Sonnet 111

Shakespeare Sonnet 111

O For my ſake doe you wiſh fortune chide,                            with
The guiltie goddeſſe of my harmfull deeds,
That did not better for my life prouide,
Then publick meanes which publick manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receiues a brand,
And almoſt thence my nature is ſubdu’d
To what it workes in, like the Dyers hand,
Pitty me then, and wiſh I were renu’de,
Whilſt like a willing pacient I will drinke,
Potions of Eyſell gainſt my ſtrong infection,
No bitterneſſe that I will bitter thinke,
Nor double pennance to correct correction.
Pittie me then deare friend, and I aſſure yee,
Euen that your pittie is enough to cure mee.

Sonnet 111 opens with the poet instructing the youth and patron to remonstrate on his behalf with fortune (“doe you with fortune chide;” the misprint “wish” for “with” is apparently a compositor’s lapse of concentration, possibly caused by the “wish” of line 8). To ‘chide with fortune’ is a phrase found elsewhere in Shakespeare (see R3 2.2.35: “To chide with Fortune”). Fortune is a “guiltie goddesse,” a rendering of the classical epithet, “rea Fortuna.” She is responsible for (“guiltie . . of”) the poet’s actions that have caused harm (“my harmfull deeds”) and has cared for the poet only to the extent (“not better . . Then”) of providing “publick meanes which publick manners breeds;” “meanes” are both the way by which an income is earned and the income itself. (Since Shelley the line has often been interpreted as a Shakespearean lament at having to make ends meet through a public theatrical career.) The “public meanes,” provided by fortune, breed “public manners;” they require of him a public face or performance. If the friend were to chide fortune for providing only a public “meanes,” then, it is implied, the chiding would reveal that the friend has failed to provide alternative means. The result is that the poet’s name bears a mark of infamy or disgrace (“receiues a brand,” developed in Sonnet 112’s “Vulgar scandall stampt vpon my brow”). As well, his “nature is subdu’d / To what it workes in.” His nature is made subject to or submerged in (as brands are) his public work. It is “like the Dyers hand,” which in its work is immersed totally in dye and is thereby stained or infected. The simile conjures up an image of the poet’s hand full of rhetorical colours.

The sonnet does not observe the customary octet / sestet division: its second half opens with another imperative, “Pitty me then, and wish I were renu’de,” renewal carrying suggestions of patronage (Donne’s patroness will not “renew” him in “A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day”). The poet presents himself as “a willing pacient,” who “will drinke, / Potions of Eysell gainst my strong infection.” A potion is a draught or medicine, here of “Eysell” or vinegar, which the poet will take as an antidote to his “strong infection,” either his disease or his poisoning or his moral corruption. (As in Sonnet 67 Shakespeare awards multiple readings to “infection,” whose etymon, inficere, Elizabethan dictionaries such as Riders dictionarie translated as “to dye cloth, to colour, to corrupt, to . . infect, to poyson.”) 1 “Eysell” as a medicine was used to cure a variety of ailments and both to fix dye in fabric and to scour it from the dyer’s hand.) The poet picks up the bitterness of vinegar to assert that he will not think bitterly on any bitterness (“No bitternesse that I will bitter thinke”). Nor will he do a “double pennance to correct correction.” Since penance is awarded for the infection of sin and a firm purpose of amendment normally accompanies it, the poet resolves not to double up on his penance further to correct something for which he has already suffered. The couplet repeats line 8’s instruction, “Pittie me then,” as it addresses the “deare friend” and assures him that his “pittie is enough to cure mee,” is sufficient to restore him to health.


111.1. Rider, Dictionarie inficio.