Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sibling Assignment #71: Shakespeare's Old Man Pity Party

InlandEmpireGirl decided that since we've reached assignment #71, she'd have us compose a post in honor of the number 71. Pretty random, but kinda cool, I think. InlandEmpireGirl post seventy-one word associations here and Silver Valley Girl listed seventy-one song titles out of the top one hundred from 1971 that she remembers, here. She turned eight years old in July '71.

Last night I while feeling transported by the Floydian Slips, a Pink Floyd tribute band, I suddenly flashed on an idea for this post. Sitting in the Cuthbert Amphitheater, I realized I had no idea what Shakespeare's Sonnet 71 had to say, so I committed myself to reflecting upon it and writing about it. So here it is, Sonnet 71:


No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

One fact and then I'll reflect upon this sonnet. The first 126 of Shakespeare's 152 sonnets portray an older man addressing a younger man. I can't say for sure what their relationship is. Mentor? Lovers? Both? I don't know. In my opinion, though, Shakespeare portrayed a similar relationship between an older and a younger man in "The Merchant of Venice" between Antonio, the merchant of the title and an older man, and Bassanio, his young friend. Antonio's feelings for Bassanio run so deep, he's willing to die for their relationship.

Shakespeare's sonnet cycle gets complicated, sexy, dark, and fascinating after Sonnet 126 when the older man's mistress comes into the picture and we learn that the younger man has had an affair with her.

The old man's not happy.

But, that's later. Here, in Sonnet 71, the older man addresses death, one of his favorite subjects.

In this sonnet, he appears to be telling his protege to mourn no longer than the "surly sullen bell" that marks his death.

Have you ever had a grandparent or an old uncle or aunt or an elderly parent who does this? You offer him or her a ride to the store and it's exactly what s/he wants, but says something like, "Oh no. I don't want to bother you. You've got more important things to do. I'll ride the bus or call a cab. I have enough groceries for the next couple of hours."

The older man in this poem is just a little too insistent. Calling the bells "sullen" and "surly", repeating the word "vile"with its superlative "vilest" and referring to himself as "compounded by clay" are all strategies to rouse pity, not relieve the youth of it.

I don't think the older man means a word he says in this address to his protege.

The sonnet is completely ironic. The older man longs to be remembered. He wants to be mourned. He wants his protege to groan and moan.

It's ironic right to the end. The older man doesn't believe that the young man will be mocked if he grieves. He knows the young man's grief would be regarded as respectful.

What's difficult to respect in this sonnet is the older man's manipulative ways.

If Shakespeare were alive today, he might have liked the phrase "pity party" for its alliterative qualites and for how perfectly it captures just what the older man is up in this poem in feeling sorry for himself and his growing older.

1 comment:

Silver Valley Girl said...

I am familiar with this sonnet because it was quoted in the first season of "Slings and Arrows" at Oliver's funeral. And your interpretation goes along nicely with the themes portrayed in that particular season. I wonder if that was their intention in using this sonnet as well?