Sonnet 105: Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my belovèd as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
"Fair, kind, and true" is all my argument,
"Fair, kind, and true" varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone.
Which three till now never kept seat in one.

by William Shakespeare

Comments (5)

Add a comment.u r right my name is fair kind nd truth i shall liv long
*********** This curious sonnet treads once again the very thin line between arcane humour and outright blasphemy, which has already been seen in Sonnets 34 (Peter's denial of Christ) and 52 (the Beatitudes) , and it continues in 108, which has an irreverent parody of the 'Our Father'. Here the theme is that of the Holy Trinity and the poet's argument seems to be that his love is not idolatrous because it is a worship of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, which three he transmutes into fairness, kindness and truthfulness, all seen in his beloved. It is as if the poet is responding to an accusation, and defending himself against the charge of idolatrous worship which has been levelled against him. He uses the refutation that his worship of the beloved youth has the same character as the Christian worship of God in the Holy Trinity, and therefore it cannot be idolatrous. His love is not an idol, but a holy trinity of beauty, goodness and truth. ******
Commentators have on the whole found this sonnet dull and repetetive, lacking in any metaphor which might enliven it. I am more inclined to think that its life springs from the fact that it takes a rather perilous walk along a precipice. In the 16th. century to be on the wrong side of a religious divide could be a matter of life and death. Elizabeth herself was probably fairly tolerant, and could be pacified with a formula of words. But there were many religious fanatics who were ready to insist that 'He who is not with me is against me'. Being a Catholic was obviously dangerous, and being seen as a non-believer risked the threat of denunciation from all sides. Either of these would be liable to the charge of being traitors since they could be portrayed as attempting to undermine the government's declared policies. It is therefore quite difficult to decide how one should interpret this sonnet. Is it a piece of frivolous sophistry which supposedly frees the speaker from the accusation of idolatry? Or is it meant to be taken seriously, to the extent that we are to understand the poet as genuinely believing that his love of the youth is comparable to the Christian love of God, and therefore non-idolatrous? Or are we perhaps expected to interpret the poem as an allegory of some sort, of divine love, or of self-deception, or of human love?
The first two possibilities are inherently dangerous, since they lay the speaker open to the charge of blasphemy or sacrilege, which were imprisonable, and possibly even capital offences. The third possibility is very un-Shakespearian, but in any case would run the risk of being seen as very similar to the quasi-blasphemous pronouncements of the first two interpretations.
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