Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 554 pg 555 87
- Editor’s Note1Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,
- Editor’s Note2And like enough thou know'st thy estimate.
- Editor’s Note3The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing:
- Editor’s Note4My bonds in thee are all determinate.
- Editor’s Note5For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
- 6And for that riches where is my deserving?
- Editor’s Note7The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
- Editor’s Note8And so my patent back again is swerving.
- Editor’s Note9Thyself thou gav'st, thy own worth then not knowing,
- 10Or me, to whom thou gav'st it, else mistaking;
- Editor’s Note11So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
- Editor’s Note12Comes home again, on better judgement making.
- Editor’s Note13 Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:
- 14 In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
1 dear (a) lovely; (b) expensive
possessing (a) control over or tenure (see 18.10 n. and OED s.v. 'possession' 1b: 'Law. The visible possibility of exercising over a thing such control as attaches to lawful ownership (but which may also exist apart from lawful ownership))'; (b) exclusive loving ownership
2 like enough likely enough. There is a sardonic edge here ('and don't you just know it').
estimate (a) value to me ('The price at which anything is rated; fig. attributed value' (OED 1b)); possibly also (b) 'Repute, reputation' (OED 1c).
3 charter of thy worth (a) royally sanctioned document establishing the friend's material value; (b) royally sanctioned document establishing the friend's special legal privileges. The friend's charter in the sense 'a document which conveys title to land', established by agreement between him and the poet, gives him releasing because the poet can no longer meet its terms (he is too dear, i.e. too costly). The friend's charter in the sense 'privilege, immunity' gives him the absolute power to release himself from the quasicontractual agreement with the poet because of his worth in the sense of 'high and privileged status'.
releasing (a) freedom from the obligations of love; (b) technical legal dispensation from contractual obligations. The legal resonances of 'release' in the period are strong: they range from 'withdraw, recall, revoke, cancel (a sentence, punishment, condition, etc.)' (OED 1), through 'grant remission or discharge of … a debt, tax, tribute' (OED 3), to 'surrender, make over, transfer (land or territory) to another' (OED 4b), the last of which continues the dominant metaphor of the quatrain, that of contracts which establish the tenure of land.
4 My bonds … determinate (a) my claims to ownership of you have all expired; (b) my ties of obligation to you have expired. These two senses conflict; the poet is attempting both voluntarily to forgo the friend, and to suggest that the friend has dissolved their mutually binding agreement. Depending on which way one reads the line it either supports or conflicts with the previous one. Bonds means 'a deed, by which A (known as the obligor) binds himself, his heirs, executors, or assigns to pay a certain sum of money to B (known as the obligee), or his heirs, etc. A may bind himself to this payment absolutely and unconditionally, in which case the deed is known as a single or simple bond (simplex obligatio): bonds in this form are obsolete. Or a condition may be attached that the deed shall be made void by the payment, by a certain date, of money, rent, etc. due from A to B, or by some other performance or observance, the sum named being only a penalty to enforce the performance of the condition, in which case the deed is termed a penal bona' (OED 9a). It is likely that a penal bond is referred to here, with the service referred to having been fulfilled. For Shakespeare's awareness of this distinction, see Merchant 1.3.143–4: 'Go with me to a notary, seal me there | Your single bond'. Determinate, or 'determine', is used of the expiry of a legal instrument.
5 how … granting what claim do I have to possess you except that which is given to me by you? The friend is presented as the overlord from whom Shakespeare receives his temporary grant of possession (OED s.v. 'hold' 6a).
7 cause (a) merit which warrants; (b) adequate grounds for (as in law, having a cause for an action)
8 patent privileged right granted by you (patents—effectively monopolies—to sell particular goods, such as wines, were granted in this period as marks of royal favour, until the 1623 Statutes of Monopolies abolished the practice)
swerving reverting to you. (The word does not have particular legal charge.)
9–10 'At the time when you granted the patent you were unaware of your own value, or were mistaken about my identity or worth.' The suggestion is that since the supposed contract was made in error it should be dissolved.
11 upon misprision growing occurring as a result of error or oversight
12 Comes … making reverts back to you on the making of a properly informed judgement. The sense is clear although the precise grammatical relations of making are obscure. It functions as a participle agreeing with 'you' (understood), or with 'gift', which is presented metaphorically as a kind of prodigal son, which makes a mistake and then returns home. It also functions as a quasi-compound noun, 'judgement-making'.
13–14 Thus … matter So I have possessed you as in a self-deceptive dream: while I was asleep I dreamed I was a king who owned all, but when I awoke I realized I was no such thing.' There is also a suggestion of disillusionment: 'in my dreams you were a king'.