Sonnets for Advent 15: Sonnet 57

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Somehow it’s easy to imagine this sonnet being spoken by Kate in The Taming of the Shrew or by Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing; its tone is playfully sarcastic. Moreover, Sonnet 57 is overridingly dramatic (rather than lyrical) which makes it richly suggestive of a character and situation from one of the plays. But Sonnet 57 takes the addressee (a formal ‘you’ as opposed to an intimate ‘thou’) closer to what might be the speaker’s more truthful feelings from line 9 (the volta, or turning point) with mention of ‘jealous thought’ and the imagining of the addressee elsewhere making other people happy. Worryingly, there is the repetition of ‘slave’, qualified by that same slave being ‘sad’. The couplet turns the sonnet around into what might sound like total seriousness: the speaker is a fool for love, willing, ultimately, to forgive all in the name of love. We seem to move from Kate and Beatrice towards a tone of voice much more like Cleopatra’s by the end.

Sonnet 57 is read by my colleague, Elizabeth Dollimore.

Sonnet 57
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require;
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu.
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But like a sad slave stay and think of naught
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

Find out more about Shakespeare’s Sonnets via our free on-line course

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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