Sonnet 117

Shakespeare Sonnet 117

ACcuſe me thus, that I haue ſcanted all,
Wherein I ſhould your great deſerts repay,
Forgot vpon your deareſt loue to call,
Whereto al bonds do tie me day by day,
That I haue frequent binne with vnknown mindes,
And giuen to time your owne deare purchaſ’d right,
That I haue hoyſted ſaile to al the windes
Which ſhould tranſport me fartheſt from your ſight.
Booke both my wilfulneſſe and errors downe,
And on iuſt proofe ſurmiſe, accumilate,
Bring me within the leuel of your frowne,
But ſhoote not at me in your wakened hate:
Since my appeale ſaies I did ſtriue to prooue
The conſtancy and virtue of your loue

Sonnet 117 is the adversative to Sonnet 116 and its argument a subsequence or appeal: beyond the earlier charges of impediment, which in Sonnet 116 were dismissed as groundless, the poet now allows five grounds of accusation (“Accuse me thus”) that might be levelled, that he has “scanted all,” “Forgot . . to call,” “frequent binne,” “giuen to time” and “hoysted saile.” In the first accusation, “that I haue scanted all, / Wherein I should your great deserts repay,” “scanted” means ‘restricted’ or ‘neglected,’ but, when used specifically of a legal ‘surety,’ means ‘defaulted upon,’ or ‘withheld,’ a fee or bond being said to be “abridged, scanted or curtelled.” 1 The poet has not requited the beloved for his “great deserts,” that which is owed him in recompense. In the context of the impediments alleged in Sonnet 116 the poet has been dilatory in repaying the ‘bond of caution’ lodged as “full value of such charges as the persons to be married doe susteine” (see Sonnet 116; the nautical sense of “scanted” is brought out in line 7).

The second ground for appeal admits that the poet has “Forgot vpon your dearest loue to call / Whereto al bonds do tie me day by day.” To ‘call a bond’ was to advise a date when it would be paid and a ‘bond of caution’ would include a due day when it would be cancelled. But, since the poet’s case extends to “the edge of doome,” the “day by day” extends in perpetuity, unabrogated. The poet admits to having failed to pay back to the youth’s love, both precious and costly, the surety which makes him indebted until the end of time.

Thirdly the poet has “frequent binne with vnknown mindes.” He admits to having consorted with strangers, not then having shared in a “marriage of true mindes.” Fourthly he has ceded to casual encounters (“giuen to time”) the rite of love, which is the beloved’s “right” and has been “deare purchas’d.” Since Paul, famously, condemned “fornication” because “ye are dearely bought” (1 Cor. 6.20; BB), the poet has squandered a right/rite that was holy.

The fifth ground picks up the “wandring barke” of Sonnet 116 and combines it with the nautical meaning of “scanted:” “I haue hoysted saile to all the windes / Which should transport me farthest from your sight.” He has been open to whimsies or temptations from every quarter of the compass (he hasn’t “scanted” or sailed too close to the wind and lost weigh) as they have carried him fartherest from the beloved’s “sight,” beyond what the beloved could see or beyond the beloved’s aim or scope.

The sestet contains five instructions that the poet issues to the youth. Errors discovered during legal proceedings were inscribed in a Register to be the basis for future appeal. The poet, having provided cause for appeal, now instructs the youth to record in a register (“Booke . . downe”) both the “errors” admitted above and his own stubbornness (“wilfulnesse”). The youth must formally submit them (the original, legal sense of “surmise”) as correct and already conceded grounds (“iust proofe”) for appeal. He must heap them up cause upon cause (“accumilate;” a Latinism from causas accumulare, ‘to heap cause upon cause’). 2 He must “Bring me within the leuel of your frowne,” an archery conceit, where to “shoot compass” is to adjust the level above the eyes to allow for the curve in flight; by transference it was used of an astrolabe or backstaff when shooting the sun or polestar with the instrument’s level or sight. The youth must eye up or encompass the poet within the quadrant of his “frown,” his disapproval, but must resist the impulse to “shoote” at the poet out of new found “hate.” He justifies his action (“appeal”), because it was brought to prove the steadfastness and force (“virtue”) of the one who loves the youth or of the youth’s own love (“to prooue / The constancy and virtue of your loue”).


117.1. Cowell, Interpreter Bb3v Entayle, “And the reason is manifest, because fee-tayle in the law, is nothing but fee abridged, scanted or curtelled, (as you would say,).”

117.2. Cooper, Thesaurus accumulo.