Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition

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Main Text

'Let the bird of loudest lay'

  • Editor’s Note21Here the anthem doth commence:
  • 22Love and Constancy is dead,
  • Editor’s Note23Phoenix and the turtle fled
  • 24In a mutual flame from hence.
  • Editor’s Note29Hearts remote, yet not asunder,
  • 30Distance and no space was seen
  • 31'Twixt this turtle and his queen;
  • Editor’s Note32But in them it were a wonder.

Editor’s NoteThrenos

  • 56Death is now the phoenix' nest,
  • 57And the turtle's loyal breast
  • 58To eternity doth rest,
  • Editor’s Note65To this urn let those repair
  • Editor’s Note66That are either true or fair:
  • 67For these dead birds sigh a prayer.
  • 68             William Shakespeare.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 'Let the bird of loudest lay℉ published in 1601 in a book following Robert Chester's allegorical poem Love's Martyr, in a section called 'Poetical Essays on … the Turtle and the Phoenix'
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1 bird the phoenix
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1 lay song
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2 Arabian tree (traditionally associated with the phoenix)
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4 wings i.e. birds
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5 shrieking harbinger screech owl
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6 precurrer precursor (Latinate)
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6 fiend death; the devil
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7 Auger prophet
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7 fever's end i.e. death
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8 troupe (of mourning birds)
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9 interdict prohibit ('shrieking harbinger' remains the subject)
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11 Save except for
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11 eagle (traditionally the king of birds)
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12 obsequy funeral rites
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13 priest … white i.e. the swan
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13 surplice linen gown (usually white) worn by clergy and others performing religious ceremonies
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14 That … can who is skilled in funereal music
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14 defunctive pertaining to dying; funerary
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15 death-divining (swans were thought to sing to herald their death)
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16 requiem ceremony or mass for the dead
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16 lack his right does not receive what it deserves (i.e. the requiem is incomplete without the swan's song)
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16 right (pun on 'rite')
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17 treble-dated literally 'triple-dated', figuratively 'long-lived'. (Crows were thought to live nine times longer than humans.)
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18 sable gender dark-coloured offspring; dark act of engendering offstage
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18–19 mak'st … breath (crows were thought to reproduce by exchanging breaths)
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21 anthem song, often scriptural, sung by choirs
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23 turtle turtle dove (traditionally female but here male; see l. 31)
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25 as as if; that
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25 in twain together as a couple
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26 Had … one [They] shared a single existence or form ('essence' has theological implications)
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27 distincts distinct persons
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28 Number i.e. their identification as discrete individuals (the line may be read, 'in their love, the notion of separation did not exist')
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29 remote separate
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29 asunder in two parts
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32 But in them in any creatures except for them
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33 So So much
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34 his right his possession; that which is due to him
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35 sight appearance
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36 mine self; property; treasure
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37 Property the principle that entities should be separate; the principle of owning property; property rights
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38 self … same unique characteristics were not associated with a single entity (because the phoenix and turtle, though separate entities, shared an essence, and challenged the idea of 'property' or singularity)
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39 Single … name a single entity with two names (i.e. selves)
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42 division distinct entities
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43 To … neither each entity its own ('To themselves') but not a distinct self
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44 Simple … compounded basic ingredients … joined together
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45 it Reason
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45 true truly; faithful
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45 a twain a couple; double
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46 concordant harmonious
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47–8 Love … remain Love is correct, and Reason incorrect, if what should be separate ('parts') can stay a union (or, 'if what leaves can simultaneously stay')
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49 threne dirge; song of lament (the 'Threnos' that follows)
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51 Co-supremes joint rulers, double singularities
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52 chorus person who explains a tragic event (here, Reason)
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title Threnos a dirge, sung in memory of the dead
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53 Truth faithfulness
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55 enclosed (in the 'urn' of l. 65)
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59 posterity children
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60 not their infirmity not because of bodily weakness
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61 married chastity a chaste (i.e. sexless) marriage
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62 Truth … be Truth may appear true, but is not
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63 Beauty … she Beauty may announce her beauty, but is not real beauty.
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65 repair proceed, go
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66 true or fair (Truth and Beauty in the previous stanza)
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