Sonnet 61

Shakespeare Sonnet 61

IS it thy wil, thy Image ſhould keepe open
My heauy eielids to the weary night?
Doſt thou deſire my ſlumbers ſhould be broken,
While ſhadowes like to thee do mocke my ſight?
Is it thy ſpirit that thou ſend’ſt from thee
So farre from home into my deeds to prye,
To find out ſhames and idle houres in me,
The skope and tenure of thy Ielouſie?
O no, thy loue though much, is not ſo great,
It is my loue that keepes mine eie awake,
Mine owne true loue that doth my reſt defeat,
To plaie the watch-man euer for thy ſake.
For thee watch I, whilſt thou doſt wake elſewhere,
From me farre of, with others all to neere.

Sonnet 61 shares its theme and vocabulary with Sonnets 27, 28 and 43, in which the poet is also deprived of sleep. 1 It opens by asking if it is the friend’s intent (“wil”) that his image should keep open the poet’s “heauy eielids” as he seeks sleep. By transference the night is “weary” or brings weariness. Is it his desire that the poet’s sleep should be disturbed (“broken”) as spectres (“shadows”) bearing his likeness taunt the poet’s sight (“mocke my sight”)? Has the friend, while far from home, sent forth his “spirit” to spy on the poet’s actions (“prye;” compare Isaiah’s question, “watchman what hast thou espied by nyght?” (21.11; BB) and try to uncover his “shames and idle houres,” actions that bring shame and wasted times that yield no return? Is that the “skope and tenure” of the youth’s “Ielousie?” ‘Scope and tenor’ (“tenure” being its variant spelling) was a common duplicative phrase of legal origin (both words mean the same), intending the substance or purpose of an argument or the like (compare William Perkins who, writing of God’s promises, cautions, “we must know the scope and tenour of them, that we be not deceiued.” 2 The friend’s jealousy is either his suspiciousness or his solicitous watching over the poet.

The poet’s response to the questions is negative, “O no.” The youth’s love, though strong (“much”), is not strong enough (“great”). It is the poet’s love for him that keeps the poet “awake” and stops his sleep (“doth my rest defeat”), so that he can “plaie the watch-man euer for thy sake.” A ‘watchman’ stayed awake at night, while keeping guard, a role the poet will play always (“euer”) for the youth’s sake. He exclaims, “For thee watch I,” where “watch” intends ‘remain awake because of you,’ or ‘look out for you,’ or ‘keep a vigil for you as might a servant.’ On the other hand the youth “dost wake elsewhere,” either ‘wakes up elsewhere,’ or ‘keeps a wake or vigil elsewhere,’ or even ‘stays up at night to revel elsewhere.’ He remains remote from the poet (“From me farre of”), and, in a suspicious and worried epithet, all too close to other wakers (“with others all to neere”).


61.1. Compare “weary night” (61.2), “Weary with toyle” (27.1); “So farre from home” (61.6), “from far” (27.5), “How far . . farther off from thee” (28.8); “heauy eyelids” (61.2), “drooping eye-lids” (27.7), “heauy sleepe” (43.12); “shadowes like to thee” (61.4), “their shaddoe” (27.10), “whose shadow shaddowes doth make bright” (43.5), “thy shadowes forme” (43.6), “thy shade . . imperfect shade” (43.8/11); “rest defeat” (61.11), “benifit of rest” (28.2).

61.2. William Perkins, A Commentarie or Exposition, vpon the fiue first Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians (Cambridge: John Legatt, 1604) 178, “First, we must haue knowledge of the maine and principall promise, touching the blessing of God in Christ, and of all other promises depending on the principall: and we must know the scope and tenour of them, that we be not deceiued.”