Shakespeare Sonnet #134
So, now I have confess’d that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
Thou wilt restore, to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous and he is kind;
He learn’d but surety-like to write for me
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer, that put’st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:
He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.
Sonnet 134 takes up where the couplet of Sonnet 133 left off, admitting that the friend is possessed by the mistress (“So now I haue confest that he is thine”), a confession extracted under the pressure of imprisonment and force. He admits also that he is now “morgag’d to thy will.” A mortgage (from mort = dead; gage = pledge) is a security that may be forfeited, if conditions are not fulfilled: if the gage is not repaid, it is dead to the debtor; if repaid, it is dead to the mortgagee. The poet has given himself up as “bale” or bond (he is both mortgagee and security) to gain the friend’s liberty. He will, then, forfeit the security of himself to the mistress as mortgagor, so that she will release to him his friend (“that other mine”), who will become his “comfort.”
The mistress, however, refuses to discharge or write off the mortgage (“But thou wilt not”) and the friend remains or chooses to remain in her possession (“nor he will not be free”). Her motive is possessiveness or greed (“For thou art couetous”); his being bound is because he is generous (“kinde”): when once acting on the poet’s behalf as his surety or guarantor (“suretie-like”), he learnt to affix the poet’s name to a contract (“to write for me”), only to find that its terms bound him just as tightly (“Vnder that bond that him as fast doth binde”). The implication is that the friend, while suing the mistress in the poet’s name, fell under her thrall and became as tightly enslaved to her.
The mercantile metaphor is retained in the sestet: “The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take.” A “statute,” particularly a ‘statute merchant,’ was a bond in which a creditor could retain a debtor’s property in case of default; hence the mistress will observe exactly the terms of the bond, which her beauty set up, including the forfeiture to her of the friend. She is a money-lender (“vsurer”) who puts her whole self to “vse,” to advantage, to gain the maximum interest, even to sexual use. She is prepared to “sue a friend,” either to seek legal redress for default against the friend, or to pursue the friend, or to lay suit or woo the friend, who only became indebted to her for the sake of the poet (“came debtor for my sake”). The result is that the poet ‘loses’ or, possibly, ‘lets go’ (“loose”) the friend through forfeiture to the mistress, an act characterized as an “vnkinde abuse” in contrast to the friend’s “kinde” nature. Finally the poet admits to loss of the friend (“Him haue I lost”) and to the mistress’ possession of both (“thou hast both him and me”). The friend has forfeited his whole self (“He paies the whole”), which should have lead to the poet’s release, but hasn’t: “yet I am not free.”
From David West:
“1-6 ‘So’ gathers up the gist of Sonnet 133, where S tried to negotiate terms of release for the young man, to no avail. He now admits that he has lost his beloved and toys with an arrangement whereby he he could free the young man by giving himself to the Black Lady.
The sonnet carries a financial metaphor from ‘mortgaged’ in line 2 to ‘pays’ and ‘free’ in 14. The first two lines say the beloved is the property of the Black Lady, and that S himself is mortgaged to her, temporarily in her possession, until he has paid his debt to her. In line 3 he proposes to cancel that arrangement by giving himself outright to the Black Lady on condition that she releases the beloved, who is ‘that other mine,’ ‘my next self’ (133.6). But here in line5 he realizes that the solution will not work, and that realization comes in monosyllables here in 134.13 as in 133.13. She will not accept it because she is greedy and jealous, and the beloved will not ask to leave her because he is kind, too kind to be cruel adn tell her that he wishes to be free of her. The future run of the plot suggests another explanation of this kindness. He is staying with her because he does not want to leave her, a possibility that S is not yet able to contemplate.
7-12 But the beloved was kind in another way. He had agreed only to act as guarantor for S, only to underwrite his contract, ‘but surety-like to write for me,’ and she will hold him to it. ‘I’ll have my bond,’ cried Shylock in “Merchant,” and the Black Lady insists that she will have her statute. This bond that binds both men to the lady is the statute of her beauty, a contract whereby she grants the use of it, and in exchange takes possession of the user. She now sues the young man, though he came into debt purely for the sake of his friend.
What does that mean? how did the young man, acting as surety, underwrite S’s contract with the lady? How can that underwriting have put him in her power? One possible explanation is that S was still loving the young man after he had taken the Black Lady as his mistress. In this fraught situation the young man might have appealed to the lady, at S’s request (11-12), to allow his friendship with S to continue, to be a comfort to him (4). But, whatever support he offered to S, he fell under the same statute of her beauty, ‘that bond of him as fast doth bind’ (8). The recipient of the message love the messenger, as Orsino loved Cesario in “Twelfth Night.” the Black Lady lay with him, and he became hers. S’s bitterness is sharpened by the sexual insult in ‘usurer,’ ‘use’ and ‘abuse’ in 10-12, sneers by polyptoton, perhaps intensifed by ‘sue’ in 11 and ‘lose’ in 12. Polyptoton is common in Shakespeare. Here, for example, it sounds to strong effect in lines 3, 5 and 8.
If some such background is posited for the sonnet, how the beloved argued S’s case with the Black Lady is unimaginable, but during the discussions the deed was done. This explains the strange word ‘learned’ in line 7. The young man did not need to learn to write, or even to underwrite. What he learned to do was to love this woman. In 11 S had exposed the beloved to danger by allowing him to plead on his behalf, to ‘come as debtor,’ meaning to become a debtor, like Lady Percy, who ‘came a widow’ in “2H4.” S now sees that it was an abuse of love, ‘my unkind abuse,’ to expose his beloved to such danger.
13-14 The desire result is summarized in monosyllables, reinforced by polyptoton in ‘Him have I lost. Thou hast both him and me.’ The young man is now paying her, and paying in full. But there is no justice. S is still not free because she will not release him.
This speculati8on is only one way of making sense of this poem. A poet who has had consummate skill in making complex arguments clear has failed to do so here. Perhaps the explanation is that the narrative expounded above is so banal that Shakespeare knew better than to spell it out. The poem works as a brilliant surface display which suggests some such intense amorous transaction, leaving readers to peer into the mist to see it. This, as stated so often, is not an account of anything that happened to William Shakespeare, but the latest episode in the plot of these poems, exploiting this new character arriving so late upon the stage.”
Or, another view:
This sonnet is a continuation of the previous one, and reflects on the situation that the poet and his friend find themselves in due to the entanglement with the dark lover, who it appears has infatuated both of them. A noticeable feature of the sonnet is the plethora of legal and financial metaphors, which combine to suggest that love is a mercenary and sordid transaction which binds the participants into an inescapable slavery. There is nothing in it which indicates that love can be at times an inspiring and magical experience, nothing of the devotion and eternal commitment which characterises so many of the earlier love sonnets to the youth. Instead one is given the impression of souls in torment, thrashing around in a sulphurous pit, and every hope that is raised is immediately dashed. He forfeits himself to free the youth, but she will not free him. The youth pays the whole debt to free the poet, yet he is still not freed. They are both trapped in the nasty murky world of the back street money lender, forever locked in a sordid enmeshment of sexual and emotional blackmail.
The imagery of money lending does not entirely hang together, in that it is almost impossible to be specific about the meanings of mortgage, bond, surety, sue, debtor in the context of loving relationships. However it hardly matters, for the picture of infatuation, addiction, hope, frenzy and disappointment is clear enough and no further embellishment seems to be necessary. It would be pleasant to set this down as a love poem, but it is more the poem of a tortured soul, and it is worth noting how far Shakespeare has wrested the tradition of the love sonnet from its sweet ideal of courtly and refined love to show how at times the actuality is rather more fleshly and distinctly of a darker and more savage colour.
The 1609 Quarto Version
SO now I haue confeſt that he is thine,
And I my ſelfe am morgag’d to thy will,
My ſelfe Ile forfeit,ſo that other mine,
Thou wilt reſtore to be my comfort ſtill:
But thou wilt not,nor he will not be free,
For thou are couetous,and he is kinde,
He learnd but ſuretie-like to write for me,
Vnder that bond that him as as faſt doth binde.
The ſtatute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou vſurer that put’ſt forth all to vſe,
And ſue a friend,came debter for my ſake,
So him I looſe through my vnkinde abuſe.
Him haue I loſt,thou haſt both him and me,
He paies the whole,and yet am I not free.
1. So now I have confessed that he is thine,
So = since; well then; it is the case that. I prefer the first meaning, which makes lines 3-4 contingent upon lines 1-2. ‘Since I have confessed etc., I will forfeit myself etc.’ Alternatively one reads the line as ‘Well then, I have made a clean breast of it, he is addicted to you (and so am I)’.
2. And I my self am mortgaged to thy will,
And I myself am mortgaged = and, in addition to him, whom you possess, I am myself bound to you according to the terms of a mortgage. It is difficult to know how Shakespeare understood the phrase mortgaged to thy will since he does not use the word mortgage elsewhere. Mortgaging a property involves handing over ownership of it to a person or organisation in return for a sum of money, which is in theory repayable. On full repayment the property is reclaimed. In affairs of love mortgaging oneself presumably means giving one’s heart to the beloved in return for reciprocal love from her. The mortgage is then payed off by continual devotion. The use here of the word will, which has a variety of meanings, including whims, wishes, sexual desire, lust, vagina (see the next two sonnets), does probably imply that the poet is sexually infatuated and has given himself up entirely (mortgaged himself) to the enjoyment of sexual pleasure with her, or to the hope of it and infatuation with it.
3. Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
Myself I’ll forfeit – A piece of financial terminology linked in with the idea of a mortgage. ‘I will abandon the principal, or capital, which was used to set up the mortgage, i.e. myself ‘.
that other mine = that other self, my friend, who is my all the world. With a hint also of a mine from which precious minerals are extracted.
4. Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:
restore = bring back to health; return to me unharmed.
to be my comfort still = to be yet, or always, available to comfort me. But there is surely a biblical echo in this from the well known Psalm 23:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine
enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my
life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Ps.19.23.5-6
Possibly also from Psalm 71:
Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side. I will also praise thee with the psaltery, even thy truth, O my God: unto thee will I sing with the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel. Ps.71.21-2.
All this is an echo of his idolatrous/non-idolatrous attachment to the youth as described in 105. Perhaps a contrast is intended between the love that might have been, the ideal love, as in the psalms, and the actuality which has to be suffered in his current predicament.
Lines 1-4: It seems best to read this Quatrain as a unit, and not to take the first two lines as self-contained and independent. Thus : ‘Since now that I have confessed that he is yours and I also am mortgaged to you, I will forfeit my right to the principal in the hope of securing his release’. If we do not do this the financial terminology on which the sonnet is based becomes fragmented and rather meaningless, and the separate lines all fly off tangentially having little connection with each other.
5. But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
But thou wilt not = but you will not do it (restore him to me).
nor he will not be free = and neither will he try to, or be desirous of being free; and you will not free him either.
6. For thou art covetous, and he is kind;
covetous = greedy for possession, having an ardent desire for. The meaning could also be extended to imply ‘being sexually avaricious, lusting after’ OED.3. The first meaning links in with the financial terminology and the usurer accusation of line 10; the second with the tone of sexual vituperation which runs through the sonnet.
kind = gentle, considerate; typical of his kind, i.e. a young man and therefore at the mercy of his sexual desires.
7. He learned but surety-like to write for me,
The line is of uncertain meaning. It is intepreted by many commentators as showing that the friend went to plead with the lady on behalf of the poet, and to advance his love affair, but instead fell in love with her himself. Instead of signing up for the love contract on behalf of the poet, he signed up for himself. This may however be too literal an interpretation.
surety-like = as if he himself were the guarantor (surety) of my love for you.
to write for me = to write on my behalf, to support my plea, to sign for me, to use his pen (penis) instead of my having the opportunity to use mine, hence ‘he usurped my place as a lover’.
8. Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
Under that bond = according to the conditions of that bond (a written legal agreement). This probably refers back loosely to the mortgage of line 2. Under could refer to a signature at the bottom of a page, under the wording of the bond. The term bond is much used in the Merchant of Venice. It is upon the conditions written in the bond that Shylock insists on his rights, and because of its conditions he ultimately finds it impossible to take his pound of flesh. In the extract below Portia uses the term this bond is forfeit, meaning that the payment stipulated in the bond was due and had to be forfeited. (See line 3 above).
PORTIA Why, this bond is forfeit;
And lawfully by this the Jew may claim
A pound of flesh, to be by him cut off
Nearest the merchant’s heart. Be merciful:
Take thrice thy money; bid me tear the bond. MV.IV.1. 225-9.
‘Under that bond’ probably also has a bawdy meaning similar to from below your duke to beneath your constable. AWW.II.2.
as fast does bind = that ties him, imprisons him as tightly (as it does me).
9. The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
The statute of thy beauty = the (legal) rights to which your beauty entitles you. It is noticeable that here the poet does not quibble on whether or not she is beautiful, as in 131, 132 and 137.
thou wilt take = you will take up and enforce. You will insist upon exacting the due penalties. take does not normally have this meaning, but the context enforces it here.
10. Thou usurer, that put’st forth all to use,
usurer = moneylender. Usury was considered an evil in Elizabethan England, and at times was legislated against. Nevertheless it was a necessary part of political and mercantile life, and had to be tolerated, but with much disapprobation. Moneylenders, often part of the Jewish community, were actively disliked and often individuals were persecuted. The metaphor is therefore distinctly unflattering to the dark lady, and more than undoes the work of the previous line, which at least suggests that she is beautiful (if cruel), a suggestion which previous sonnets had attempted to deny.
that put’st forth all to use = who uses all her capital in loans to earn more interest; who offers all her sexuality for use by those who are entrapped by her.
11. And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
This line continues from line 9. You will enforce your beauty’s rights and come down hard on my friend who only became indebted to you (hooked by you) in order to save me. came probably is equivalent to became, but it could also suggest ‘came into your company as one who was in debt to me, or willing to be indebted to you (for sexual pleasures?) on account of my infatuation with you, and hoping to ease my burden’.
sue is a legal term meaning ‘pursue through the courts’, in this case for settlement of a debt. The problem with this whole string of legal and financial metaphors is that superficially they appear transparent and straightforward, but in attempting to transfer them to a loving situation, and, even worse, to one in which three lovers are involved, the obvious interpretations often seem to be inapposite. (See the introductory note).
12. So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
him I lose = I am or will be bereft of him, deprived of him; I set him free (loose or loosen).
So him I lose – this echoes in a contrary sense the opening words, so now I have, and contributes to the sense that one is travelling in circles and that there is no escape. This idea is then reinforced by the final couplet and its crushing conclusion.
through = as a result of.
my unkind abuse = your harsh treatment of me; my harsh treatment of you. unkind = unnatural, not according to one’s kind. abuse can mean ‘deception’ so the line could mean ‘Thus I lose him through my cruel attempts to deceive you (and myself?), or through your deception of me’. unkind is used in Sonnet 120
That you were once unkind befriends me now,
where it is descriptive of the youth’s harsh treatment of the poet in that he takes over his lover, possibly the same situation that is referred to here.
13. Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:
Him have I lost – almost a repetition of so him I lose of the previous line, except that it is in the past tense now, as if here the feared event has become real and final.
thou hast both him and me = you possess us both, you have intercourse with us both. Compare the use of have in 129:
Had, having and in quest to have extreme.
14. He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.
He pays the whole = he settles the entire debt, he pays off all the mortgage. No doubt with a pun on whole / hole implying ‘he satisfies your sexual appetite’.
and yet am I not free – the poem ends on a note of despair.
My next post: Sunday evening/Monday morning: My introduction to our next play, Othello.