William Shakespeare – Sonnet 91
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks and horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.
�The poet returns to a more relaxed mode, vaunting the richness and delight of his condition in possessing the youth’s love. It is a condition more blessed than that of all those who are engrossed in the latest fashionable pursuits. Hunting, hawking, equestrianism, jousting, fine clothes and all the other appurtenances of wealth are all surpassed by the possession of this one thing. But alas it is a possession which carries a dark side to it, for it is less secure than those other pursuits are, since the one who grants it may take it away at a whim and reduce the beneficiary to the extremes of distress. Therefore in thought he is wretched, or fears to be, even though he is possessed of a greater riches than any wealth could ever buy.
The 1609 Quarto Version
SOme glory in their birth,ſome in their skill ,
Some in their wealth,ſome in their bodies force,
Some in their garments though new-fangled ill:
Some in their Hawkes and Hounds,ſome in their Horſe.
And euery humor hath his adiunct pleaſure,
Wherein it findes a ioy aboue the reſt,
But theſe perticulers are not my meaſure,
All theſe I better in one generall beſt.
Thy loue is bitter then high birth to me,
Richer then wealth,prouder then garments coſt,
Of more delight then Hawkes or Horſes bee:
And hauing thee,of all mens pride I boaſt.
Wretched in this alone,that thou maiſt take,
All this away,and me moſt wretched make.
1. Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,Some glory in = some men take pride in, boast of, exult in etc. birth = family, descent, nobility of lineage. skill = knowledge, abilities.2. Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,body’s force = strength. Possibly a reference to the knightly pursuit of jousting is intended.3. Some in their garments though new-fangled ill;
new-fangled ill = badly made in line with the latest novelties and fashions ; bad, as a result of being new-fangled, i.e as a result of following all the latest fashions with avidity. OED.2. gives ‘new fashioned, novel’ for new-fangled. The fact of the garments being new-fangled is deemed to make them bad per se. new-fangled seems to be used mostly with a touch of disapprobation. There is probably here an echo from Wyatt, in a poem which also deals with desertion: It was no dream; I lay broad waking:
But all is turned thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go, of her goodness;
And she also to use new-fangledness.
But since that I unkindly so am served,
‘How like you this?’ – what hath she now deserved?
From Sir Thomas Wyatt 1503-42: They flee from me that sometime did me seek. See the Wyatt pages on this web site and the note to Sonnet 139 line 6.4. Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
This line and line 8 are thought possibly to derive from a passage in Xenophon’s Memorabilia a work of the 4th Century BC. Socrates is speaking and says ‘ I myself, Antiphon, just as another man might take pleasure from a good horse, or a dog, or a bird, I take even more pleasure from having good friends’. KDJ sees a biblical reference: ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God’. Psalm 20.7.
horse – probably a plural collective noun. Hawking, hunting and equestrianism were the three main activities of a gentleman of leisure of the time. Elizabeth shared these pastimes and especially loved riding. See the illustration below.5. And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,humour = character trait, personal whim, temperament, inclination, disposition. The word was much used in a technical sense in medicine and psychology.
his adjunct pleasure = its associated pleasure. adjunct appears to be a Shakespearian neologism, and is a Latinism for ‘joined to’.6. Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:Wherein it = in which it (humour);
above the rest = superior to all other potential delights and pleasures.7. But these particulars are not my measure,particulars = particular activities, as listed in 1-4 above; individual pleasures.
are not my measure = not within my aim, not part of my objective; not the standard by which I wish to be measured; not such as to satisfy me; not the measure which I use to judge happiness.8. All these I better in one general best.All these = all these pleasures and occupations;
I better = I surpass, I improve upon;
in one general best = by having one general thing which is the best of all those other possibilities. A statement of what this best thing is now follows.9. Thy love is better than high birth to me,This recapitulation of the objects listed in 1-4 is a rhetorical or poetic device known as correlatio, and was popular in sonneteering in the latter part of the 16th century. The poet here omits skill, body’s force and hounds in his recapitulation.10. Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,Wealth and rich garments are featured also in Sonnet 52. The connection between pride (i.e. display, showiness, grandeur) and garments is also implied there.
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special-blest,
By new unfolding his imprison’d pride. 52.
garments’ cost = the expense of maintaining a fancy wardrobe.11. Of more delight than hawks and horses be;than hawks and horses be – modern usage would require ‘are’.
12. And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:having thee = being loved by you, possessing you.
of all men’s pride I boast = I glory in that which all men, if they were fortunate enough to possess it, would have as their chief source of pride.13. Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst takeGBE contrasts the wretchedness of this couplet with the proud confidence of that of Sonnet 25:
Then happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
wretched = poor, miserable, dejected, outcast.14. All this away, and me most wretched make.
and me most wretched make = and make me most wretched, an object of pity and contempt. In Elizabethan times a wretch was likely to be a beggar or vagabond, an outcast, often a lunatic escaped from an asylum, and the word ‘wretched’ was somewhat more forceful than in modern usage. There seems to be a deliberate intention to have the word ‘wretched’ at the beginning and end of the couplet, to emphasise that it is a state that is all-embracing, and that there is no escape from it.