Sonnet 101

Shakespeare Sonnet 101

OH truant Muſe what ſhalbe thy amends,
For thy neglect of truth in beauty di’d?
Both truth and beauty on my loue depends:
So doſt thou too, and therein dignifi’d:
Make anſwere Muſe, wilt thou not haply ſaie,
Truth needs no collour with his collour fixt,
Beautie no penſell, beauties truth to lay:
But beſt is beſt, if neuer intermixt.
Becauſe he needs no praiſe, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuſe not ſilence ſo, for’t lies in thee,
To make him much out-liue a gilded tombe:
And to be praiſd of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office Muſe, I teach thee how,
To make him ſeeme long hence, as he ſhowes now.

Sonnet 101 follows on closely from Sonnet 100, its opening imitating the first sonnet of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella with its absent muse and the poet “biting my trewant pen.” Here the poet’s “truant Muse,” is absent from its appointed place and neglects its “office.” How shall it make reparation (“amends”) for its “neglect of truth,” specifically truth dyed or infused with colour by beauty (“in beauty di’d”)? Both “truth” and “beauty” depend on the poet’s beloved (“depends” is a singular verb with a plural subject, unless “truth and beauty” is one and thus singular). So also does the muse and in so doing it is made worthy (“dignified;” in Sonnet 84.8 the rival poet’s praise of the beloved’s name “dignifies his story;” normally it is the Muse that dignifies a poet’s lines). 1

The muse is commanded to respond (“Make answere Muse”), the poet asking whether it won’t by chance (“haply,” muses seemingly reply by fits and starts) confirm that, “Truth needs no collour with his colour fixt.” Since the colour of truth is already made fast, it needs no extra colouring. Truth being simple doesn’t need the “colours of Rhetorique.” 2 Beauty needs no small brush (“pensell”) to lay down truth, as paint is laid down by artists (and courtesans), or to colour the truth of beauty. Each, truth and beauty, is perfect unto itself (“best is best”), but only if it remain untinted by the other (“if neuer intermixt”). (By contrast in Sonnet 54.1-2 each compounds the other: “Oh how much more doth beautie beautious seeme, / By that sweet ornament which truth doth giue.”)

Will the muse remain unspeaking (“wilt thou be dumb”), because the beloved “needs no praise?” The poet’s admonition is stern: “Excuse not silence so.” It is the muse’s duty (“for’t lies with thee,” echoing the earlier “lay”) to render the youth everlasting, so that he will “out-liue a gilded tombe.” As with the “Guilded monument” of Sonnet 55, a “gilded tombe” is one overlaid with gold, but the suggestion of a ‘gilded tome’ cannot be dismissed, a register with gilding down its leading edge. The muse’s duty is to record the beloved, so that future ages might praise him (“to be prais’d of ages yet to be”).

The couplet is ambiguous: “To make” refers back either to the “office” of the muse or to the “I teach” of the poet. If the commas around, “I teach thee how,” are taken parenthetically, then “do thy office Muse  . . / . . To make;” if the commas are ignored, then “I teach thee how / To make.” The result is the same: the muse’s office or the poet’s example will register how the youth is, so that, despite “ages,” he will “seeme” in the distant future (“long hence”) to be what he now demonstrates (“as he showes now”).


101.1. Compare Michael Drayton, Matilda (London: James Roberts, 1594) A3v, “Shee by thy Muse, her fame from graue doth rayse, / And hie conceit, thy lines doth dignifie.”

101.2 Wilson 180. See Sonnets 82 and 83, commentary.