Sonnets for Advent 12: Sonnet 33

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It has been suggested, by Michael Wood and others, that today’s sonnet evokes the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, with a pun on ‘sun’ and ‘son’. Hamnet died in August 1596 at the age of 11, just as the sun in this sonnet ‘was but one hour mine.’

As compelling as this reading may seem at first, the problem comes when one tries to reconcile the words ‘disdaineth’ and ‘stain’ in relation to Shakespeare’s own son. These seem to me inappropriate words to describe the effect of a strong and yet tragically broken parental bond.

Perhaps it’s best to focus on the musicality of this sonnet and its evocation of images from the natural world which, after all, don’t have to have a double meaning.

It’s read by Ivy Calvert who has directed many plays over many years for The People of Stratford theatre group. She is also a voice and drama coach and used to work for The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Sonnet 33
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth:
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

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Listen to the same sonnet being read by a student at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

You might like to treat yourself to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s own, exclusive edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited by our Honorary President, Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E., and beautifully printed by Oxford University Press. Find out more by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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