Sonnet 90

Shakespeare Sonnet 90

THen hate me when thou wilt, if euer, now,
Now while the world is bent my deeds to croſſe,
Ioyne with the ſpight of fortune, make me bow,
And doe not drop in for an after loſſe:
Ah doe not, when my heart hath ſcapte this ſorrow,
Come in the rereward of a conquerd woe,
Giue not a windy night a rainie morrow,
To linger out a purpoſd ouer-throw.
If thou wilt leaue me, do not leaue me laſt,
When other pettie griefes haue done their ſpight,
But in the onſet come, ſo ſtall I taſte                                                   ſhall
At firſt the very worſt of fortunes might.
And other ſtraines of woe, which now ſeeme woe,
Compar’d with loſſe of thee, will not ſeeme ſo.

Sonnet 90’s opening, “Then hate me,” refers back to the concluding words of Sonnet 89, “thou dost hate.” “Then” intends ‘therefore.’ The poet instructs the youth to hate him whenever he chooses (“when thou wilt”), but adds a qualifier, “if euer, now.” He should not delay his hating, but do it now, while the world is intent (bent”) on frustrating the poet’s endeavours (“my deeds to crosse”). The youth must combine forces (“Ioyne”) with the rancour of fortune: “spight of fortune” was a commonplace, here also hinting at a lack of recompense, while “make me bow,” echoing “I am bowed” of Ps. 38 used in Sonnet 89, implies either subjection (under the yoke of fortune) or subservience (to a patron). The further instruction, “doe not drop in for an after losse,” is clear in intent although not in detail. To “drop in” meant to ‘fall upon’ (compare its use in Marston’s The Malcontent, “O let the last day fall, drop, drop in our curssed heads!”). 1 The image of fortune falling or dropping upon was standard in classical and biblical literature. 2 Here the youth, joined with fortune, is commanded not to fall upon or attack the poet “for an after losse,” to cause further and protracted loss or suffering.

The poet argues for immediate rather than extended pain. Now that his heart has “scapte this sorrow,” the hurt that the youth and fortune have inflicted upon him and from which he was worked himself free, he asks, knowing the psalmist’s plaint, “my sorow is euer before me” (see Sonnet 89), that the youth not cause him double affliction by attacking from behind (“rereward”) a victim who is already overcome. “Come in the rereward” and “in the onset come” (line 11) are contrasting military metaphors. The poet reshapes the axiomatic, “A stormy night deserves a good day,” 3 to argue “Giue not a windy night a rainie morrow,” as he asks that his ruin (“ouer-throw”) intended (“purposd”) by the youth (and his partner fortune) not be drawn out.

The sestet moves to the conditional, “If thou wilt leaue me.” The poet asks that the youth’s forsaking him not be the last of his afflictions (“do not leaue me last”), occurring only once a series of lesser sorrows have done their mischief (“When other pettie griefes haue done their spight”). Rather the youth’s forsaking him must come “in the onset,” in the vanguard, so that the poet might experience (“taste”) at the start (“At first”) the worst that fortune has to offer (“the very worst of fortunes might”). If the youth’s abandoning him is immediate and not delayed, any other kind or degree of grief (“straines of woe”), which might for the moment seem grievous, will lose its grievousness, when measured against the poet’s loss of the beloved (“Compar’d with losse of thee”).

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90.1. John Marston, The Malcontent (London: William Aspley, 1604) 4.4.2.

90.2. Cf. Cicero, De Divinatione 2.6.15 & 2.7.18 and Acts 1.26, “et cecedit sortes super Matthiam,” (“the lot fell vpon Matthias;” BB).

90.3. See Tilly N166.

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