Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 608 pg 609 114
- Editor’s Note1Or whether doth my mind, being crowned with you,
- 2Drink up the monarch's plague this flattery,
- 3Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,
- Editor’s Note4And that your love taught it this alchemy?
- Editor’s Note5To make of monsters, and things indigest,
- Editor’s Note6Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
- Editor’s Note7Creating every bad a perfect best
- Editor’s Note8As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
- Editor’s Note9O, 'tis the first, 'tis flatt'ry in my seeing,
- 10And my great mind most kingly drinks it up.
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus11Mine eye well knows what with his gust is 'greeing,
- Editor’s Note12And to his palate doth prepare the cup.
- Editor’s Note13 If it be poisoned, 'tis the lesser sin,
- 14 That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.
1–3 Or whether … or whether 'does … or …?' Shall I say governs both alternatives: so 'Shall I say that my mind, elevated to kingship by its love for you, drinks in deadly flattery like a king? Or shall I say that my eye is correct in seeing as it does, and in turning monsters and shapeless things into angels like you, taught this magic of transformation by your love?'
4 alchemy the art of turning base metals to gold, here loosely 'magic of transformation'. Used elsewhere to suggest superficial transformation, as at 33.4, where it is also associated with flattery.
5 indigest 'shapeless, confused; unarranged. (Often with reference to Ovid's Quem dixere chaos, rudis indigestaque moles, Met. i.7.)' (OED 1), as in K. John 5.7.25–7: 'you are born | To set a form upon that indigest, | Which he hath left so shapeless and so rude'.
6 Such … resemble The praise is put in such a way as to render both sides of the comparison unstable: the monsters are turned to cherubim which resemble the friend, but there is no guarantee that he is not also a monster transformed into an angelic form (which he only resembles outwardly) by the alchemical magic of the eye.
7 Creating The regal context established in l. 2 suggests OED 3: 'to create a peer'. The eye is presented as a monarch who dubs all things good that assemble around him. In 1603 James I created 906 knights.
8 As fast … assemble as rapidly as objects gather round (a) the beams which the eye was believed to emit; (b) the rays which were supposed to emanate from majesty
11 'greeing] q (greeing)
A version of this sonnet was set to music by Henry Lawes. See Willa McLung Evans, 'Lawes's Version of Shakespeare's Sonnet CXVI', PMLA 51 (1936), 120–2. The manuscript is New York Public Library, Music Division, Drexel MS 4257, No. 33.
11 what … 'greeing what is to the mind's taste. The apostrophe before greeing is not in Q and not strictly necessary, since gree is a recognized aphetic form of agree.
12 to his … cup and laces the brew to suit the mind's palate
13–14 If … begin The eye is presented here as both cook and chief taster, preparing the view of the world to suit the mind's preferences. So if the cup (the misrepresentation of the world in the shape of the friend) turns out to be poisoned, the eye commits a lesser sin than it might otherwise do because it lovingly tastes the cup first. It therefore dies (committing suicide) before it has a chance to perform the greater sin of regicide.