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It's Wednesday with the Bard again - today, a sonnet about things not being quite what they appear. Which I am about to unpack in a way that Cliffs Notes does not. (Incidentally, the Cliffs Notes "analysis" of this sonnet is rubbish.)

First the poem, then the chatter.

Sonnet 95
by William Shakespeare

How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
O, what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot,
And all things turn to fair that eyes can see!
    Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
    The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it's written in iambic pentameter (5 iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Discussion: This poem is usually read (fairly dryly) as a warning to the Fair Youth to watch his actions and reputation because people have been talking about him, and reminding him that though he is beautiful enough that others will overlook some of his flaws, he'd best not abuse that privilege too much.

I think it's one giant dick joke. Let's parse it by "section", shall we?

The first quatrain (or four lines) is all about how beautiful the young man who is the subject/object of the poem is, while mentioning that he has apparently been a very naughty boy. Probably sexually, as the rest of the poem lets on. The spot on "the beauty of [his] budding name" means that people have been talking, however, so obviously there's a bit of scandal afoot. Shakespeare appears to be merely wagging his finger at the youth, however, and not seriously chastising him.

I will note that the idea of a "spot" and a "canker" seems to indicate that the Fair Youth has gotten himself an STD. Just . . . putting that out there.

The second quatrain, in which the sex part becomes more clear. He talks about a person (probably a self-reference, actually - he is talking about the Fair Youth's escapades here, after all) who has been making lascivious comments on the Fair Youth's "sport", a word which here means "sexual activities", rather than, say, fencing or hunting. The use of "lascivious" is a pretty good indicator, as it means "lustful" or "inciting to or evoking lust". Of course he doesn't name the Youth (he never, ever names the Youth in any poem that's been preserved), but implies that if he did, it would confirm negative gossip or reports about him.

There's an additional sexual pun involved in the "tongue . . . making lascivious comments on thy sport", in that it could refer to actual application of the tongue to the Fair Youth's anatomy. (You're welcome?)

The third quatrain makes me suspect that the STD theory has merit - he is again praising the outward appearance of the Youth, noting that what people can see (in public) looks entirely beautiful and unblemished, as "beauty's veil covers every blot".

The final couplet contains a double-edged sword, so to speak. (Ba-dum-bump!) On the one hand, Shakespeare says that the Fair Youth needs to be mindful of the fact that his beauty makes it harder for folks to see any fault in him, and that he is privileged as a result and needs to be careful of not relying too much on that since it could fail him.

But what I really think he's saying is that the Fair Youth has a large, um, "privilege" (in his pants), and that if he doesn't watch where he sticks his "knife" (knives and swords and pens and staffs and the like being common penile references), it will contract something and be unable to function.

Hopefully that has not ruined the poem for you, but yeah - penile humor, in my opinion.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
TS Davis
May. 12th, 2016 03:21 pm (UTC)
As if
"Hopefully that has not ruined the poem for you..."
I always imagine teens studying the Bard finding your posts, and can unequivocally say, No. This post has ruined NOTHING.

Pretty much everything the Bard said was a penis joke. Or a butt joke. Because, English. Olde. That's what they mostly DID.
May. 13th, 2016 12:25 am (UTC)
Re: As if
I hope teens find and enjoy. I know for a fact that one of Sara's friends passed her college English lit class because of my posts about the plays.

And the earnestness and kid gloves with which he is treated in some commentaries is amazing - and this is QUITE OBVIOUSLY about an STD, and/or a sexual scandal. Yet you won't readily find that anywhere.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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