Sonnet 87

Shakespeare Sonnet 87

FArewell thou art too deare for my poſſeſſing,
And like enough thou knowſt thy eſtimate,
The Charter of thy worth giues thee releaſing:
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that ritches where is my deſeruing?
The cauſe of this faire guift in me is wanting,
And ſo my pattent back againe is ſweruing.
Thy ſelfe thou gau’ſt, thy owne worth then not knowing,
Or mee to whom thou gau’ſt it, elſe miſtaking,
So thy great guift vpon miſpriſion growing,
Comes home againe, on better iudgement making.
Thus haue I had thee as a dreame doth flatter,
In ſleepe a King, but waking no ſuch matter.

Sonnet 87 is marked by its feminine rhymes: 12 of the 14 lines, although end-stopped, contain 11 syllables. Having dealt with the rival poet, the poet now takes leave of the friend, bidding him, “Farewell,” and adjudging the contract between them void, the youth being absolved from any obligation to him. As in Sonnet 13 and to a lesser extent Sonnet 18 the conceit employed to explain their separation is that of legal conveyancing. The youth is ‘too costly’ or ‘too precious’ for the poet physically or emotionally to possess (“Too deare for my possessing”). In all likelihood (“like enough”) the youth knows his own value (“estimate”), although later it will become clear he doesn’t. A “Charter,” John Cowell writes in The Interpreter, is a contract or “written evidence of things done betweene man and man,” granting rights to the possession of property, especially relating to the conveyancing of landed property. He distinguishes between “charters of the King, and charters of priuate persons.” 1 The legal instrument between the poet and the friend has in it a right to be released from it: the youth can therefore be relieved of the charter or relieve the poet of it (“giue thee releasing”). The obligations on the poet, however, are “all determinate.” Normally the ‘determination of a lease’ or the ‘determination of a charter’ occurred when the lessee died (without issue), the use of the property or right to it reverting to the lessor. The poet admits that any rights or duties (“bonds’), granted to him under the charter, have ceased and reverted back to the lessor, the youth.

He further admits that any charter entitling him to possess (“hold”) the youth is of the youth’s “granting.” On what grounds (“where”), he asks, can he justify his retaining such wealth (“ritches” = richesse)? He has not satisfied or has defaulted on (“in me is wanting”) the charter’s legal provision (“cause”), which has become a causa deficiens or deficient cause, the ‘gage,’ by which possession was granted, being dead. Hence the “pattent,” the licence or title to sole possession of a piece of property to the exclusion of others, the youth, has been forfeited back to the youth (“back again is sweruing”). A “pattent” (from patere = to lie open, hence an opening) is used elsewhere by Shakespeare sexually (see MND 1.1.81, “Ere I will yeeld my virgin Patent vp / Vnto his Lordship”).

The youth had granted the gift of himself to the poet, not knowing his own value: grounds for the voiding of a contract if the ignorance were not culpable. Or the youth gave himself to the poet, misjudging the poet’s worth: a further grounds for the invalidity of a contract. So the youth’s contract granting himself to the poet is based on a “misprision,” an oversight or neglect; Cowell writes that it “signifieth in our common lawe, neglect, or negligence, or ouersight: As for example, Misprision of treason . . the concealement, or not disclosing of knowne treason, for the which the offendours are to suffer imprisonment during the Kings pleasure, loose their goods, and the profits of their lands, during their liues.” 2 The youth’s gift of himself thus falls under the ‘law of growing-to,’ by which property reverted to the lessor, (“vpon misprision growing;” see Sonnet 18, commentary). His gift of himself is escheated to himself (“comes home againe”). All this has occurred because of his wiser judgement (“on better judgement making”).

The couplet emphasizes the unreality of the past: “Thus haue I had thee” suggests an emotional and a physical “possessing,” but only within the false enhancement of a dream (“as a dreame doth flatter”). The final line aphoristically asserts: “In sleepe a King, but waking no such matter.” What was seen in a royal light when dreaming is seen as spurious when awake.


87.1. John Cowell, The Interpreter: Or Booke Containing the Signification of Words: Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such Words and Termes, as are mentioned in the Law Writers, or Statutes of this victorious and renowned Kingdome (Cambridge: John Legatt, 1607) N4v Charter.

87.2. Cowell, Interpreter Xx3r Misprision.