Sonnet 25

Shakespeare Sonnet 25

LEt thoſe who are in fauor with their ſtars,
Of publike honour and proud titles boſt,
Whilſt I whome fortune of ſuch tryumph bars
Vnlookt for ioy in that I honour moſt;
Great Princes fauorites their fair leaues ſpread,
But as the Marygold at the ſuns eye,
And in them-ſelues their pride lies buried,
For at a frowne they in their glory die.
The painefull warrier famoſed for worth,                               fight/might?
After a thouſand victories once foild,
Is from the booke of honour raſed quite,
And all the reſt forgot for which he toild:
Then happy I that loue and am beloued
Where I may not remoue, nor be remoued.

In the 17th century identifying a courtier as a marigold was standard: Richard Brathwaite, for example, in “An Epigram called the Courtier” compares a courtier’s wit to the marigold’s phases:

Nor did that Morall erre, who wisely would
Compare a Courtiers witte to th’Marigold.
It opens with the Sunne, but being set
The Mari-gold shuts vp, so doth his witte.
The Marigold’s most cheer’d by mid-day sunne,
So’s he, whence i’st, he lies in bed till noone. 1

The identification rested partly on a pun on ‘jackanapes,’ which could mean both a page or courtier (see AWW 3.5.82, “That Iacke-an-apes with scarfes”) and a marigold. Gerard describes a “Marigolde  . . called of the vulgar sort of women Iacke an apes a horse backe,” whose seed multiplies a thousand-fold: “it bringeth foorth not one flower in a thousand, like the plant from whence it was taken.” 2

Sonnet 25 opens by invoking those who are astrologically blessed by chance and fortune (“Let those who are in fauor with their stars”). They may boast, claims the poet, of “publike honour and proud titles.” He, however, is one whom “fortune” has excluded from success or advancement in the public arena (“such tryumph”), anticipating the later military “victories.” Since he is neither sought nor regarded or smiled upon (“Vnlookt for”), it remains that he glory in that which he might “honour most,” the young man. Favourites of great princes may disport themselves and their finery (“their faire leaues spread”) like the marigold, whose “leaues” or petals are golden or gold-foiled (leaved). Courtly favourites are dependent on the benign looks of the sovereign, just as the “Marygold” is subject to the “suns eye.” In Shakespeare’s day the marigold or ‘gold’ was identified with “fortune” and “fauour,” in the words of Nashe’s Jack Wilton,

monie is like the marigolde, which opens and shuts with the Sunne, if fortune smileth, or one be in fauour, it floweth [sic]: if the euening of age comes on, or he falleth into disgrace, it fadeth and is not to be found. 3

As the marigold’s display is diurnal, so the courtiers’ is ephemeral and contingent: once the blessings of the sovereign’s eye are removed, their splendour and “proud titles” fold in on themselves (“in them-selues their pride lies buried”), because the darkness of displeasure (“frowne”) causes them to shrink and die (“in their glory die”).

The rhymes of the third quatrain are problematic: either “worth” or “quite” is not correct. Generally editors change “worth” to ‘fight’ to obtain an alliterative rhyme, but both ‘fight’ and ‘might’ fit the context. A “painefull warrier” is one who both inflicts pain and bears the fulness of pain. His fame, gained by a “thousand victories,” draws on Petrarch’s much imitated line, “Mille fiate, o dolce mia guerrera” (‘A thousand times, o my sweet warrior’), and recalls the thousand-fold plenty of the marigold. 4 A warrior despite his many victories can still be “once foild:” “foild” primarily means ‘defeated’ or ‘overthrown,’ but also continues the sonnet’s gold and gold-leaf motif: gold foil, often shaped as leaves, was embossed and used as ornamentation on precious books or records of note such as a “booke of honour.” A last single defeat can cause the warrior’s name to be “rased quite,” or ‘erased’ from such a book; earlier accomplishments (“all the rest), for which he “toild,” will be wiped out.

The final thought is a sonneteer’s standard consolation: “happy I that loue and am beloued,” the reason being that there is no distance or “remoue” between the two:  “Where I may not remoue, nor be remoued.” Since the distance of stellar separation was known as a “remoue,” the couplet affirms that their love is sufficiently remote not to succumb to the vagaries of the “stars” or “fortune.” (In Sonnet 116.4 love is a “star” and “fixed marke,” which never “bends with the remouer to remoue.”) Finally “remoue” recalls the “perspectiue” of the preceding sonnet, whereby distance or “remoue” is foreshortened. 5


25.1. Richard Braithwait, A Strappado for the Diuell. Epigrams and Satyres alluding to the time (London: I[ohn] B[eale], 1615) 125.

25.2. Gerard, Herball (1597) 602.

25.3. Thomas Nashe, The Vnfortunate Traveller. Or, The Life of Iacke Wilton (London: Thomas Scarlet, 1594 ) C1r.

25.4. Petrarch, Canzoniere 21.1; compare Spenser Amoretti 57.1 & 8, “Sweet warriour when shall I haue peace with you,” with its, “thousand arrowes, which your eies haue shot.” The trope’s locus classicus was Ovid, Met. 5.380, “de mille sagittis.”

25.5. Compare Owen Felltham, Resolves Or, Excogitations. A Second Centurie (London: Henry Seile, 1628) 41, “Meditation is the soules Perspectiue glasse: whereby, in her long remoue, shee discerneth God, as if hee were neerer hand.”