Sonnet 128

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Sonnet 128

How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap,
At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless’d than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 128 is one of William Shakespeare's Sonnets.


Sonnet 128 is the 128th of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, and the second of two musical sonnets. Its number suggests, like Sonnet 8, the octave of the scale as well as the 12 notes on the keyboard inside each octave (an association first recognized and described in detail by Fred Blick, in "Shakespeare's Musical Sonnets, Numbers 8, 128 and Pythagoras", 'The Upstart Crow, A Shakespeare Journal', Vol. XIX, (1999) 152-168.) Further, Blick notes that in Pythagorean musical theory the proportion of the octave is 1:2 and that on this basis the intervals between 8 and 128 i.e. 8-16, 16-32, 32-64, 64-128, span four octaves, the normal range of the keyboard of a virginal in Shakespeare's time.

Sonnet 128 is comparable to the sonnet in Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo pleads for a first kiss. Like that pilgrim/saint tête-à-tête, this sonnet is set in a public musical celebration. Shakespeare watches his dark lady play the keyboard virginal (or Bassano built clavichord), captivated by her back swaying with the melody. Like Romeo, he longs for a kiss, but in this sonnet he envies the jacks (wooden keys) that the lady’s playing fingers “tickle” while trilling the notes. Perhaps he also envies the other men (Jacks) standing around the lady. Surely, this is an amusing scene to Shakespeare because he secretly is having an affair with the dark lady. He decides not to envy those keys—although he would like to be tickled as they are—but hopes instead to receive a kiss on his lips. Fred Blick points out that this plea for a "kiss", leaving the fingers to the jacks, is a compromise, just as the tuning of the virginal or other keyboard instrument is, in musical temperament, a compromise.



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