Sonnet 57 – Being your slave, what should I do but tend by William Shakespeare

Here is an analysis of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare’s fifty-seventh sonnet.  In total, Shakespeare, more affectionately known as “The Bard,” wrote 154 sonnets.  His style of sonnet writing is distinct, and it is considered to be a form in and of itself.  As a result, sonnets written in this style are considered to be English, or Shakespearean. Shakespeare had a prolific writing career, and while there is some doubt that he truly wrote all of the works for which he is credited, it seems as though he wrote and performed a total of thirty-seven plays in his lifetime.  Many of his plays were performed at the Globe Theatre in London, which burned down after catching fire during a production of Henry VIII.   Shakespeare died in 1616, but his legacy still lives on today through his many works.

Sonnet 57 - Being your slave, what should I do but tend by William Shakespeare



William Shakespeare’s fifty-seventh sonnet is a typical love poem; the speaker extols the virtues of his lover, and he vows to love and adore his lover, regardless of whether or not it is returned.  A Shakespearean sonnet has very specific aspects to it.  First, it consists of fourteen lines, which are divided into three quatrains and contains a couplet at the end.  The rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter, which means each line consists of ten syllables, and within those ten syllables, there are five pairs, which are called iambs (one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable).


Detailed Analysis

While one can never assume the speaker is also the poet, many people believe Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to various recipients, which will be discussed in the historical background section.  Because of this, Shakespeare and the word “speaker” in this analysis will be interchangeable.

Shakespeare begins this sonnet by posing a question to the recipient of this love poem.  He asks, “Being your slave, what should I do but tend/ Upon the hours and times of your desire?” Straight away in Sonnet 57, the speaker acknowledges that he is his lover’s slave.  He says he has nothing else to do but wait until his lover needs him, regardless of the desire or time.  The second two lines of the first quatrain read, “I have no precious time at all to spend,/Nor services to do, till you require.” These lines further the point Shakespeare made in the first two lines.  Here, he says that all of his time and services will be spent on his lover.

The second quatrain of Sonnet 57 continues the thoughts expressed in the first.  Lines five and six fit together nicely.  Shakespeare writes, “Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour/Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.” Here, the speaker tells his lover that he will not grow angry while he watches the time drag slowly by.  The seventh and eighth lines are a continuation of this.  He writes, “Nor think the bitterness of absence sour/When you have bid your servant once adieu.” While he vows he will not grow angry with the slow passing of time, he also vows that he will not be bitter when his lover has said goodbye.

In the third quatrain, Shakespeare continues to tell his lover what he will not do.  In lines nine and ten, he writes, “Nor dare I question with my jealous thought/Where you may be, or your affairs suppose…”Here, he promises his lover that he will not grow jealous and question where his lover has been, or with whom his lover has been.  In the next two lines, he proceeds to tell his lover what he will do.  He writes, “But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought/Save, where you are how happy you make those.” He will stay home and think of nothing but how happy all of those who are currently around his lover must be feeling to be in his or her presence.  Shakespeare ends his sonnet with a couplet: “So true a fool is love that in your Will,/Though you do any thing, he thinks no ill.” This couplet sums up the rest of the poem very nicely.  Shakespeare tells his lover that love has made him so foolish that there is nothing his lover can do to make him think ill of him or her.


Historical Background

As stated earlier, there has been much debate over the lover to whom Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets, such as with Sonnet 57.  There is one person the world feels confident is not the recipient of these sonnets: Shakespeare’s much older wife, Anne Hathaway.  The two did not share a happy marriage, and Shakespeare spent much of their marriage away from his family, living and working in London while they stayed in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown.

Some scholars claim Shakespeare was bisexual, having possibly fallen in love with the Earl of Southampton.  This man could be the person to whom Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets, but we cannot be certain.  Others think that he perhaps wrote his sonnets to a woman who is often referred to as the “dark lady.”  Her identity has remained a mystery to this day, but some assume the “dark lady” is Mary Fitton, a maid of Queen Elizabeth’s. The dark lady gets her name from Shakespeare’s later sonnets, which refer to a mysterious young woman with black hair and “raven black” eyes (Sonnet CXXVII).

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Jamie Jenson
Jamie joined the Poem Analysis team back in November, 2010. He has a passion for poetry and enjoys analysing and providing interpretations for poetry from the past and present.

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