When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,/I all alone beweep my outcast state…”

Sonnet #29

By Dennis Abrams


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



When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

When I’ve fallen out of favor with fortune and men,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

All alone I weep over my position as a social outcast,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And pray to heaven, but my cries go unheard,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

And I look at myself, cursing my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Wishing I were like one who had more hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Wishing I looked like him; wishing I were surrounded by friends,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

Wishing I had this man’s skill and that man’s freedom.

With what I most enjoy contented least;

I am least contented with what I used to enjoy most.

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

But, with these thoughts – almost despising myself,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

I, by chance, think of you and then my melancholy

Like to the lark at break of day arising

Like the lark at the break of day, rises

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

From the dark earth and (I) sing hymns to heaven;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

For thinking of your love brings such happiness

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

That then I would not change my position in life with kings.


in disgrace (1): out of favor.

beweep (2): weep over (my outcast state).

outcast state (2): The poet’s “outcast state” is possibly an allusion to his lack of work as an actor due to the closing of the theatres in 1592 (during an outbreak of plague). It also could be a reference to the attack on Shakespeare at the hands of Robert Greene. Please see the commentary below for more on Shakespeare and Greene.

bootless (3): useless.
Shakespeare uses the word seventeen times in the plays. Compare Othello:
The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief. (1.3.225)

Compare also Titus Andronicus:

For they have fought for Rome, and all in vain;
And they have nursed this woe, in feeding life;
In bootless prayer have they been held up,
And they have served me to effectless use:
Now all the service I require of them
Is that the one will help to cut the other. (3.1.75)

Interestingly, the phrase “bootless cries” appears in Edward III, an anonymous play that many now believe Shakespeare wrote.

look upon myself (4): i.e., I become occupied with self-reflection.

Featured like him (6): i.e., the features (physical beauty) of some other more attractive man.

Sonnet 29 shows the poet at his most insecure and troubled. He feels unlucky, shamed, and fiercely jealous of those around him. What causes the poet’s anguish will remain a mystery; as will the answer to whether the sonnets are autobiographical.

However, an examination of Shakespeare’s life around the time he wrote Sonnet 29 reveals two traumatic events that may have shaped the theme of the sonnet. In 1592 the London theatres closed due to a severe outbreak of plague. Although it is possible that Shakespeare toured the outlying areas of London, it is almost certain that he left the theatre entirely during this time to work on his sonnets and narrative poems. The closing of the playhouses made it hard for Shakespeare and other actors of the day to earn a living. With plague and poverty looming it is expected that he would feel “in disgrace with fortune” (1).

Moreover, in 1592 there came a scathing attack on Shakespeare by dramatist Robert Greene, who, in a deathbed diary, warned three of his fellow university-educated playwrights: “There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and, beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”

One can only imagine what grief this assault – this deathbed assault – must have caused Shakespeare. Greene was nothing if not thorough: first, using a line from Shakespeare’s own 3 Henry VI (1.4.138), he describes Shakespeare as a pompous, scheming, vicious ingrate riding the coattails of better writers (no doubt Shakespeare performed in a play Greene had himself written; then he adds that Shakespeare is a conceited (“onely Shake-scene”) and insignificant jack of all trades (a “Johannes fac totum”).

Greene lets even more insults fly as he continues: “O that I might intreat your rare wits to be imploied in more profitable courses: & let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions.” It seems very possible such events are connected to the poet’s distressed declaration in line 8: “With what I most enjoy contented least.”

All is not lost, however, for the sonnet ends with a positive affirmation that the poet can combat his anguish with the “sweet love” (13) of his dear friend.

And this from Camille Paglia:

Poetic design in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 is a tour de force that makes Sonnet 73’s symmetrical, self-contained units look almost stodgy.  Ignore the modern punctuation:  Sonnet 29 is essentially a single sentence, cascading down the lines with the virtuosity of the natural speaking voice that Shakespeare mastered in his career as an actor and playwright.  He treats sonnet structure with audacious, jazzlike improvisation, as it if weren’t even there.  Syntax too is plastic in his hands.  Most of the poem is just a prelude, a piling up of subordinate and participial clauses.  The main body of the sentence (subject and verb:  ‘I think”) doesn’t arrive until the tenth line, where it acts as a pivotal point of transformation.

The sonnet re-creates an episode of severe depression that appears all too familiar to Shakespeare.  (He was probably in his forties.)  The litany-like cadence catches up in an obsessive mental rhythm, so that we see things as he does.  Direction is ingeniously indicated by theatrical ‘blocking'”  we are made to look one way and then another in a psychologically distorted world.  At the same time, we feel burdened by heavy emotion, sinking to the nadir of the poem in the word ‘despising.’  The overall effect is prophetically avant-garde:  it’s as if the poet, like an actor in tortured soliloquy, stands spotlit on a bare black stage.

Two-thirds of the poem consists of a list of half-imaginary grievances.  It begins with an allegorical tableau, as crisply limned as in a late-medieval panel painting.  Shakespeare (if we may identify him with the speaker) claims he is ‘outcast,’ ostracized, ‘in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes’  to be in disfavor with ‘men’s eyes’ means to have lost social status:  the disparaging male eyes glare or, more woundingly, glance and turn indifferently away.  But important female eyes don’t see him at all:  he has been abandoned by Fortune (some editions wrongly drop the capitalization), the ancient goddess Fortuna, who turned a rudder or wheel and who would later become Lady Luck, patroness of gamblers.  Nothing breaks Shakespeare’s way.  Fortune is blind to him, and the Christian god is ‘deaf’ or perhaps nonexistent.  The poet’s ‘cries,’ or prayers, like those of Hamlet‘s guilty but unrepentant king, are ‘bootless’ — futile, useless — they rise toward heaven and fade like echoes.

Self-absorbed and cursing his fate, the poet is momentarily  braces by angry energy.  But seething dissatisfactions, erupt, a catalog of lacks and wants.  He seems to gesture this way and that toward a parade of envied others who do not see him, since he has become an invisible man.  The man ‘more rich in hope’ has reason for cheer since he is on the fast track toward a splendid future.  The second is well ‘featured,’ that is, handsome, a boon that in any age draws attention and brings preferment.  (We could infer that the poet thought his own looks unimpressive or mediocre.)  The third has ‘friends’ in high places, family connections or contacts critical for advancement in the premodern court world.  There are hints of petty rivalries among the cultural elite:  Shakespeare, incredible to us, envies another’s ‘art,’ that is, literary skill, probably because it is of a more regular, polished, and fashionable kind.  And he feels intimidated by yet another’s ‘scope,’ or intellectual power, presumably owed to a university education.  (The middle-class Shakespeare, had a solid Stratford primary schooling, where he acquired, according to a contemporary satire, ‘little Latin and less Greek.’

Art makes a disturbing reentry.  That he is least ‘contented’ with what he most enjoys suggests Shakespeare’s writing career is in crisis.  Uninspired, he is merely going through the motions.  But his identity is so centered in art making that any threat to it worsens his sense of extremity.  ‘Myself almost despising’:  he tastes the surfeited self-loathing that leads Hamlet to the brink of suicide.

At the corrosive word ‘despising,’ when the poem seems almost to self-destruct, rescue ‘haply’ (luckily) comes as a happy thought — the memory of a precious face.  Is it a man or a woman?  The poet blurs it.  But since the sonnet’s human dramatis personae have all been male, we might as well conjecture that the beloved is the ‘fair youth’ whom Sonnet 144 calls an ‘angel,’ a role he plays here over the distance of time.  His effect on the poem and on Shakespeare’s ‘state’ of mind is immediate:  the mood darts upward like ‘the lark at break of day arising.’  It’s a new dawn.

The plot line of the poem resembles a modern business graph that veers dizzyingly downward to bottom out in bankruptcy.  At his lowest, the poet is sluggishly mired in ‘sullen earth, ‘the gloom upon the hills just before sunrise, when the sky has already brightened.  The lark bursts into song for the sheer joy of being alive.   It’s ‘hymns’ follow the same arcing path as the poet’s earlier ‘bootless’ prayers, but a bird doesn’t care if ‘heaven’s gate’ is locked.  It makes music because it can.  So does poetry flow from him, Shakespeare implies, when love is the goad.  The beating of the lark’s wings surely mimes the beating of his own heart, which quickens at the mere idea of the beloved.

The poem concludes in unqualified direct address:  ‘For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings.’  Perhaps the sonnet was sent as a gift to its inspirer, but the beloved has already half materialized as a luminous presence.  The friend’s ‘sweet love’ may or may not have been physical, but it is enduringly restorative.  Lady Luck’s stinginess has been neutralized by a bonanza of spiritual ‘wealth.’  Love allows the revitalized poet to ‘scorn’ ambition and materialism:  high rank and power now seem paltry.  Emotional exaltation brings salvation.  Shakespeare’s art is reborn, crystallizing in the poem before us.”

And another perspective:

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.

Additional notes

This sonnet, which introduces notes of disquiet and despondency, follows on from two which recount the pain of separation. It is to lead on gradually to a group of so-called ‘estrangement’ sonnets, 33-36, in which some cause of rejection or some violation of a pact by one or the other of the two is hinted at. How literally we are to take the words of separation, disgrace and blame is something which we will probably never be able to decide, without the help of some lucky biographical discovery, which in the nature of things is unlikely to occur. There is no doubt that this sonnet paints the picture of the speaker as an outcast, one who is rejected by society, who, because of his extreme isolation, envies almost every other person in the world as being more fortunate. Yet we have no hint at all of what might have brought about this state of affairs.

It would no doubt be helpful if we could establish when the sonnets were written and to whom. As it is we have several suggested dates, and nothing which even approaches moderate certainty, either of the characters involved, or the time of writing. It used to be believed that the sonnets were the early, youthful and frivolous product of a young man’s imagination, fit to be out-rivalled by his more mature work. That was the only way to deal at the time with the dubious sexual and passionate nature of the confessions contained in them. Now we can look more unashamedly at such matters, but such openess does not appear to have brought us closer to an understanding of the references to disgrace, shame, blot, fault, outcast state, guilt and sins, which are contained in this and succeeding sonnets.

The other problem that confronts us, in the absence of adequate biographical knowledge, is that we cannot be sure what sort of ‘disgrace’ in the society of the time might have contributed to the poet feeling himself to be an outcast and inferior to all those whom he knew and observed around him. Was it just the simple fact that he was not on the same level socially as the Earl of Southampton, for example, to whom two of his works were dedicated? But if that is so, the language does seem to be extreme and emotive for such a relatively minor incommodement. Perhaps he overstepped the bounds of social decorum in some way, for example by showing his love for the youth too openly. It can hardly have been considered right and proper that a mere player should become the favourite of an Earl, or a titled person, if indeed the lovely youth was such a person. But even for such an extreme social gaffe, if that is what it was regarded to be, does one need to consider oneself as the equivalent of Job cast out on the dung heap, and would the society of the time be in a position to denigrate a person so desperately that they would lose all hope of continuing in their present condition of life?

In the ordinary course of events, with evidence of mortality all around him, life cannot have been easy for Shakespeare in Elizabethan London.  Some of the despondency found in this and the following sonnet might be due to sorrow for ‘precious friends hid in death’s dateless night’, and that in itself might lead him to ‘look upon himself and curse his fate’. These would be friends he had acquired in the theatrical profession, and through his acquaintance with other writers.

Apart from that we know that his only son Hamnet died in August 1596 at the age of eleven, and his father in 1601. His brother Edmund also died in late 1607, while in London. Of writers with whom he was probably familiar Marlowe died in 1593, and Spenser in 1599. There are others who could be added to the list. But although such causes of dejection might well plunge him into fits of melancholy, and might be the cause of many sessions of sweet, silent thought, they do not account for references to blots, stains and disgraces.

I am inclined therefore to interpret this sonnet in a more general sense as being conjoined to mortality and to those conditions which cause all of us at times to ‘beweep our outcast state’. There need not be a particular cause for being despondent, but there are many general experiences which incline us to the belief that the world is a bitter place to live in. (See for example Sonn.66).

The circumstsances which give rise in the following sonnets (33-36) to the mention of sins, faults, offence, stain, trespass and disgrace seem to be more specific and not related to general causes. In 40-42 the injury is evidently the stealing of a mistress, but for 33-36 and the preceding sonnets, with their residual malaise, nothing identifiable is named. We have no additional source of information that can supply this deficiency in our knowledge, and I think simply we must accept that, for whatever reason, for sonnets 27 – 32, the poet suffers a bout of despondency, which is lightened somewhat by his thoughts of the youth. From 33-36 there is evidence of rejection and betrayal, smoothed over by sophistry on the poet’s part. But we are not in a position to know what those offences might be which caused the fall from grace. Then 40 – 42 recount unfaithfulness by the youth in the matter of stealing a mistress. (Although one might ask how the poet could justify his devotion to a mistress when he has declared his love for the youth to be absolute). Thereafter the sequence becomes complex and more enmired.

This sonnet is accounted one of the great ones, perhaps because readers find it easy to identify with, and it has the wonderfully exhilarating finale of the spirit rising from the sodden ground. The concluding couplet does lead us on into the future, when a similar ending shows us that the comparison with a kingly state is perhaps not as desirable as it superficially appears to be:
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
And we have the warning from 25 about the danger of being numbered among great princes’ favourites. It is clear that the world of courtly love, if the tradition was ever to be believed, can be deeply flawed. This love between the poet and the young man, in so far as it mirrors the courtly tradition, threatens to be far more complex and introverted than anything which has gone before.”

And finally this:

Structure of Sonnet 29

Sonnet 29 follows the same basic structure as Shakespeare’s other sonnets. The sonnet contains fourteen lines and is written in iambic pentameter, meaning that each of the fourteen lines contains ten syllables that alternate between unstressed and stressed. It is composed of three rhyming quatrains with a rhyming couplet at the end and follows the traditional English rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. As noted by Bernhard Frank, Sonnet 29 includes two distinct sections with the Speaker explaining his current depressed state of mind in the first octave and then conjuring what appears to be a happier image in the last sestet[1]

In his literary criticism of Stephen Booth’s analysis of the work, Murdo William McRae explains two characteristics of the internal structure of Sonnet 29 that Booth failed to mention that make the work distinctly unique from any of Shakespeare’s other sonnets [2]. The first unique characteristic is the lack of a “when/then” pattern. Traditionally, the first eight lines of a sonnet produce a problem (a “when” statement”) that is then resolved in the last six lines (a “then” statement). McRae points out, however, that the Speaker in this sonnet fails to produce a solution possibly because his overwhelming lack of self-worth prevents him from ever being able to state an actual argument, and instead uses his conclusion to contrast the negative feelings stated in the previous octave. McRae notes that this break from the traditional style of sonnet writing creates a feeling of the sonnet being “pulled apart.” The second unique characteristic is the repetition of the B-rhyme in lines 2 and 4 (“state” and “fate”) in the F-rhyme in lines 10 and 12 (“state” and “gate”). McRae says that the duplication of the B-rhyme redirects the reader’s attention to the lines, and this “poem within a poem” pulls the piece back together in a way that contrasts its original pulling apart.

However, Shakespeare did not only create a pattern of line rhymes. As Frank explains in his article Shakespeare repeats the word “state” three times throughout the poem with each being a reference to something different. The first “state” referring the Speaker’s condition (line 2), the second to his mindset (line 10), and the third to “state” of a monarch or kingdom (line 14).

This whole issue of the duplicated B-rhyme is addressed in other sources as well. Philip McGuire states in his article that some refer to this as a “serious technical blemish”, while others maintain that “the double use of ‘state’ as a rhyme may be justified, in order to bring out the stark contrast between the Speaker’s apparently outcast state and the state of joy described in the third quatrain” [3]. The biggest question seems to surround whether this rhyme decision significantly deviates from the Shakespearean sonnet format or if it was simply the poet’s choice. In his book The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Paul Ramsey points out the line three specifically as “one of the most perturbed lines in our language” [4] page 153). He specifically points out stressed syllables, “troub-,” “deaf,” and “heav’n”, saying they are “jarringly close together” and that “the ‘heav’n with’ is probably the most violent example in the sonnets of a trochee without a preceding verse-pause… The heaping of stress, the harsh reversal, the rush to a vivid stress – all enforce the angry anti-religious troubled cry.” (page 153) Ramsey breaks down this line very specifically and implies that Shakespeare was incredibly meticulous and deliberate when writing each line to convey his tone and sentiment.

Persona of the speaker

Camille Paglia states that there is nothing in the poem that would provide a clue as to whether the poem is directed towards a man or a woman, but assumes, as many do, that Sonnet 29 was written about the young man[5]. Both Paglia and Frank agree that the first octave is about the Speaker’s current depression caused by his social ostracism in his outcast state” (line 2) and personal misfortune that has “curse[d] my fate” (line 4). The Speaker proclaims his jealousy of those that are “rich in hope” (line 5) and “with friends possess’d” (line 6), once again referring to his hopelessness and low social status. Paglia refers to this section of the poem as a “list of half-imaginary grievances.” Frank seems to agree with her statement of “half imaginary” since he believes the Speaker wills his own misery.

As the poem moves from the octave to the sestet, Frank makes note of the Speaker’s “radical movement from despair to alert.” This sudden emotional jump (along with the pattern of the “state”) displays the Speaker’s “wild mood swings.” Frank believes that the last sestet, however, is not as “happy” as some may believe. Using line 10 as his example, Frank points out that the Speaker says he simply “thinks” of his beloved while he is alone which leads one to wonder if the said “sweet love” (line 13) even knows the Speaker exists.

Paglia, however, takes several different views on the poem. For example, she does not actually come out and accuse the Speaker of bringing his causing his own suffering. Referencing line 1, she notes that Fortune (personified) has actually abandoned the poor Speaker. This abandonment is the cause of the Speaker’s desire for “this man’s art, and that man’s scope” (line 7) and has caused the Speaker to only be “contented” (line 8) which hints at the Speaker’s (and possibly Shakespeare’s) lack of artistic inspiration. The final few lines, however, are where Paglia differs the most from Frank. Paglia feels that the “sweet love” of the Speaker’s has been restored and that he has received a “spiritual wealth.” The once jealous and desperate Speaker has now found solace in love knowing that love “dims all material things” that he has been lusting after. In a way the conflict presented has almost been resolved by this restoration of art in the Speaker’s life.

Elizabeth Harris Sagaser sets Sonnet 29 apart from other Elizabethan sonnets in that the speaker is the main focus, as opposed to many love sonnets of the time focused entirely on the object of the speaker’s affection, or so they appeared to be. These poems included blazons, or a catalogue of beautiful qualities in the object of the poet’s desire; this would seem that the poem is about the woman, not the speaker. However, Sasager says, “I do not mean to imply that… (these poems) are themselves ‘about’ particular beloveds. But they do pretend to be, and therein is the difference.[6] She goes on to clarify this difference, or what sets sonnet 29 apart from most love object-centered sonnets of the time. “The poet-lover in sonnet 29 admits up front that the fruits of his inward experience are primarily his own, though not his own in terms of everafter fame… Instead, the speaker of 29 is concerned first and foremost with his own persuasion of himself; it is he himself, poet-lover, whom he must incite to wonder” [7] This is to say that though most poetry of the time was at least disguised to be about the object of the speaker’s affection, this sonnet does not even attempt to do so. According to Sasager, it is clear that this poem is speaker-focused and about the emotions and experiences of the speaker, not that of the beloved’s. As discussed by other critics, Sasager addresses the lack of “when… then” structure saying “the poem shifts to representing a particular moment: not a past moment, but now.” She makes a point to say this differs notably from other poems of the time.

Religious nature of Sonnet 29

Paglia and Frank have similar views on the religious references made throughout the poem. The Speaker first states that heaven is deaf to his “bootless [useless] cries” (line 2). The “lark at break of day arising” (line 11) symbolizes the Speaker’s rebirth to a life where he can now sing “hymns at heaven’s gate” (line 12). This creates another contrast in the poem. The once deaf heaven that caused the Speaker’s prayers to be unanswered is now suddenly able to hear. Both authors note the lack of any reference to God and how the Speaker instead speaks only of heaven.

Expanding on that notion, Paul Ramsey, in The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, claims, “Sonnet 29 says that God disappoints and that the young man redeems”[8]. This is to say that the poem is not religious in the institutional way, but rather it is its own kind of religion. Ramsey continues, “Against that heaven, against God, is set the happy heaven where the lark sings hymns. The poem is a hymn, celebrating a truth declared superior to religion.”[9] So while Sonnet 29 makes some religious references, Ramsey maintains that these are in fact anti-religious in sentiment.arigatoo gusaimas.«»Sonnet 29 When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate, Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d, Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least. Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

–William Shakespeare


Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare the speaker describing moments of great sadness, in which he cries over his “outcast state” by himself. This “outcast state” may refer to either a generally unfavorable standing in society or a lack of financial success in the playwriting field. One possible explanation for this lack of success is the closing of London theatres in 1592 due to a plague epidemic. Another suggested reason for Shakespeare’s “outcast state” is an instance of harsh public criticism of Shakespeare by fellow playwright Robert Greene. The attack may have had a deep impact on Shakespeare. Yet another possibility of the meaning of the “outcast state” is that, rather simply, the man was outcast. The speaker then says that in these times he “trouble[s] deaf heaven with his bootless cries”, meaning he feels his prayers and exhortations are to no avail. The word “trouble” has particular interest because it suggests that he believes his prayers bother heaven, which shows a general exhaustion of hope and faith on the part of the speaker. The speaker then reveals that he is least satisfied in the things he enjoys most.

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

The “turn” at the beginning of the third quatrain occurs when the poet by chance (“haply”) happens to think upon the young man to whom the poem is addressed, which makes him assume a more optimistic view of his own life. The speaker likens such a change in mood “to the lark at break of day arising, From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate“. This expression was most probably the inspiration for American poet Wallace Stevens when he wrote the poem The Worms at Heaven’s Gate in Harmonium. The couplet is an emotional declaration that remembrance of his friend’s love is enough for him to value his position in life more than a king’s. The repeated use of “state” is notable in line 2 and 10 to mean the Poets general condition, in line 14, with double meaning, it can be read to mean a country.


  • actor Matthew Macfadyen recites this poem on Essential Poems (To Fall in Love With) (2003 BBC TV program)
  • Actor Ron Perlman recites this poem on the album “Of Love and Hope”, soundtrack of the ’80s TV series Beauty and the Beast, to music by Lee Holdridge.


  • The 1968 Canadian play (and 1971 film version), Fortune and Men’s Eyes, takes its title from this sonnet
  • in episode 3 (“Siege”) from season 1 of Beauty and the Beast, Vincent (portrayed by Ron Perlman) reads this sonnet to Catherine (played by Linda Hamilton)
  • Edward Lewis, portrayed by Richard Gere, reads this sonnet to Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts, during their scene at the park in Pretty Woman
  • A chapter in Tobias Wolff‘s Old School is titled “When in disgrace with fortune”.
  • on season 2 (“The Measure of a Man”) of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Comm. Bruce Maddox reads the first two lines of the sonnet out of Lt. Comm. Data’s Shakespeare book
  • T.S. Eliot quotes this sonnet in his 1930 poem “Ash Wednesday“: ‘Because I do not hope/ Because I do not hope to turn/ Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope/ I no longer strive to strive towards such things/ (Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)’
  • Featured in the 2002 film Conviction where Omar Epps, portraying an imprisoned Carl Upchurch, reads the first half of the Sonnet aloud to other prisoners from his cell.

And that’s it for me until Sunday night/Monday morning, when I’ll post introductory material for our next play (no reading assignment yet) Henry VI, Part One.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend everyone.

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3 Responses to When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,/I all alone beweep my outcast state…”

  1. lxp says:

    Thanks for the youtube link. That was a beautiful reading of the sonnet.

  2. Suzanne Parke says:

    I once went to a sonnet masterclass at the RSC where John Barton coached an actor through this sonnet. By the end he had him doing the whole thing as one long thought/sentence/breath. I usually don’t go in for theatrical gymnastics, but this was an occasion to applaud. The urgency created by the progression of the single thought was mesmerising.

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