.. The way he puts forth things... He is quite a master when it comes to express the grayer side of life he always beautifully paints it not disturbing the clarity of black and white steering his way through very prominently...this particular sonnet is intriguing for the subject it deals with at the same time it provides the clarity it ought to carry.I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I hope to see some more in your upcoming posts!!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks VB - I too am amazed at Shakespeare. Indeed he is never simplistic. This really was a good sonnet!

vb said...


Gautam said...

Yes, I agree with Himadri in that the ambiguity in the last line makes the entire tone of the sonnet itself ambiguous and difficult to pin down. In that sense, it is a bit like Philip Larkin's "An Arundel Tomb", where the last line - "What will survive of us is love" can be read either as sincere affirmation, or as savage mockery. See here -

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Gautam - I have not read "An Arundel Tomb" but these ambiguous ending are interesting.

Though probably the result of latter day editors, the last lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes,

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

Seem incongruous with the work itself.

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

What a thought-provoking analysis of this Shakespeare sonnet! It's dark and depressing indeed,...

I really like that you're doing this. This is a very original concept, one I'd like to see more of.

I especially like the line, "And art made tongue-tied by authority". This is SO true! Shakespeare, being the genius he is, has summed up, in one line, the horrible consequences of censorship in the arts. But it's not only censorship, but everything you mention -- the stifling of free expression, the use of art for purposes other than pure aesthetic beauty. I can relate to these things, because my parents were totally against my becoming an artist. And I've been a rebel -- albeit a quiet, even scared one -- my whole life. That's why my blog is SO important to me. It's a creative outlet for me.

It's wonderful and quite beautiful that, after cataloguing all these human imperfections, again, quite brilliantly, Shakespeare then gives the reader the one most important reason for embracing life, despite all of its imperfections and evils -- LOVE. Just at the point that the reader is expecting a final nail in the coffin, so to speak, he unexpectedly, and again, brilliantly, throws in a wonderful surprise; it's love that makes it all worthwhile.

Ah, wonder he is so revered! What a sublime artist! To those who would muzzle art, I would caution that they would thereby be muzzling spirit, as well, for true art is always allied to spiritual values.

Thanks for the fascinating post!! :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hey Maria - Thanks for the good word!

Indeed, though others have argured alternate interpretations, I think that this Sonnet ends on a positive note.

May I ask what kind of art do you create? Your blog design is in itself very artistic.

Maria Behar said...

Hey, Brian!

Sorry for the delay in responding...time is not my friend...

To answer your question, I majored in Fine Arts in college. What I really wanted to do was to concentrate on painting and drawing, since they're my favorite media. Alas, this school gravitated more toward ceramics and photography... I did the best I could, though. But I must say that I learned much more on my own, through books, after graduation, than I ever did while in

At one point, I rented an efficiency apartment which I used as a studio for a while. My mom was completely against this, although I never moved into that apartment, but continued to live at home.

I haven't done art in years now....I channel all of my creative activity into my blog. I created it with the Blogger software. The template is called "Picture Window", and is by Blogger. The beautiful blue background is by someone using the name "merrymoonmary". As for the header and buttons, they were designed for me by Jennifer Johnson, a web designer who has a website, Sapphire Blog Designs. If I knew Photoshop, I would have designed the header myself, but I don't..... I did have other headers before, which I designed using the Picasa software, but they weren't exactkt what I wanted. I LOVE Jennifer's header!! I think it's PERFECT for my blog!! The one thing about it that's "mine" is the font used for the name of the blog. It's called "Jokerman", and is available on the Picasa software. I picked out this font for the name of the blog. I think it's very cool-looking!!

Maybe someday I'll learn Photoshop myself....

Of course, I customized the Picture Window template Blogger offers. And I also design the posts myself. I've always preferred a dark background and light text. Also, I LOVE having lots of pics on my blog, as you know! Lol. It's obvious that I'm a VERY visual person!

Thanks for the compliment about my blog!! Music to my ears!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hey Maria-I definitely hear you on the time issue.No need to apologize. Sometimes I get up 4 AM just to get things done.

Too bad that you do not have more time for art, but your blog is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. Aside from the visual, In terms of content it is one of the most interesting places on the web.Visually it seems that you have drawn from great sources.