This sonnet is the narrative a poet proclaiming the magnificence of his muse and his talentless use of her. The first line reads: “Whist I alone did call upon thy aid”, “Aid” here can take on several meanings for example: “help” or “a loan. ” One definition that Shakespeare is noted as having coined according to the OED is “Anything by which assistance is given in performing an operation; anything helpful, a means or material source of help. esp. in pl. aids and appliances. ” “1597 SHAKES. 2 Hen. IV, I. iii. 4 Surmise Of Aydes incertaine should not be admitted. ”
Help in the OED is also synonymous with relief, cure, and remedy a definition which was also utilized by Shakespeare in 1611 in his Winter’s Tale “What’s gone, and what’s past helpe Should be past greefe. ” The very first definition for remedy in the OED is in fact cure and “what remedy? ” is defined as meaning “what help for it? ” as coined in the early sixteenth century and used by Shakespeare in 1598 in The Merry Wives of Windsor “Well, what remedy?.. what cannot be eschew’d, must be embrac’d.
In turn, cure, as used in a pharse coined by Chaucer , “out of all cure” is said to be defined as “beyond remedy” or “past help. ” “c1374 CHAUCER Troylus v. 713 And thus despeired out of alle cure She ladde here lyf, this woful creature. ” “My verse alone had all thy gentle grace” The words of particular interest here are “gentle” and “grace. ” “Gentle” had already acquired multiple definitions by Shakespeare’s day. There is oldest definition “noble”, gives a very standard meaning to the character the poet adores which would probably be most pleasing to the nobility as they are to be adored.
A similarly pleasing but slightly most ethereal take on the word would be the definition “of excellent breed or spirit”. Again the words “honourable” and “distinguished” come up. If performing to a more low-brow audience the Bard may have chosen to play up the now lesser know definition “shoemaker” in an attempt at satire. Other definitions that can be taken into consideration include “courteous”, “polite”, “cultivated”, “domesticated”, “tame”, “quiet”, “easily managed”, “soft”, “tender”, “pliant”, “supple”, “kind”, and “mild in disposition or behavior.
Some of these seem to imply that a woman worth adoration is a subservient one. “Grace” generally means by definition “the quality of producing favourable impressions; attractiveness, charm. ” However it has also been known to refer to the sister-goddess “regarded as the bestowers of beauty and charm, and portrayed as women of exquisite beauty. ”
Shakespeare used the term Grace in such a way in The Tragedy of Troylus and Cressida “Had I a sister were a Grace, or a daughter a Goddesse, he should take his choice. Of course, taking the word grace off of its pedestal, it can be known to just mean “thanks” or “permission. ” The next two lines should be discussed as a unit because they form a single thought. “But now my gracious numbers are decay’d And my sick Muse doth give another place. ” “Gracious numbers” what might that refer to? The term “number” hasn’t much room for interpretation but “gracious” is very interesting. “Gracious” is defined as “Of a character likely to find favour” more specifically “kindly, benevolent, [and] courteous.
If for some reason the poet wanted to take a more pompous stance, as in where “gentle” meant “shoemaker”, “gracious” could mean “Condescendingly kind, indulgent and beneficent to inferiors” it could be heightened further to the point of blasphemous pomposity if the poet chooses “Of the Deity, Christ, the Virgin Mary: Disposed to show or dispense grace, merciful, compassionate, benignant” as the definition supplying opportunity for a good laugh for the right audience, but keep the language encrypted enough to keep one’s head.
The next bit that paints a bit of imagery is “sick Muse. The initial synonyms that come to mind when given the word “sick” are “ill” or “unhealthy”, and “ill” actually appears in the first definition. However it can also mean “spiritually or morally ailing” or “morbid, enjoying sick humour” giving the phrase a less pathetic and more sinister twist. It could merely describe the Muse’s description as well. Shakespeare was the first to use sick in suck away in Romeo & Juliet “Be not her maid since she is envious, Her Vestal livery is but sick and Greene” here “sick” means “Of a sickly hue; pale, wan. ” “Muse” also has an interesting variable.
The initial assumption to a reader seeing as Shakespeare chose an uppercase “M” would be one of the daughters of Zeus from Greek mythology. That goes along with “noble” and “kindly” and the assumption that this is not a satire. However, an interesting ambiguity on the lowercase “m” “muse,” of which a listener to this sonnet would only be able to distinguish by the portrayal of the performer, is “bagpipe. ” “Bagpipe” is not only defined as an instrument but “an inflated and senseless talker;” Now to describe this woman as a “bagpipe” follows more with the satirical take.
So with a matter of mere presentation, a humble admirer and his becrippled goddess can be construed into a self-righteous braggart and an obscene gossiper. It is easy to assume that the poet is sincere based on the next coupled line “I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument Deserves the travail of a worthier pen. ” “Sweet-love” appears within sweet’s definition as “a term of affection for a beloved person. ”
All definitions of sweet have very positive connotations until you reevaluate definition 9c in the OED: “gentle” which takes us back to the previously utilized definition: “shoemaker” again possibly portraying a less desirable woman. Travail” refers to “labor”, but worthy can either mean “distinguished by good qualities” or “sufficiently heavy or severe… merited by default or wrong-doing. ” “Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent He robs of thee and pays it thee again” While invent has the neutral “create” as a definition, it also has a negative connotation when given the alternative “to fabricate, feign, ‘makeup’. ”
The remainder of the piece is the most laugh-worthy because it is so topically nice and yet it may seethe with sarcasm if given the second scenario. He lends thee virtue and he stole that word From thy behavior; beauty doth he give And found it in thy cheek; he can afford No praise to thee but what in thee doth live. Then thank him not for that which he doth say, Since what he owes thee thou thyself dost pay. ” This makes for the imagery of either a very humble, thankful admirer reminiscent of courtly love or a wretched mean shrew, who’s steaming at the ears at what she’s been told, all the while, being assured by her poet that he is merely reporting the facts as he sees them.