Sonnet 31

Shakespeare Sonnet 31

Thy boſome is indeared with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have ſuppoſed dead,
And there raignes Loue and all Loues louing parts,
And all thoſe friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obſequious teare
Hath deare religious loue ſtolne from mine eye,
As intereſt of the dead, which now appeare,
But things remou’d that hidden in there lie.                           thee?
Thou art the graue where buried loue doth liue,
Hung with the tropheis of my louers gon,                              trophies
Who all their parts of me to thee did giue,
That due of many, now is thine alone.
Their images I lou’d, I view in thee,
And thou (all they) haſt all the all of me.

An example of an obsequial sonnet can be found in most sonnet sequences, while epicedia, and elegies were a stock literary form in Shakespeare’s England. They were composed for royalty, nobles and persons of standing and their frequency suggests they were commercially profitable, being published either in small volumes or often as single sheets. Epitaphs and short poems including sonnets were also attached to the hearses of monarchs and nobles by friends and poets. A hearse or catafalque was originally a structure which was positioned over the bier carrying the deceased on which lighted candles were placed. By Shakespeare’s time, in the case of the nobility, it had become a highly wrought edifice, often shaped like a castle – it was known as a castrum doloris (castle of suffering) – canopied like a baldacchino and decorated with escutcheons and mottos. By Shakespeare’s time, as well, the distinction between the monumental and the literary had become blurred. George Chapman, for example, in 1612, has as the frontispiece to his An Epicede or Funerall Song: On the most disastrous Death, of the High-borne Prince of Men, Henry Prince of Wales, an illustration of the royal hearse with the prince’s body laid out, but he has also had superinscribed on the hearse, as if attached, a pair of verses beside each other, the second of which bears his signature. 1 Fixing epitaphs to hearses was not confined to nobility; they were attached also to hearses of local notables, evidence being provided by preachers at their obsequies: William Leygh attests that at the funeral of a Katherin Brettergh of Lancashire in 1601 a gentleman “caused these few lines, as an Epitaph, to be fixed nigh her Hearse.” 2

The practice expanded to literary lovers pinning their laments to the hearse of departed ones, such as those in Richard Brathwait’s Loves Labyrinth (“his hearse, / whereon engrauen was a doleful verse,” and, “his sacred hearse, / ranck set with embleames and with doleful verse”), or Saladyne in Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde who “hangd about his Fathers hearse many passionate Poems.” 3 It also found its place on the stage, for example in John Mason’s The Turke, with its “passion curiously composd / Of riming numbers at my mistres hearse: / Or tell her dead truncke my true loue in vearse.” 4 Literary epitaphs became very elaborate. Richard Niccols has an epitaph on the death of Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1612, which is a “sad acrostike Verse” with the initial letters of the lines comprising his name, 5 while a series of epitaphs composed by William Jones, on the death of Henry, the Earl of Southampton are entitled as anagrams: “HENRY WRIOTHESLEY Earle of Southampton. Anagram: Vertue is thy Honour; O the praise of all men.” 6

The practice of appending epitaphs to hearses had its origin in the 15th and 16th pre-reformation practice of commissioning diptyches by noble families. Earlier diptyches had been paired devotional paintings, often altar-pieces, sometimes hinged so they could be closed like a book. In the 16th century, however, under the influence of Devotio Moderna, which stressed the contemplative over public worship, they became private pieces and were privately commissioned. They often featured on one of the panels the diptych’s commissioner or his family looking at a devotional topic such as the Virgin on the other. They also became portable so that, opened on a prie-dieu, they would be used when praying and then folded into a drawer or special container. Upon the death of the owner they came to serve a commemorative function: they would be inscribed with epitaphs and hung above the tomb in the family church. The practice of hanging verses or epitaphs in churches prevailed in England after the reformation. Puttenham, having differentiated an epitaph from the longer elegy as something “a man may commodiously write or engraue vpon a tombe in few verses,” censures “bastard rimers,” who “make long and tedious discourses, and write them in large tables to be hanged vp in Churches and chauncells ouer the tombes of great men and others” and records his own experience of an epitaph, which was “so exceeding long as one must haue halfe a dayes leasure to reade one of them, & must be called away before he come halfe to the end, or else be locked into the Church by the Sexten as I my selfe was once serued reading an Epitaph in a certain cathedrall Church of England.” 7 Generally, however, epitaphs were succinct and bifold, the very first diptyches having been bifolded tablets or registers on which the names of the dead were inscribed. When epitaphs came to be published in the later decades of the 16th century, the paired structure of the commemorative diptych was continued. When printed on single sheets, they were regularly presented as paired columns with a middle bifold such as diptyches have. As well, the verses on each side of the bifold were heavily framed, the framing of each column giving a sense of panels and pictorial weightiness. The convention of presenting obsequial verses as paired has been carried over by Shakespeare in Sonnets 31 and 32 and in Sonnets 71 and 72.

Sonnet 31 takes the “bosomes shop” of Sonnet 24, in which the youth’s “true Image” is “hanging,” and turns it into a “bosome” where “trophies,” the “images” of former “louers,” are hung. The conceit of the trophy was a familiar one – Spenser’s Amoretti 69 which asks, “What trophee then shall I most fit deuize,” is a good example – and poets generally took advantage of etymological pun in trophy: originally a trophy was a tree, on which the spoils of victory were hung, and then a structure erected as a monument to which spoiles were attached. Trophy derived from τρóπος from τρεπειν = to turn; a trophy is something ‘wrought’ or ‘turned,’ in a literary context a ‘trope.’ Since the Latin for ‘turn’ was vertere, from which ‘verse’ comes, “trophee” (trope) and “trophies,” both of which were hung on hearses, were identified.

The young man’s “bosome is indeared with all hearts;” “indeared” means ‘rendered more costly or precious’ (but not ‘beloved,’ a sense of ‘endeared’ that developed later). His bosom is strewn with all the hearts that in their absence (“by lacking”) the poet thought dead: “supposed” has been chosen because it combines the meaning of ‘thought’ with its Latin sense of ‘buried’ (from sub + ponere = to place under or bury in a tomb as in Ovid’s “supposuit tumulo”). 8 Reigning in the bosom, as a victor with spoils, is Eros (“Loue”), with all his “louing parts,” either with all his powers, or with all he has possessed, or even with all his legacies. In the bosom also hold sway all those “friends,” whom the poet thought past and buried.

The second quatrain is hyperbolic, its question rhetorical. How many “holy and obsequious” tears have been stolen from the poet’s eye: “holy” is associated with religious ceremonies; “obsequious,” as well as the sense of ‘owed,’ means ‘funereal’ (compare TA 5.3.152, “To shed obsequious teares vpon this Trunke”). On first reading a love other than Eros is suggested by “deare religious loue,” but the love proves to be Eros, who is scarcely “holy” or “religious,” since he has “stolne” the poet’s tears. (The anacreontic motif of Eros as thief, ’Ερως κλεπτης, is used later in the fescennine Sonnets 153 and 154.) The tears extracted from the poet’s eyes are something which are owed to the dead as their right or title (“interest”) or they are the return gained by the poet, through Eros’ agency, on his earlier lovers lodged in the youth’s bosom. Such lovers are now seen only as “things remou’d,” absent through passing away, but living hidden in the youth’s bosom (“there” or ‘thee,’ depending on editorial judgement).

The sestet extends the trophy/trope topos. The beloved has become a “graue,” not where love lies dead but alive, even though buried. The funeral monument is “Hung with trophies:” all the poet’s past friends (“louers”) are now affixed within the young man as trophies or literary tropes are to a hearse. But each friend already possessed a part of the poet and this legacy, the poet, they have conferred on the youth. That which was the right or reward of earlier friends (“due” or “interest”) is now invested in him (“now is thine alone”). Thus the “images” the poet once “lou’d” have become trophies, which he views in the beloved’s bosom, possibly even as false images (Eros as a false god) improperly worshipped. The youth, now constituted the sum of all those friends, possesses the sum of the poet, since he was once constituted entirely of all the friends he loved. The young man thus possesses the poet’s very “all,” all his parts as well as “all Loues louing parts,” the sum of the seven ‘alls’ contained in the sonnet (“all the all”).


31.1. George Chapman, An Epicede or Funerall Song: On the most disastrous Death, of the High-borne Prince of Men, Henry Prince of Wales, &c. With the Funeralls, and Representation of the Herse of the same High and mighty Prince (London: T[homas] S[nodham], 1603).

31.2. William Leigh, The Soules Solace Against Sorrow. A funerall Sermon preached at Childwall Church in Lancashire, at the buriall of Mistris Katherin Brettergh, the third of Iune 1601 (London: Felix Kyngston, 1602) N3v.

31.3. Richard Brathwait, Loves Labyrinth: Or The true-Louers knot: Including The disastrous fals of two star-crost Louers Pyramus & Thysbe (London, I. B[eale], 1615) 28 & 60; Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde. Euphues golden Legacie, found after his death in his Cell at Silexedra. Bequeathed to Philautus Sonnes, noursed vp with their Father in England. Fetcht from the Canaries by T.L. Gent. (London: Abel Jeffes, 1592) B2v.

31.4. John Mason, The Turke. A worthie tragedie (London: E[dward] A[llde], 1610) C4v.

31.5. Richard Niccols, The three sisters teares. Shed at the late solemne funerals of the royall deceased Henry, Prince of Wales (London, T[homas] S[nodham], 1613) F2v.

31.6. William Jones, A Treatise of Patience in Tribulation: First, Preached before the Right Honourable the Countesse of Southampton in her great heauines for the death of her most worthy Husband and Sonne. . . Herevnto are ioyned the Teares of the Isle of Wight, shed on the Tombe of their most Noble Captaine Henrie Earle of Southampton and the Lord Wriosthely his Sonne (London: William Iones, 1625) 47-8; compare also “HENRY SOVTHAMPTON, Anagam; The Stampe in Honour” and “Henry Wriothesly Earle of Southampton, Anagram: Thy Honour is worth the praise of all Men.”

31.7. Puttenham 45-46.

31.8. Ovid, Fasti 4.756.