Cheers! This series opens with the rival poet sonnets, which run from 78 to 86, with the interruption of 81. Sonnet 78 – the beloved's beauty enhances the poetry of other poets, "Have added feathers to the learned's wing And given grace a double majesty." But this poet has no poetry but that which is inspired by you: "But thou art all my art . . ." This doubling of “art” is antanaclasis, a homonymic pun, the repetition of a word in different sense. The other poets have their art ornamented by the beloved's beauty, but this poet has no poetry at all without the beloved. Booth glosses the line as "the beloved's being and the speaker's art are one and the same." 79 – Sonnet 53 envisions the beloved as the Platonic source of all beauty, Adonis and Helen were lesser imitations of him; in this sonnet, whatever graces the rival poet shows in his work derive from the beloved. Whatever virtue can be found in his work was taken from the subject in the first place. Booth points out the internal rhyme in the opening two lines: "alone did call" and "alone had all." 80 – Booth writes: "This sonnet uses many words used elsewhere in sexual senses . . .; none of them is activated here, but their concentration gives the poem vague sexual overtones." The poet and his rival are ships on the great ocean that is the beloved. Shakespeare's boat is a "saucy bark, inferior far to his," and because it has a small draught it can exist in the shallows of the lover's favor; the rival's "tall" ship "upon your soundless deep doth ride . . ." 81 is nine squared, a single sonnet break from the rival poet series, the last of 'the climacteric sonnets' (along with 43, 63, and 77, believed to be numerologically significant ages). The poet looks ahead to the day when both he and the lover are dead, he will be forgotten but the lover will live on the verse of the poet. The mannered humility of the previous rival poet sonnets are gone, now the poet promises the lover immortality in his verses. We may find ourselves actively identifying with the poet's readers of the future: " . . . eyes not yet created shall o'er-read; And tongues to be your being shall rehearse, When all the breathers of this world are dead; You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen, Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men." 82 & 83 – On the theme of the artistry that the rival poet brings to his descriptions of the beloved, but because the subject's beauty is perfect, the elaborate praises have the effect of killing it. Shakespeare describes the beloved plainly, because his beauty needs no elaboration. The second of these poems seems to suggest that the lover mistook the poet's lack of extravagant praise as a slight, but the poet knows his restraint issues from the futility of using rhetoric to enhance the lover's true virtues. 84 – Continues the theme of the previous sonnets in noting the futility of writing flowery poetry about that which is beyond comparison. And the praise the other poets lavish on the youth, and the praise the youth bestows on the other poet(s), cheapen the praises of both of them, and only encourages more false praise from the other poet. The first four lines are pregnant with suggestions but "ambiguous, complex, opaque and elusive all at the same time." ( from a good site for the sonnets: (Shakespeare's Sonnets ) Booth suggests that the puzzling lines are a "stylistic palimpsest." 85 – The rival poet poet writes so beautifully (words and perhaps calligraphy, too), that Shakespeare can only stand by tongue-tied: "I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words, And like unlettered clerk still cry 'Amen'" This recalls Richard II: "God save The King! Will no man say 'Amen'?/ Am I then both priest and clerk? Well then, Amen." The rival speaks with his grand words, the poet shows his devotion wordlessly. 86 – The last of the rival poet series, and Shakespeare tells the youth he is not blocked from writing by the rival's skill, or by the spirits of past great writers that visit the rival at night and inspire him to write better than the reach of human talent. None of that caused him to lose heart; but when the youth looked with favor on the rival's poem, "Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine." Oxford, like the playShakespeare notes I mentioned earlier, like Chapman as the rival poet, in part because Chapman claimed to have been inspired by Homer when he translated his works; Booth likes Chapman as the leading candidate "because he wrote both pompously and well." 87 – Written as though the bond between the poet and the lover has already been broken, the poet was never worthy of him, and the whole affair was like a dream from which he has now awakened. The sonnet opens: "Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing, And like enough thou know'st thy estimate," The Oxford edition notes "a sardonic edge here ('and don't you just know it')" 88 – 89 -90 Three linked sonnets expanding on the theme of 87 (and 49), looking forward to the day when the youth will reject the poet, and the poet will take the lover's part, expanding upon all the poet's faults and assuming all the faults are his own, again taking the other's part against himself. 89 itemizes ways in which he will help the youth make him look bad. "For thee, against my self I'll vow debate, For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate." In 89 we have: "Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt," usually taken to mean, Announce a fault of mine and I will demonstrate it to make you look good, although a minority of scholars see evidence of Shakespeare's own infirmity in the line, and – more interestingly – Booth sees it as referring to the writing of poetry, " . . . metrically clumsy verses are called lame or said to halt . . . metric units are called feet." The closing couplet of 89 is: "For thee, against my self I'll vow debate, For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate." And 90 opens by expanding on those lines: "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now" And begs the youth that when the time comes for him to be dumped, he should do it right away, not at the end of a string of minor rejections. "If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last, When other petty griefs have done their spite," 91-92-93 Three linked sonnets on the theme of the love of the beloved being a greater treasure than anything else, and how that makes the poet vulnerable to having nothing if the beloved turns from him. In 92 the poet says he will die as soon as the beloved turns his affections away from him, so he can't be troubled by the youth's inconstancy, he'll die as soon as he is slighted. But then he wonders if he lover might be false to him without his knowing. Booth notes that 92 contains many words and themes found in Two Gentlemen of Verona. "Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not." This could apply to the past, present or future – the speaker does not know if he already has, is currently being, or will in the future be betrayed. 93 supposes that youth is false, and the poet must live "Like a deceived husband," because the youth's face will only show love, even if his heart is false; like Eve's apple, beautiful but evil. Booth calls 93 "a stylistic mirror of the speaker's indecision," constructed so the reader is constantly swinging between positive and negative responses. The poem opens "They that have power to hurt, and will do none . . . Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow; They rightly do inherit heaven's graces." Past interpretations tended to see this as praising a detached and cool personality, capable of moving others while remaining unmoved himself; but more recent scholarship has tended to see it in the context of the surrounding sonnets, as speaking of a split between the outward beauty of the youth and his fickleness. "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." = the poem's final line, proverbial, also appears word for word in the anonymous play "The Reign of King Edward the Third" (1596). 95 – 96 – The poet warns the youth of the dangers to his reputation. The youth is so splendid that even reports of his bad behavior (sexual infidelities are suggested) are given a positive spin just by being associated with him, "beauty's veil doth cover every blot." The poet warns the beloved that misuse of his privilege will ruin him: "The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge." Lust is suggested earlier in the poem, so the final line has sexual suggestions, like this exchange in Hamlet: OPHELIA You are keen, my lord, you are keen. HAMLET It would cost you a groaning to take off mine edge. 96 expands on the idea that the youth's beauty transforms his wantonness to charm. The poet wonders how much success a wolf would have if he could look like a sheep (a wolf in sheep's clothing), as the lover looks like a beautiful and virtuous young man and could corrupt others with his power. The sonnet's final couplet is identical to 36, although with a somewhat different meaning. "But do not so, I love thee in such sort, As thou being mine, mine is thy good report." In 36, the emphasis is on the beloved not losing his virtue, in 96 the emphasis is on not deceiving other lovers – in both cases, the poet is so closely identified with the beloved it reflects on him, too. I have nine of our eleven readers' selections – still waiting on a couple.