Sonnet 57

Shakespeare Sonnet 57

BEing your ſlaue what ſhould I doe but tend,
Vpon the houres, and times of your deſire?
I haue no precious time at al to ſpend;
Nor ſeruices to doe til you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end houre,
Whilſt I (my ſoueraine) watch the clock for you,
Nor thinke the bitterneſſe of abſence ſowre,
VVhen you haue bid your ſeruant once adieue.
Nor dare I question with my iealious thought,
VVhere you may be, or your affaires ſuppoſe,
But like a ſad ſlaue ſtay and thinke of nought
Saue where you are, how happy you make thoſe.
So true a fool is loue, that in your Will,
(Though you doe any thing) he thinkes no ill.

Sonnet 57 conflates the poet’s role as slave to Cupid with his role as a slave in service to the youth. The sonnet’s addressee is only disclosed in the couplet, where three identities are found, the poet, the friend (“your”), and love as fool, “he.” The identification of Cupid as slave and slave-master, who held lovers and sonneteers in thrall, was a long-standing one, originating in the Ars Amatoria 1-30, where Ovid, with the warrant of Venus, vows that he will tame Love, who is untamed (“Ille [Amor] quidem ferus est”), because he is a boy of tender years and ripe to be ruled (“Sed puer est, aetas mollis, et apta regi”). Ovid, reversing roles with Cupid, will become his master or sovereign (“Ego sum praeceptor Amoris”). 1 The tradition of Cupid as master, even schoolmaster, is evident in English from Chaucer’s “dan cupido” to Sidney’s “O Doctor Cupid” and Shakespeare’s “Don Cupid,” a title awarded him in Love’s Labour’s Lost together with the further ascription, “Th’annointed soueraigne of sighes and groanes.” 2

Given the poet’s status (“Being your slaue”), he has no other purpose than to “tend, / Vpon the houres, and times of your desire.” To ‘tend upon’ is to ‘wait upon’ as a slave does on a master, or, as here, ‘wait for’ the moments of time (“houres, and times”), when he will be summoned: that on which he waits, “your desire,” is either the youth’s whim or Cupid’s lust. It is only upon being called (“til you require”) that time becomes of value (“precious”) and service active. While waiting the poet dares not scold (“chide”) the “world without end houre.” The qualifier echoes the formula, “world without end,” found at the end of the Lesser Doxology, the Gloria Patri, and a translation of “in saecula saeculorum.” It was used everywhere in the liturgical services and here intends the end of an hour that seems never to arrive (compare LLL 5.2.775-77, where “the latest minute of the houre” is a “time . . too short, To make a world-without-end bargaine”). Time passes interminably as he watches the clock for his “soueraine” Lord, either his beloved or Cupid as an “annointed soueraigne.” Nor does the poet account the master’s absence “sour” (the sullen or sour demeanour of servants was proverbial), when he bids his servant, the poet, farewell (“adieu,” with a play on ‘[I commend you] to God’).

Though absent from the master, the poet “dare” not be tempted by feelings of jealousy or let the unknown prey on his mind: he will not question where the master might be nor speculate in what “affaires” he might be engaged. He will fill his role as a melancholic (“sad slaue”) remaining at his station (“stay”) and thinking of nothing other than where the master might be and how his presence there makes those about him “happy.” Either Cupid (“he”) or the poet himself as “sad slaue” (“he”) is such a fool (“So true a foole”) that he can find no malice (“thinkes no ill”) in the beloved’s “Will,” despite anything that the beloved might do (“Though you doe any thing”). Although “Will” is capitalized, its first meaning is desire and its second, in combination with “nought,” sexually charged lust. Any reference to a William, either Shakespeare or the youth, though attractive, seems unlikely.


57.1. Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.10 & 17.

57.2. Chaucer, The House of Fame 1.137; Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 61.12; LLL 3.1.170-72; cf. Spenser, The Faerie Queene (London: William Ponsonby, 1596) &, “Dan Cupid.”