“Two loves I have of comfort and despair,/Which like two spirits do suggest me still…”

Shakespeare Sonnet #144

SONNET 144

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another’s hell:
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

SONNET 144

PARAPHRASE

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Two loves I have, one comforting, the other despairing;

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

Which like two spirits do urge me on:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The better angel is a beautiful man,

The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.

The worser spirit [angel] is a woman of dark complexion.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

With what would soon send me to hell, my female lover

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

Tempts my better lover away from me,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

And wants to corrupt him and turn him into a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

Seducing him and his purity with her dark pride.

And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend

And whether my angel be turned into a fiend,

Suspect I may, but not directly tell;

I cannot say for sure, although I suspect as much;

But being both from me, both to each friend,

But both being away from me, and each friendly toward the other,

I guess one angel in another’s hell:

I guess one angel is in the other’s hell:

Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,

But this I’ll never know, and I’ll live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

Until my bad angel drives away my good angel.

Notes

better angel (3) ] Compare Othello:

Poor Desdemona! I am glad thy father’s dead:
Thy match was mortal to him, and pure grief
Shore his old thread in twain: did he live now,
This sight would make him do a desperate turn,
Yea, curse his better angel from his side,
And fall to reprobation. (5.2.237-242)

To win me soon to hell (5) ] Hell for the poet is the mental anguish he suffers due to his divided loyalties and the strange new development in his sordid love triangle.

Till…one out. (14) ] Some scholars argue that ‘fire’ in this line specifically refers to venereal disease. They claim that the poet is saying his mistress will give his male lover the ‘fire’ or ‘infection.’ This interpretation is quite possibly the right one as venereal disease was rampant in Tudor society.

Although Sonnets 143 and 144 both discuss the interwoven relationship amongst Shakespeare, his male friend, and the dark lady, the somber tone in Sonnet 144 is much different from the playful humorous tone found in the previous sonnet.

The poet clearly favours the love and companionship of his male lover over that of his mistress, and he places all the blame for the affair between the dark lady and the friend squarely on the shoulders of the lady. Shakespeare’s depiction of them as angels, one good and one bad, shows the unique roles they played in Shakespeare life. His affair with his male friend, most likely the Earl of Southampton, was ‘nourishment for his soul’, and reached beyond lust and physical comfort (the basis of the affair with his mistress) to fulfill his spiritual and cerebral needs.

Textual Notes

Sonnet 144, along with Sonnet 138, appears in Shakespeare’s collection called The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). The following is the text as found in The Passionate Pilgrim:

Two Loves I have, of Comfort and Despaire,
That like two Spirits do suggest me still;
My better Angell is a Man (right faire),
My worser spirite a Woman (colour’d ill).
To winne me soone to hell, my female evill
Tempteth my better Angell from my side,
And would corrupt my Saint to be a Devill,
Wooing his purity with her faire pride.
And whether that my Angell be turnde feend,
Suspect I may, (yet not directly tell:
For being both to me: both to each friend,
I ghesse one angel in anothers hell;
The truth I shall not know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad Angell fire my good one out.

Or:

A sonnet that is considered by many to be the key to understanding Shakespeare’s attitude to love. It plays out the old battle between spiritual and physical love, a subject which had been the jousting field of argument for centuries. The poet seems to ally himself with the traditionalists who believed that the nature of woman was such as to corrupt pure love. In Platonic terms she was the material dross of which bodies were made, but the spiritual ideal love was independent of her, and true love could really only subsist between males. In terms of Christian theology, woman was the devil and was responsible for the fall since she had tempted man to eat forbidden fruit. Any form of congress with a woman was corrupting, and the ideal life would always be one of chastity and abstention from sex. The doctrine was alleviated slightly by devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, but despite giving birth she was a virgin and worshipped as the Blessed Virgin Mary. A mitigation to this view was the reality of life itself, which always returned to insist that the majority of men would continue to desire women.

The poet here follows the traditional line that woman is the female evil, her sexuality being a threat not only to the poet who loves her, but also to the pure spirit of love of which his friend is the icon. The battle is between heaven and hell, between the spirit and the body, and the body seems to triumph over the spirit just as it does in Sonnet 129, and less agonisingly in 151. The net result is that the poet is flung into a rage of jealousy and, like Othello, his imagination runs riot as he thinks of what the lovers must have done together:
Lie with her? Lie on her? – We say lie on her when they belie her. – Zounds, that’s fulsome. – Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief! – To confess and be hanged for his labour – first to be hanged, and then confess! I tremble at it.
Oth.IV.1.36-41.
This is the fevered imagination which guesses one angel in another’s hell and broods with frenzied misogyny on his sense of betrayal. But one presumes it had a less tragic outcome than the Othello story.

There is always some doubt about the autobiographical nature of these sonnets, although the majority of readers will inevitably take them to be personal accounts of suffering or elation. Even with a poem which we know to be based on an Italian or French original, such as Sidney’s sonnet to sleep:
Come Sleep! O Sleep!. The certain knot of peace!
we are reluctant to discount entirely the element of personal experience which we feel it portrays. Simply because another poet has already written similar thoughts on a subject does not preclude a native poet from taking up the theme. And since love is so universal an experience, one should be willing to accept that a sincere account of it might be inspired by another’s similar experience, even in different climes and countries. To a certain extent Shakespeare’s portrayal of the dark lady as the villain of the piece, the one who dirties and corrupts the purity of his love, is similar to the reaction to Petrarchism which the continent had experienced, a reaction which denied that the beloved was a goddess and likened her instead to a Medusa, a Gorgon, or to other mythological murderesses. It is not so far a jump from that attitude to the one here portrayed, namely that the beloved mistress is a Circe who entraps all men and turns them into swine. The difference here is that of emphasis, in that the poet focuses on the effect on himself as the party in the middle. He loves a woman, but she has betrayed him like the worst of trulls. Not only that, but she now seeks to seduce from him the lofty and perfect ideal of love which, he is ready to declare, sustained his life and made it beautiful. Unfortunately the sense of loss is distorted by the jealousy which pervades it, the thwarted desire which is forced to concede that the woman no longer wants him, or his body, but she wants his companion, and him only perhaps for a time. So that the woman herself becomes personified as evil, the bad angel who is on the side of the devil and is responsible for all the world’s woes.

This may be too extreme a view, and perhaps readers would prefer to believe that Shakespeare was writing in his usual mode of dramatic fiction, rather than to accept that he was a tortured misogynist with leanings to homosexuality. Yet commentators tend to think that this sonnet is deadly serious. (See for example HV p.605). I hope my illustration at the top of the page might in some way lighten the heaviness, and although I cannot offer an alternative interpretation, I think it important to remember that the mind can oscillate between extremes, and that a temporary despair of human redemption need not be a permanent and lasting feature of one’s life. Shakespeare’s women in most of the later plays were superb examples of humanity and few elements of the dark lady can be found in them. In fact one might say the same of most of the earlier plays, so that if the episodes here depicted were taken from his life we must not despair entirely, but take comfort from the fact that he lived through them and still retained his idealism.

Below are shown the Passionate Pilgrim version of this sonnet, and Drayton’s Sonnet 20 from his ‘Idea’ sequence of sixty three sonnets, which has many similarities to this one. I have also included sonnets 41 and 42, which are addressed to the youth and probably relate to the same relationship which is discussed here. They are given at the bottom of this page.

DRAYTON SONNET 20

An evil Spirit (your Beauty) haunts me still,
Wherewith, alas, I have been long possessed;
Which ceaseth not to attempt me to each ill,
Nor give me once, but one poor minute’s rest.
In me it speaks, whether I sleep or wake:
And when by means to drive it out I try,
With greater torments then it me doth take,
And tortures me in most extremity.
Before my face, it lays down my despairs,
And hastes me on unto a sudden death:
Now tempting me, to drown myself in tears;
And then in sighing to give up my breath.
  Thus am I still provoked to every evil,
  By this good wicked Spirit, sweet Angel-Devil.

From Michael Drayton’s sonnet sequence Idea. This sonnet was published in 1599, the same year as The Passionate Pilgrim, a pirated edition of some of Shakespeare’s poems. It printed the version of Sonnet 144 which is shown below.

FROM THE PASSIONATE PILGRIM   
Based on the version given in Booth, SB.p.496, which is taken from the Rollins Variorum edition: A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare The Sonnets, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 Vols, Philadelphia, 1944. I do not have access to the original PP version, but I presume that all the s characters, other than capitals and terminal letters, would have been elongated s, as in the Q version.

Two loues I haue, of Comfort and Despaire,
That like two Spirits, do suggest me still:
My better Angell, is a Man (right faire)
My worser spirite a Woman (colour’d ill.)
To win me soone to hell, my Female euill
Tempteth my better Angell from my side:
And would corrupt my Saint to be a Diuell,
Wooing his purity with her faire pride.
And whether that my Angell be turnde feend,
Suspect I may (yet not directly tell:)
For being both to me: both, to each friend,
I ghesse one Angell in anothers hell:

  The truth I shall not know, but liue in dout,

Or, from David West:

Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser sp’rit a woman coloured ill.                     4

To win me soon to hell my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.                        8

And whether that my angel be turned fiend

Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,

But being both from me, both to each friend,

I guess one angel in another’s hell.                             12

Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

I have two loves. The better angel ‘is a man right fair,’ the worser spirit

   is ‘a woman coloured ill.’

To put me in hell the female has seduced my better angel to corrupt him

  and made him a devil.

With what success I do not know, but they are together,

  and I guess he is in her  hell.

I will not know ‘till my bad angel fire my good one out.’

In this, ‘the most merciless passage in English literature’ according to George Bernard Shaw, cited by Rollins (1944), logic rules. The first quatrain introduced the two spirits; the second describes the activities of the evil female and the peril of the better angel; the third wonders whether this good angel is already a devil in hell, the home of the bad angel; in 13-14 S will know the answer when the bad angel ejects the good.

1-4 S has two loves – the young man and the Black Lady. The identifications are confirmed in lines 3 and 4. His ‘better angel is a man right fair,’ and ‘the worser sp’rit sa woman coloured ill’ (how changed from the raptures of 127 and 132). The young man is an angel throughout, and a saint in 7, whereas the woman, ‘the worser sp’rit,’ is a female evil in 5, a bad angel in 14 and, by implication, a devil in 7, a fiend in hell in 9 and 12.

These two spirits ‘suggest’ him, meaning that they tempt him, a rare use of the verb with a personal object (OED 2a, ‘to prompt (a person) to evil); but occurring where Mowbray incited the enemies of the Duke of Gloucester in Richard II 1.1.101, ‘did suggest his soon-believing adversaries.’ In line 2 ‘spirits’ is two syllables, but in line 4 it is one, resembling ‘sprite.’ Neither here nor at 86.5 – ‘Was it his sp’rit, by spirits taught to write’ – need there be any reason for the difference except metrical convenience, but in each case the shorter version is applied to the inferior sp’rit.

5-8  In 134.1 and 13-14, S conceded that he had lost the man he loved, but despite that he still dreads losing him.  For him this would be to enter hell. To call an evil spirit ‘a female evil’ is strange. Part of the explanation may be the need for a rhyme for ‘devil.’ She is seducing the young man, but this is expressed in Christian terms. She ‘Tempeth my better angel from my side.’ Just so ‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil.’ (Luke 4:1-2). Embittered by his experience of love, S is thinking more and more in religious terms (141.14, 142.1-2 and 6, and 146).

While she becomes an evil, the young man becomes a saint, and his purity is opposed to the lady’s foul pride, where pride is not only arrogance but also ostentation of dress, ornament or behaviour (see 99.3). This purity does not tally with the fierce denunciations of the young man’s sexual promiscuity in 93.6, for instance, but it is not impossible that S should think away the pains of his old love in the trauma of the new. The greater evil dries out the lesser. Alternatively S is showing the flag of truce to the young man, and angling to turn him against the Black Lady.

9-12  S suspects that the woman may have succeeded in changing the young man into a devil. S cannot be certain by direct observation because they are not with him but both together, each being a friend to the other. In these poems friendship often implies a sexual relationship. In ‘both to each friend’ the dense wording makes the syntax obscure, but the repetition of ‘both’ stresses their closeness and isolates S. He does not know that the young man is a fiend in hell and suffering its torments, but it is a reasonable guess, since he is with a devil, and devils live in hell. This is plausible in human terms. A rejected lover might well torture himself by imagining how his previous lovers live together, casting one as a villain corrupting and tormenting the other.

13-14  Will S ever know whether the young man is already in hell? Only if the two angels cease to love each other and the young man comes back to him. The gulf between this prosing and the final couplet is where the poetry lives. Line 13 expresses the agony of not knowing, but 14 has two revealing twists. The first is ‘till.’ At this moment he does not think of ‘if.’ She is unlikely to keep a lover for long, and the young man will come back to him.

S does not speak plainly of a break in the liaison of the two angles, but finds an astonishing image. ‘Till my bad angel fire my good one out.’ He assumes that she will reject him, but ‘fire’ is difficult to place. The first thought is that they are now living in hell and that she will soon shoot the good angel out of in a burst of hellfire, but the line has attracted a large set of bawdy interpretations, presented in Kerrigan (1986, 60). Scholars start from seeing ‘hell’ as the vagina, and not only here but also in 119.2 and 129.14. The evidence for this is the denunciation of women in King Lear 4.5.124-6, where the gods possess only that part of women’s body above the waist: ‘Beneath is all the fiend’s. There’s hell, there’s darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, burning scalding, stench, consumption. Fie, fie fie; pah, pah!’ This evidence does not make the case. The raving of a deranged old man does not establish the meaning of words. Hell does not mean the vagina in English. Here the doubt is whether the young man is by now a devil living in hell, not whether he is in the act of sexual intercourse, and there is no call to imagine him being shot from her vagina. When the liaison of the angels reaches its end, and it is natural that the one will stay in her home in hell, and natural the other will be ejected, S visualizes the raging flames belching from the mouth of hell and carrying the good angel with them. The bawdiness of 135, 136, and 143.13 does not belong in this sonnet, where comfort struggles vainly against despair.”

And finally:

Autobiographical Interpretations

Michelle Burnham adopts the nineteenth century theories, that Shakespeare’s sonnets contain autobiographical information about him, in order to explore the novel Ulysses. Through her examination into Joyce’s use of the poems, the reader can discover the mindset of the nineteenth century Shakespeare reader. Burnham affirms that critics of the past believed that Shakespeare was caught in a love triangle between a fair boy and dark woman in her article, ““Dark Lady and Fair Man”: The Love Triangle in Shakespeare’s Sonnet and Ulysses” Stephen Booth reinforces this argument by stating that in line 7 “my saint” “is [written] in the courtly love tradition, in which poets customarily spoke about their beloveds in the manner and language of… worshipers to, or about, saints.” Harvey Stanborough claims that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144 discusses, not a bisexual relationship between the author and “a man right fair” and “a woman coloured ill,” but rather it reveals Shakespeare’s internal conflict as an artist. He proposes “that it was actually addressed to a much broader, general audience and is an attempted explanation of his own artistic mind.” To him, the two loves in the sonnet embody two passions which pull at Shakespeare’s mind in opposing directions: “the speaker is explaining that he has two passions: a passion (desire) for comfort, and a passion (need) for despair” He uses a less edited version of the sonnet to assert that the first line of the poem makes a clear distinction between passions rather than lovers. He uses “Two loves I have, of Comfort and Despaire” to show that the separation of the comma “contend[s] that the two loves he mentions are not people at all, but the two sides–light and dark–of his creative personality.”

Stephen Booth argues that the editing of the comma “has no effect on the logic of the line.” Stanborough furthers his argument by “argu[ing] that he [Shakespeare] is introducing us to the good side of himself, the side that psychologists call the ‘presenting self,’…Being a male, he naturally describes the “better Angell” as masculine; he also describes it as ‘right faire,’… to signify the light of goodness.”

To explain the presence of the “dark lady,” Stanborough asserts that she is the good self’s exact opposite: “The first was masculine, so this one is necessarily characterized as feminine; the first was ‘faire,’ or light, so this one is ‘colour’d ill.’” The entire argument is based in the fact that Stanborough believes that, in order to have creative insight, artist’s mental divisions between depression and joy. Booth exposes the underlying sexual nature of the poem in line 12 where it states “one angel in another’s hell.” He talks about the work of Ingram and Redpath when they discuss the meanings used for hell in the time Shakespeare was writing. They wrote that “several meanings appear to be present: … such a position was often used as a pretext for a sexual tumble; ‘hell’ is probably also… the female sexual organ” in which case “‘one angel’ is the man, and ‘another’ is the woman” clearly engaging in sex.

Clara Longworth de Chambrun writes, “None who hears the cry of remorse and anguish in Shakespeare’s poems can doubt that their author traversed an period of great moral suffering. The serene atmosphere of his later work seems to attest that he came through the fire tempered and ripened. The facts also sustain this hypothesis and explain his Life’s Philosophy. ‘Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither, ripeness is all,’” De Chambrun describes how the W.H. theory originated. Thomas Thorpe, a “pirate publisher,” published a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets with the following inscription, “To the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets, Mr. W.H.,”. De Chambrun criticizes the initials and she does not believe in following the Herbertist (William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke in 1623) theory, rather she writes of “graver critics” seeing the letters standing for Will Hall, a trafficker of manuscripts and a favorite of Thorpe, the “Piratical Publisher” De Chambrun continues, if the Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert, was Mr. W.H., then the critics who believe the dark lady to be Mary Fitton (known mistress) would be incorrect, because Mary Fitton was a blonde.

Religious Interpretations

There is a Christian element present in Sonnet 144. Shakespeare refers to the man and woman as angels. Helen Vendler believes that the boy represents salvations while the woman is sin. “Q1 offers the familiar Christian model of the better angel and the worser spirit, both prompting the speaking, but transforms these spirits into loves, and gives them names deriving from theology: comfort (salvation) and despair (the unforgivable sin). The iconographic description fair/ colored ill supports the Christian model of angel and devil.”. The bad angel comes between the poet and the good angel. “Q2 while beginning with the Christian presumption that the bad angel wants to win [the speaker] soon to hell, slides away from the motive in lines 7-8, as a witty new version of the old plot emerges; the bad angel looses interest in the speaker, and turns her interest to the better spirit”. Sonnet 144 reflects Shakespeare’s relationships with young boy and the dark lady through the use of Christian images.

Homoeroticism in Sonnet 144

Shakespeare addresses many of his sonnets to a young male, whom many have assumed to be identical with Mr. W.H., the person to whom the Sonnets as a whole are dedicated. Scholars debate about the nature of Shakespeare’s relationship with his male companion and question whether it was a close friendship or a romantic love. The sonnets indicate that a woman who Shakespeare describes as the dark lady comes between the poet and Mr. W.H. Sonnet 144 addresses this conflict.

Critics have been unsuccessful at pinpointing the exact identity of Mr. W.H. Douglas Trevor points out that the young boy mentioned in the sonnets may not be a specific person: “Scholars puzzled over the identity of the speaker’s male friend, debating whether or not he is one male or a composite, rooted in real life or a purely literary conjuring”. Scholars developed a few possibilities for the identity of Mr. W.H such as William Herbert and Henry Wriothesley. Critics have also wondered about the woman who came between Shakespeare and the boy: “And of course there is the dark lady, identified alternatively as a nameless aristocrat, a commoner, Queen Elizabeth, her maid of honor Mary Fitton, the London prostitute Lucy Negro, the poet Aemilia Lanyer, and so on.”.

The identities of these two characters are still in question but modern scholars tend to focus more on the sexual eroticism and implication of homosexuality in the Sonnets: “The reality of the poet’s purported bisexual identity now figuring more prominently than any speculation about real figures with whom Shakespeare might have actually been involved, amorously or otherwise”.On the other hand, there are critics who view Shakespeare’s relationship with the young boy as a friendship rather than romantic love. This is the view that K.D. Sethna holds: “The problem, of course, is the two main characters round whom Shakespeare’s Sonnets exult and agonize with a passionate quixotism of friendship and a frantic fever of love- or, as G. Wilson Knight sums up in the current jargon, “homosexual idealism and heterosexual lust’”.John Berryman, on the other hand, understands the first line of Sonnet 144 to be Shakespeare’s way of confessing his romantic relationship with the boy and the dark lady: “This is the sonnet of which the poet John Berryman remarked, in his comments on Lowell in The Freedom of the Poet, ‘When Shakespeare wrote [“Two lovers I have”] reader, he was not kidding”. Helen Vendler agrees with Berryman’s analysis: “Sonnet 144 has an air of confession”.

If evaluated through queer hermeneutics, Sonnet 144 can appear to have homoerotic overtones. For example, Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” is a critical analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnets that emphasizes their potential homoeroticism. Wilde believed in the theory that the young man addressed in the sonnets was an actor in Shakespeare’s troupe named Willie Hughes. The sonnets are thus a love letter from Shakespeare to Willie Hughes. Wilde writes, “[Shakespeare] finds that what his tongue had spoken his soul had listened to, and that the raiment that he had put on for the disguise is a plague-stricken and poisonous thing that eats into his flesh, and that he cannot throw away. Then comes Desire, with its many maladies, and Lust that makes one love all that one loathes, and Shame, with its ashen face and secret smile,”. Wilde writes of Shakespeare’s mental and emotional battle of whom to love and how to love that person. Wilde writes specifically of Sonnet 144,“[Shakespeare] has his moments of loathing for her [the Dark Lady], for, not content with enslaving the soul of Shakespeare, she seems to have sought to snare the senses of Willie Hughes,”. In Sonnet 144, the second quatrain is full of dislike toward the Dark Lady, “To win me soon to hell, my female evil / … / and would corrupt my saint to be a devil,”.

However, Wilde recognizes that the Willie Hughes theory is that, just a theory. One will never know what Shakespeare was thinking when he was completing the sonnets. “Shakespeare’s heart is still to us a ‘a closet never pierc’d with crystal eyes,’ as he calls it in one of the sonnets. We shall never know the true secret of the passion of his life,”.

C.B. Cox writes, “In Elizabethan times the crime of buggery was punishable by death. Today this legal term for homosexual intercourse offends our ears, but its use draws attention to the abhorrence with which many Christians of the time (and since) regarded physical intimacies between men. In these circumstances it’s difficult to believe that Shakespeare would not only participate in an active homosexual relation with a handsome young man, but broadcast this affair to the world in sexually explicit sonnets pass round among his friends,”. The competing view of a bisexual Shakespeare conflicts with Wilde’s view. Cox bases his argument on the verb “to have.” He argues that why must the verb usage of “to have” mean sexually possess? Elizabethan people had trouble believing “had” meant to have sexually when it came to the young man, but Cox writes, “It’s difficult to refute Pequiney’s contention that in these three examples (Sonnet 52 Sonnet 75, and Sonnet 87) there is a sexual innuendo in ‘had,’ particularly when in Sonnet 129, which concerns heterosexual love for the Dark Lady, everyone agrees that there is such an implication,.] Elizabethan society feared homosexual desire, but embraced heterosexual conquests. Cox writes, “The poems may be based on personal experience but still that doesn’t actually prove that Shakespeare ‘had’ the youth. There’s an element of playfulness in the sexual innuendoes, a delight in wit as if Shakespeare is enjoying his own virtuosity and may not have expected to be taken literally… In his poems to the youth he may be using sexual innuendo as a kind of joke, a playful but at times almost serious hint that his affection may even extend to physical desire,”.

The Dark Lady in Sonnet 144

Henry David Gray writes on the complexity of views that readers have taken while contemplating the Sonnets. There are the Southamptonites who date the sonnets from 1592–1596, believe the first 125 sonnets to be in chronological order, the dark lady being Elizabeth Vernon, and the Rival Poet to be Drayton. Gray continues with the next group of critics being Pembrokists, dating the sonnets from 1598 to 1603, the dark lady being Mary Fitton, and the Rival Poet being Chapman. Gray believes, following with Sir Sidney Lee, that the Sonnet are literary exercises, it is important to figure who the dark lady is, that W.H. is not the youth addressed in the first 125 sonnets, the sonnets are in no chronological order, and he had no idea who the rival poet was. Gray proclaims his view, “I am a free lance among the Sonnets’ critics with a special set of conjectures all my own; though I do agree with Butler that that W.H. is William Hughes, with Acheson that the Dark Lady is Mistress Davanant, and with Montmorency that the Rival Poet is Spenser.”

—————————–

My next post:  Thursday evening/Friday morning – my introduction to our next play, The Tempest.

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2 Responses to “Two loves I have of comfort and despair,/Which like two spirits do suggest me still…”

  1. Mahood says:

    I used to think Sonnet 30 (‘When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/I summon up remembrance of things past…’) was (of his sonnets I’d read) my favourite…reading this (for the first time), I’m not so sure…

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