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OMMENTARY

SONNET XXIX

 

XXIX

1. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
2. I all alone beweep my outcast state,
3. And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
4. And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
5. Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
6. Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
7. Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
8. With what I most enjoy contented least;
9. Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
10. Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
11. Like to the lark at break of day arising
12. From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
13. For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
14. That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

 It is uncertain whether the state of disgrace referred to in this sonnet is a real or imaginary one, for we have no external evidence of a dip in Shakespeare's fortunes which might have contributed to an attack of melancholy and a subsequent castigation of fate as the perpetrator. It is tempting to relate works to periods in an author's life. Certainly the years in which Shakespeare wrote Lear and Timon of Athens seem not to have been the happiest of times, but it is almost impossible to correlate particular events in his life, and the possible emotional crises that they could have produced, with publication dates, or known dates of production of his plays. (See further notes on SonnetXXIX. )

The sorrow quoted here might be more rhetorical than real, being part of the sonnet tradition, in which many misfortunes contrive to make the lover unhappy. It also serves to highlight the great joy which ends the poem, when he thinks once more on his beloved, as in the psalms, and rises above the clouds.

     

 

   

 

THE 1609 QUARTO VERSION

 

29

 VV Hen in diſgrace with Fortune and mens eyes,
I all alone beweepe my out-caſt ſtate,
And trouble deafe heauen with my bootleſſe cries,
And looke vpon my ſelfe and curſe my fate.
Wiſhing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him,like him with friends poſſeſt,
Deſiring this mans art,and that mans skope,
With what I moſt inioy contented leaſt,
Yet in theſe thoughts my ſelfe almoft deſpiſing,
Haply I thinke on thee, and then my ſtate,
(Like to the Larke at breake of daye ariſing
)
From ſullen earth ſings himns at Heauens gate,
  For thy ſweet loue remembred ſuch welth brings,
  That then I skorne to change my ſtate with Kings.

   
     

 1. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

Elizabethan coat of arms. Usually a sign of fortune and prosperity.
 

 1. To be in disgrace with fortune is presumably to be not favoured by her (taking fortune to be the goddess of 111).
O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Disgrace is a term which would more usually be applied to a demotion or removal from office. Or to a final humiliation and loss of status. Antony on being defeated by Augustus envisages
The inevitable prosecution of
Disgrace and horror
, AC.IV.13.65-6.
In this sonnet the word seems to relate more to a failure to achieve status in the first instance, rather than to a subsequent deprivation.


To be in disgrace (in) men's eyes - this possibly refers to some form of public disapprobation, either real or imaginary. What the disgrace was we cannot say. It could be the mere fact of being associated with the theatre, which by many preachers of the day, and by all Puritans, was considered to be a great den of iniquity and a source of many evils. See the passage at the bottom of this page illustrative of Puritan distrust.

 2. I all alone beweep my outcast state,

 

 

   2. beweep = weep for, bewail; Like bewail and beseem, the word has an archaic and biblical flavour.
my outcast state = my condition of being a social outcast. The condition is probably exaggerated for the sake of effect, and to emphahsise that the speaker sees everything in a gloomy light. Fortune has turned against him and he feels that he does not belong any more to society.
 3. And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
 
   3. deaf heaven - Heaven (God) turns a deaf ear to his complaints and laments. The parallel is drawn with Job in the Old Testament, who was cast out on a dung heap and bewept his mournful state.
bootless = to no avail, achieving nothing.

 4. And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
 

 

 

 

   4. And look upon myself - as the outcast contemplates his own fallen state.
curse my fate - another echo from the Book of Job in the Bible:
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed his day. And Job spake and said: Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, 'There is a man child conceived'. Let that day be darkness, let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. etc. Job.III.1-4.
 5. Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,    5. Wishing myself to be like one who is more richly endowed with all manner of blessings, including wealth.
 6. Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,    6. Featured like him, like him = with features like this person, like this second person having friends, like this third, desiring his skills (line 7) etc.
 7. Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
 
   7. this man's art = the skill that one particular person has; that man's scope = the capability, range, mental ability that another particular person has.
 8. With what I most enjoy contented least;
 
   8. It is unspecified what he most enjoys, but evidently, in his despondency, things which ought to give him enjoyment do not do so. The implication is that he no longer enjoys the love of his beloved, although that idea is countermanded by the final couplet.
 9. Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
 
   9. in these thoughts = while I am engaged in these thoughts
myself almost despising - and almost considering myself to be despicable for being so cast down.
 10. Haply I think on thee, and then my state,    10.Haply = by chance, by a happy stroke of luck;
my state = my mental state, with a suggestion also that his fortune, or the state of affairs in which he finds himself, improves.
 11. Like to the lark at break of day arising
 
   11. There is an echo of this in Cym.II.iii.20-1
Hark! hark the lark at heaven's gate sings,
And Phoebus 'gins arise...

 12. From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;


 

 

   12. sullen = gloomy, dark, miserable;
From sullen earth - the phrase may be taken both with this and with the preceding line. The lark rises from sullen earth, and it also sings hymns which rise up from the earth to the gate of heaven, or, as it sings, it rises from earth towards heaven.
sings - the subject is the lark, but also the poet's soul, which has been liberated by his thinking of his beloved.
 13. For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings    13. thy sweet love remembered = when I have called to mind your love, when your sweet love springs up again in my memory.

 14. That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

 

 

   14. Although the primary meaning is that 'I am happier than a king could be, and therefore have no wish to swap places with him' there is a hint of the political meaning of state, i.e. nation state, as in 64:
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;

Hence, 'even though I were to have a kingdom, I would not exchange it for the the happiness of knowing you'.
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 PURITAN HATRED OF THE THEATRE
 

 

 Do they not maintain bawdry, insinuate foolery, and renew the remembrance of heathen idolatry? Do they not induce whoredom and uncleanness? Nay, are they not rather plain devourers of maidenly virginity and chastity? For proof whereof but mark the flocking and running to Theaters and Curtains, daily and hourly, night and day, time and tide, to see plays and interludes where such wanton gestures, such bawdy speeches, such laughing and fleering, such kissing and bussing, such clipping and culling, such winking and glancing of wanton eyes, and the like is used, is wonderful to behold. Then these goodly pageants being ended, every mate sorts to his mate, every one brings another homeward of their way very friendly, and in their secret conclaves (covertly) they play the sodomites, or worse. And these be the fruits of plays and interludes, for the most part. And whereas, you say, there are good examples to be learnt in them : truly, so there are ; if you will learn falsehood; if you will learn cozenage, if you will learn to deceive; if you will learn to play the hypocrite, to cog, to lie and falsify; if you will learn to jest, laugh and fleer, to grin, to nod and mow; if you will learn to play the Vice, to swear, tear and blaspheme both heaven and earth; if you will learn to become a bawd, unclean, and to devirginate maids, to deflower honest wives; if you will learn to murder, flay, kill, pick, steal, rob and rove; if you will learn to rebel against princes, to commit treasons, to consume treasures, to practice idleness, to sing and talk of bawdy love and venery; if you will learn to deride, scoff, mock and flout, to flatter and smooth; if you will learn to play the whoremaster, the glutton, drunkard, or incestuous person; if you will learn to become proud, haughty and arrogant; and finally, if you will learn to contemn God and all His laws, to care neither for Heaven nor Hell, and to commit all kinds of sin and mischief, you need to go to no other school, for all these good examples may you see painted before your eyes in interludes and plays.

PHILIP STUBBES The Anatomie of Abuses 1583

 

Home Sonnets 1 - 50 Sonnets 51 - 100 Sonnets 101 - 154 A Lover's Complaint. Sonnet no. 1
First line index Title page and Thorpe's Dedication Some Introductory Notes to the Sonnets Sonnets as plain text 1-154 Text facsimiles Other related texts of the period
Picture Gallery
Thomas Wyatt Poems Other Authors General notes  for background details, general policies etc. Map of the site Valentine Poems
London Bridge   as it was in Shakespeare's day, circa 1600. Views of London   as it was in 1616. Views of  Cheapside  London, from a print of 1639. The Carrier's  Cosmography.   A guide to all the Carriers in London.  As given by John Taylor in 1637. Oxquarry Books Ltd
If you wish to comment on this site: please refer to the home page.  If you have enjoyed this web site, please visit its companion -
Pushkin's Poems

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