Sonnet 67

Shakespeare Sonnet 67

AH wherefore with infection ſhould he liue,
And with his preſence grace impietie,
That ſinne by him aduantage ſhould atchiue,
And lace it ſelfe with his ſocietie?
Why ſhould ſalſe painting immitate his cheeke,
And ſteale dead ſeeing of his liuing hew?
Why ſhoulde poore beautie indirectly ſeeke,
Roſes of ſhaddow, ſince his Roſe is true?
Why ſhould he liue, now nature banckrout is,
Beggerd of blood to bluſh through liuely vaines,
For ſhe hath no exchecker now but his,
And proud of many, liues vpon his gaines?
O him ſhe ſtores, to ſhow what welth ſhe had,
In daies long ſince, before theſe laſt so bad.

Sonnet 67 exploits discrete meanings of “infection,” opening, “Ah wherefore with infection should he liue.” The original meaning of ‘infect’ was to ‘dye’ or ‘colour’ (compare Sonnet 111 with its “Dyers hand,” “strong infection,” and allusion to dyer’s madder). All contemporary dictionaries contain entries for inficere, the root of infection, similar to Thomas Thomas: “To die cloath, to staine, to colour: to corrupt . . infect, or poison;” 1 “infection,” then, introduces the idea of cosmetic colouring, but also retains throughout the sonnet the sense of “poison” or ‘disease.’ Elizabethan cosmetic compounds, particularly fuci made from mercury sublimate or mercuric sulphide, were notoriously poisonous and the generational effects of mercury sublimate were well known, drawing the inevitable comparison with the phyical transmission of original sin: Thomas Tuke lists among “the infamous inconueniencies which result from the Mercurie Sublimate” the fact that it

is like to original sinne, and goes from generation to generation, when as the child borne of them, before it be able to goe, doth shed his teeth one after another, as being corrupted and rotten, not through his fault, but by reason of the vitiousnesse and taint of the mother that painted her selfe. 2

The legacy of original sin, with which sublimates are identified, is the sinful infection of humankind. The Geneva Bible in its note to Rom. 5.19 defines fallen nature and loss of grace as “that disease which all men were infected withall by being defiled with one mans sinne.” In the sonnet the youth’s grace is identified with the grace nature once had but has lost. Fallen nature may seek to exploit the youth’s presence by association, but the grace nature possesses, for now, can only be a false and cosmetic grace.

Why, asks the poet (“wherefore”), but resignedly (“Ah”), should the youth live or be associated with artificial colouring, with poison and disease, or with sin? Why should his presence lay beauty over ugliness, give dignity to lack of respect, or grace to sinfulness (“grace impietie”), so that sinful nature might through him gain an advantage (“That sinne by him aduantage should atchiue”)? If he were to be associated with “infection” as cosmetics, then physical “sinne,” would be transmitted beyond him and thus prevail. If he were to be associated with “infection” as sin and lack of grace, then the fallen state of nature would gain an advantage. The implication of the poet’s questions is that the youth should remain unstained by “infection,” so that nature can retain one unfallen reserve on which she might draw (compare Sonnet 20.9-14). Finally why should sin be allowed to intertwine itself (“lace it selfe”) with his presence (“society”) or, more pertinently, why should sin be able to colour itself over with his society? To “lace,” drawing on the courtly practice of lacing the hair with gold filets, means to streak with a colour such as gold (compare Mac. 2.3.118 with Duncan’s body, “Siluer skinne, lac’d with his Golden Blood;” normally something is laced with poison, here poison is lacing itself).

Why asks the poet “should false painting immitate his cheeke?” The “false painting” is the infection of various fuci or the infection that is sinful nature: such painting is a pale imitation of the youth’s pure colouring. Why should false painting “steale dead seeing of his liuing hew?” As in Sonnet 24.1 (“steeld”), “steale”  intends ‘inscribed with a stylus’ or ‘depicted.’ (A reading of “steale” as ‘steal’ has forced some commentators to change “seeing” to “seeming.”) Why should “false painting” take the youth’s “liuing hew,” his lively complexion or form, and render it in portraiture as “dead seeing,” as empty eyes, glazed over? Elizabethans called mercury sublimate, “dead fier.” 3 They also used drops of belladonna to give a cosmetically bright sparkle to the eyes, an infective practice that also gave a them a lifelessness (see Sonnet 20.5, note). Why should impoverished beauty (“poore beautie”) seek, not the true “Rose” of the youth’s cheek, but seek at first remove (“indirectly”) the artificial or painted roses formed by blusher placed under the cheek bone to create a red shadow (“Roses of shadow”)? Or why should infected nature pursue mere surface beauty, “Roses of shadow,” and not follow the unfallen rose, which is the youth? The claim was commonplace, Tuke also complaining that fuci produced, “Not truthes but shadowes of truths.” 4

The sestet is underwritten by a commercial subtext to which “aduantage,” “bankrout,” “Beggerd,” “exchecker,” “proud,” “gaines,” “stores” and “welth” all contribute. Its opening question is confused because the antecedent of “Beggerd” can be either “he” or “nature.” If it belongs to “he,” then the question is, ‘Since nature is now void of richness or grace (“banckrout”), why should the youth continue to live, drained of blood (“Beggerd of blood”) that might redden his otherwise enlivened veins (“to blush through liuely vaines”), so that nature might draw on his “gaines”?’ If “Beggerd” belongs to “nature,” then ‘Since nature now lacks richness or grace and is so drained of blood that it can’t provide blood to course through living veins, why should the youth continue to live only because nature “hath no exchecker now but his, / And proud of many, liues vpon his gaines.”’ Since the fall, nature’s treasury (“exchecker”) is empty and the only resource on which she can draw is the youth’s grace. The empty treasury has been “proud of many,” ‘prov’d’ or experienced by many (‘proved,’ a reading that pertains also at Sonnet 75.5, “proud” and 129.11 “proud a[nd] very wo,” is the only viable reading, and not, as variously glossed, ‘proud,’ or the implausible ‘’prived’ or ‘deprived’). Nature now lives off the interest that the friend’s beauty, untainted by infection or sin, continues to earn (“gaines”). Indeed nature keeps or preserves the friend as her ‘store,’ so that she might demonstrate to this present destitute age the “welth” she once possessed in “daies long since,” the golden age of grace before original sin and before nature had fallen on bad times (“daies . . last so bad”).


67.1. Thomas, Dictionarium inficere.

67.2. Tuke B4v.

67.3. Haydock 130.

67.4. Tuke  61.