Lovely Boy Fair Youth Fair

LORD) The Lovely Boy—also called the Fair Youth or Fair Lord—is the ambiguous young man to whom the first 126 of Shakespeare's sonnets are dedicated.

The term derives from the first line of sonnet 126: "o thou my lovely boy who in thy power . . ." Scholars continue to debate the identity of the young man, with the main two contenders being Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, and William Herbert, earl of Pembroke. Both were William Shakespeare's patrons at one time, and Wriothesley in particular was considered good-looking. However, a host of other candidates have been suggested, including William himself, or a false persona devised solely as a publicity trick.

See also Dark Lady.

lover's complaint, a William Shakespeare (1591?) The date of actual composition of A Lover's Complaint is debatable, with scholarly opinions ranging from 1591 to 1604. Complicating the matter is its publication date of 1609 as an appendage to Shakespeare's sonnets and the persistent belief that the poem is only spuriously attributable to William Shakespeare. Consequently, the poem has long been marginalized both in the Shakespeare canon and in Shakespearean criticism.

A Lover's Complaint comprises 329 lines of iambic pentameter verse composed in 47 stanzas of rhyme royal. It is thought by some scholars to be stylistically and thematically reminiscent of Edmund Spenser's Pro-thalamion (1596), which was written in honor of the approaching double marriage of the ladies Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset. However, A Lover's Complaint is a much darker tale of a woeful young woman who has been seduced and abandoned by a charming and ruthless male suitor, rather than a celebratory commemoration of marriage.

The poem employs a series of increasingly inset narrators and layered narratives to tell its story. In the opening stanza, the poet begins by explaining that this "plaintful story" has come to him "[f]rom off a hill," the "concave womb" of which has "reworded" it "from a sist'ring vale" (ll. 1-2). The natural world is thus com-plicit in the storytelling, and the narrator stops to listen to its "double voice," whereupon he sees a distraught girl—a "fickle maid full pale" (l. 5)—destroying love tokens and disposing of them in a river.

Stanzas 2-8 offer a detailed description of the maid's appearance and behavior. She wears a "platted hive of straw" upon her head which confirms the pastoral setting. Using agrarian language, the narrator observes that while her beauty at first appears to be "spent and done," a closer inspection reveals that "[t]ime had not scythed all that youth begun" (l. 12). She cries into a handkerchief that has "conceited characters"—i.e., letters or images—embroidered upon it in silk. Her eyes shift their gaze from earth to sky, signaling her emotional distress by showing her "mind and sight" to be "distractedly commix'd" (l. 28). Her "slackly braided" hair falls out from her straw hat and hangs next to her "pale and pined cheek." One by one she removes "favors" from a basket—tearing letters ("folded schedules") and cracking rings before throwing them into the water along with her tears. Enraged, she curses the "false blood" with which some of the missives were written.

The ninth stanza introduces another character to this scene—a former courtier and now aged and "reverend man"—who also spots the maid and offers to listen to her tale to help "assuage" her "suffering ecstasy" (l. 69). In response to him, the girl assumes the role of narrator, and in stanzas 11-22 she describes the handsome looks and appealing nature of the seducer to whom she gave "all [her] flower" (l. 147). She details the "browny locks" of his curly hair and the "phoenix down" on his young face; his free-spirited demeanor and expert horsemanship; and, most crucially, the persuasive force of his "subduing tongue" (l. 120). He is so alluring, in fact, that he manages to enchant all types of people and bend them to his will, including a number of young women who have surrendered themselves to him. Thus, the narrator initially chooses to distance herself from him.

Nonetheless, the maid's passion and curiosity quickly prevail over her good judgment (stanzas 23-25), and when he "besiege[s]" her "city," she gives the young man an audience. His becomes the new narrative voice here as the cad declares his devotion for the maid and pleads his case to her. Skillfully he hinges his argument on honest admissions of his own charisma and irresistibility. Women, he claims, have given their hearts and bodies to him freely, and so they bear the responsibility for their own, and indeed for his, actions. Having been given a multitude of "fair gems enrich'd" and "deep-brain'd sonnets" (which symbolize more carnal and emotional female treasures), he will now unselfishly yield this entire fortune to the maid—as an obedient "minister" does to a deity (l. 229).

The young man's adoption of religious rhetoric at this point facilitates his segue into a story about a nun—a "sister sanctified, of holiest note" (l. 233)—whom he managed to "subdue" and to seduce out of her chosen seclusion, but whom he admires as a "valiant" woman among the "broken bosoms" that belong to him. The young man's narration ends there, and the maid resumes speaking. She explains to the old man that her "reason" was ultimately "poisoned" by the young man's show of tears and ornate speech, and that she was moved to tears herself—those which served only to "restore" him (l. 301). In the final stanzas, the maid laments her undoing at the hands of this artful scoundrel who "preach'd pure maid" to her (l. 315), but sorrowfully admits that she would probably be "new pervert[ed]" by him if he ever came around again (l. 329).

With its male-authored, female-voiced paradigm, A Lover's Complaint represents in its own right a popular and sophisticated variation on the early modern CoMplaint. Presenting something of a straightforward storyline, A Lover's Complaint rather defies multifarious interpretations of its meaning and structure. Consequently, critical approaches toward the poem itself tend to focus on linking and comparing it to other Shakespearean works, to other works of the same genre, and to the rhetorical and confessional literary and cultural trends of the period. Primarily, the question of authorship remains central to the small body of criticism on this poem. Scholars who argue in favor of Shakespeare having penned A Lover's Complaint call for the need to read the poem as a direct response and a literary complement to his sonnets—which on the whole reflect its themes of nature and sexual desire and of idolatrous love and agonizing loss, and most of which describe the poet's affection for a young gentleman of great beauty and high social rank. It was, after all, not uncommon in the period for longer poems, and specifically complaints, to accompany groups of sonnets. Conversely, scholars who doubt Shakespeare's authorship of this poem often cite as proof its presentation of too many words rarely used or not found at all in other Shakespearean works. Moreover, they

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