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Shakespeare Saturdays: Sonnet 25

Shakespeare saturdays

Happy Holidays and happy Boxing Day! Here’s a short post about sonnet 25 to round of this year’s Shakespeare Saturdays.

DividerSonnet 25

Let those who are in favour with their stars,
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye;
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for worth,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
   Then happy I, that love and am beloved
   Where I may not remove nor be removed.

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Sonnet 25 is a rather beautiful and intricate poem. It has astrological and natural imagery and, perhaps, a reference to Essex’s Rebellion.

In the first quatrain, the Speaker contrasts those who are fortunate – whether by the astrological influence of stars or the social influence of their superiors, who could also be referred to as stars – with those who do not receive such public recognition, like himself. Nevertheless, Shakespeare (or the speaker) realises that he too can revel in what they honour most. Joy, in this line, is used as a verb which seems very odd to us now but it is an archaic form of joy. John Kerrigan notes the echo of the prologue to Romeo and Juliet in the astrological metaphor of the first quatrain and he suggests that the image severs reward from justice, making fortune a mere caprice

The speaker moves on to make use of the metaphor of the marigold to explain that those who are fortunate are only able to display their pride  as long as the sun favours them. Katherine Duncan-Jones notes that the Elizabethans knew the marigold as a flower that opened in the presence, and closed in the absence, of the sun, and Shakespeare uses this idea to note that even a warrior famed for a thousand victories could be stripped of his titles and honours – and eventually forgotten entirely – if only once foil’d. 

In the final couplet, the speaker notes that he is happy because the mutual love between him and his beloved would not change because of his status. I love this ending because the speaker recognises that it is love and happiness – rather than status and wealth – that truly matter in life.

As for the allusion to Essex’s Rebellion, they rest mostly on the third quatrain about the warrior who falls from grace after one defeat. However, in 1961, James Blair Leishman argued that the poem was more likely to have been written shortly after Essex’s return from Ireland in 1599, rather than his execution in 1601, and that the allusions are to this moment rather than his actual downfall. As always, Shakespeare’s allusions cannot be entirely decoded by historians and literary critics today because we just don’t know when most of the sonnets were written.

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I actually really like this sonnet! I love Shakespeare’s use of the marigold metaphor and I enjoy the astrological references too, even if they are rather simple. The final couplet is beautiful, yet simple, and it has a rather beautiful meaning.


That’s it for the Shakespeare Saturdays of 2020! I’ll be back in 2021 with more surface level sonnet analysis, brief introductions to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and more Shakespeare-related stuff.

This post does not contain affiliate links.

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