Shakespeares sonnets Sonnet 124 If my dear love were but the child of state William

Shakespeare (1599) Sonnet 124 brings the reader near the conclusion of the speaker's passion for the young man, sometimes called the lovely boy, expressed in a mixture of social, religious, mercantile, and gardening metaphors. He proclaims his love's organic and self-sustaining nature until the final couplet, when he calls on rather suspect witnesses to his natural sentiments.

In the sonnet's first quatrain, the speaker reveals that his love is not motivated by the beloved's position in society and, therefore, is not a passing fancy or a self-serving passion. It matters not whether "[w]eeds among weeds or flowers with flowers [are] gathered"

(l. 4). The gardener cannot keep the weeds out from among the flowers no matter how hard he tries. Love, like the English garden, is subject more to nature than nurture. The speaker has come into his love naturally, without regard to human-created distinctions that call some "weeds" and others "flowers." Human intrusion will not undo his love.

In the second quatrain, the speaker asserts that his feeling of love does not come or go by chance or by "fashion" (l. 8). Society's whims do not affect his love. The contrived expectations or dictates of "th'inviting time" which enslaves people has no power over his love (l. 8).

The third quatrain immediately declares the strength of his love in terms both religious and mercantile. His love is not a "heretic / Which works on leases of short-numbered hours" (ll. 9-10). It is not a product of recanting cowardice, a quick and sure means to possessing his beloved. Rather, his love grows from its own prudent nature, "all alone and hugely politic," without artifice or fear of any external interference (l. 11). The last line of the quatrain reinforces its natural state once again. In the garden, love grows in a natural harmonious balance, neither too hot nor too moist, the perfect balance of the humors.

The concluding couplet calls this natural state of his love's engendering and its self-nourishing quality into question, again using the language of both religion and mercantilism. These final lines conjure up false religious conversions. Here the speaker summons to "witness" those who have feigned religious conversions at the end of their life and, by so doing, he turns his revelation of naturally balanced, unimpeded, self-sustaining love on its head (l. 13). The speaker's love, which grew naturally from within, undeterred and peerless, can be recognized and verified only by those questionable converts.

The nature of his love has, in the end, left the speaker in dangerous company at the end of the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth I, though hardly a religious zealot or a rigid enforcer as was her half sister, Mary I, did assert her position as head of the infant Church of England. Recusants would and could be punished, and unrepentant Catholics were executed, especially in the last decades of her reign. Is the speaker then saying that his love is, in the end, easily converted, or, in the language of the market, easily exchanged?

See also Shakespeare, William; Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

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