An Unlyrical Ode to the Bard?


Although commonly represented as a poem to a man, doing so would misrepresent many of the underlying aspects of the world Shakespeare lived in.[1] Shakespeare existed in a world that had been in upheaval only shortly prior to his age; it was remembered. Because of such turmoil, there was a conflict between Plantagenets, the ruling powers, and the future King. Shakespeare had written many times detailing the House of Lancaster (the red rose) and the House of York (the white rose).

This dispute led to a battle or, rather, a bloody civil war for the throne of England.

Each house traced their origin to the sons of Edward III. In the end, all the male heirs to York had been killed. The family (York) had been forcibly unified to that of Lancaster. From this, the Tudor Rose of white and red was born. In lines 7 and 8, the poet argues that all things fair decline. When this was written, Shakespeare who was yet to be a Kingsman, had sought to ingratiate himself with the throne. At the same time, as with his plays, he was politically astute and even when mocking the government did so without providing a direct connection to what he sought to describe.

Lines 1 to 4 reflect on “temperate”, relating to Tempus or time. The virgin Queen was ageing. Elizabeth, the red-and-white Tudor Rose had heir. To many, she fulfilled the role of a man. So, when people say that this is about a young boy I would argue that the best have failed to see what is obvious in front of them. Elizabeth would end. In this, so with the England that Shakespeare had known. By capturing Elizabeth in his verse, Shakespeare’s poem will keep not only her but the nation alive. The strong metre of verses seven and eight captures the changing cycles of both growth and decay must necessitate every empire and every nation. Everything that is born must eventually die, including the untrimmed. The ultimate untrimmed item, the ultimate virgin was Elizabeth.


The major theme in nearly every Elizabethan sonnet is time. As with Sonnet 98, many have taken a group of sonnets to be within what is referred to as the Fair Youth sequence. It is reported that this sequence expresses Shakespeare’s love towards a young man. Again, as with Sonnet 18, those analysing the works of Shakespeare are doing so outside of the meaning at the time. In line 4, the heavy Saturn’s laugh mirrors the work of Keats (The Fall) and the surrender to Apollo, the immortal poet.

In not wondering as to the lilie’s white (9) we see the Tudor Rose. The Lily was a flower associated with the Rose (Lewis 2014, 166). Often, the Lily “occurs as the emblem of the virgin” (Lewis 2014, 173). As with the Merry wives of Windsor, each of Shakespeare’s sonnets incorporate allusions to the virgin Queen.

Proud-pied April (4) represents something with two colours. The rose is absent in the spring (1), and equally, Elizabeth, the lilywhite, was a two-coloured rose. This reflects the winter of Elizabeth and her age, and in this Shakespeare had been merely the shadow performing for the Queen.[2]

Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images: Shakespeare reciting a work before the court of Elizabeth I (1594).


To be v’trimmed  (8) is to be a virgin. As strong notes, the cult of Elizabeth was a virgin white and fair as a lily (Strong 1986). The virgin Queen had no heir and hence the future was increasingly becoming chaotic. In some ways, there was an understanding that the Globe performances were merely previews before court, a rehearsal. In this it can be argued that everything was a rehearsal for the Queen. So, with the shadow I with these did play (98, 14) we see the virgin Queen of lilywhite and vermilion rose red.

Ironically, the make-up worn by Queen Elizabeth the first was known as Venetian Ceruse (the spirit of Saturn). Whilst this made her lilywhite, it was lead paint. When referring to his plays concerning the Plantagenet family, Shakespeare frequently utilised iambic pentameter. We see a trochaic inversion to begin the speeches of Richard the third and the same form of metre when discussing the white and the red branches of the family.

Shakespeare uses perfect iambic rhythm when discussing monarchy. Each of Sonnet eighteen and ninety-eight and others in these series (both those attributed to a young male and the dark woman series follow this pattern). In all of the dark lady sonnets, there is a femininity and a duplicity. The start of each Sonnet demonstrates a variation from strict representation following. Each of the first four lines are without caesuras (pauses) and do not demonstrate feminine endings.

Helen Hackett (2009) and other researchers have forwarded the claim that the dark lady was Elizabeth I. And the flower symbolism throughout the series of sonnets, both the dark lady and the fair youth, derived from Petrarch’s Sonnet 42, inform linking the Rose and the Lily as an endearing pattern of flower symbolism.

Importantly, the original spelling of the word untrimmed, vntrim’d, does not represent sailing or being unorderly. The word, as explained, refers to a state of a woman being a virgin. It does not refer to nature trimming sales; rather, it was a common reference to a maid, or woman who had not lost her virginity. The conceptions of the etymology of the word developed after Shakespeare’s death. In each Sonnet, the colour schemes, the metaphorical analogies, and the use of metaphors of the Queen’s virginity at the time link each play directly to Shakespeare’s recommendation and occasional dissatisfaction with Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was the May (Maie) Queen; she was the virgin Queen, and she was the light to which Shakespeare remained in the shadows when he was merely practising the court in the theatre.


Hackett, Helen. Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths. Princeton University Press, 2009.

King, John N. “Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the Virgin Queen.” Renaissance Quarterly 43.1 (1990): 30-74.

Lewis Andre, J. “Further Notes on the Rose, and Remarks on the Lily.” Archaeological Journal 55.1 (1898): 166-182.

Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 18. New York: Washington Square Press, 2004.

Strong, Roy C. The cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan portraiture and pageantry. Univ of California Press, 1986.

The original as published in 1609…

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

   So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

   So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

In “Poems Written By Wil. Shakespeare Gent.” SHAKESPEARE, William, Published by Printes by Tho. Cotes, London (1640); this changes.

We see the May variant replacing Maie.

[1] Barnstorff (1862) made the claim that Shakespeare was defining a man. However, the second last line is people watching the individual and the earlier is the heavens. In this analysis, Barnstorff erroneously used a translation of the sonnet are not the original. During the Renaissance, individuals talked and defined interactions in ways that were different to now. Dietrich Barnstorff produced multiple claims that are still built upon today, but are fundamentally flawed when the analysis extended using multiple sources.

[2] See

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