That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
Shakespeare's Sonnet 58 is a syntactic and thematic continuation of "Sonnet 57". More generally, it belongs to the large group of sonnets written to a young, aristocratic man, with whom the poem's speaker shares a tempestuous relationship. In this poem, the speaker complains of the beloved's voluntary absence, using the occasion to outline a more general lament against his own powerlessness and the indifference of the young man.
I pray that the god (Love) who made me so emotionally enslaved to you keeps me from ever thinking about wishing to control your time, or even to ask you to account for how you have spent your time. I am your servant, and thus I have no choice but to accept your decisions. Please, let me suffer patiently while I wait for you to have time for me, and let me not accuse you of doing me any injury. Go where you like; you have the power not only to decide for yourself, but even to pardon yourself for any injury you may commit. And even though waiting is hell for me, I must accept your actions patiently, whether they be good or bad.
Source and analysis
Line 6 is obscure. Nicolaus Delius glosses it "Let me bear the fact that the liberty you possess is wanting to me, a captive." While recognizing that Delius might be correct, Edward Dowden suggests "The separation from you, which is proper to your state of freedom, but which to me is imprisonment."
In line 9, the quarto's comma after tame is generally removed; editors have glossed the phrase "tame to sufferance" as "made tame to fortune's blows" (Malone); "bearing tamely even cruel distress" (Dowden); "complaisant in suffering" (Sidney Lee}; and "subdued so as to suffer" (Beeching).
In the nineteenth century, there was some debate as to whether this sonnet and Sonnet 57 were addressed to a man or a woman. The tone of querulous anger and the use of some sonnet conventions (such as the conceit of servitude) were sometimes seen as inappropriate for a poem addressed to a social superior and a man. Others, principally those who wished to fit the sonnets into a biographical narrative, accepted that the poems were addressed to a man, and often had a specific man in mind, whether Southampton or someone else. Thomas Tyler, for instance, noted thematic and verbal parallels between these sonnets and some letters of Pembroke. The latter identification has received scant acceptance.
Modern critics accept that the poems were addressed to a young man, and they view the language of class in the sequence from 56-59 in terms of a complex dynamic of class difference and desire. The speaker's metaphoric description of love as enslavement is complicated and enriched by the fact that here, the speaker is literally as well as figuratively subordinate to the beloved. For Helen Vendler and Stephen Booth, among others, the rhetoric of enslavement is ironic: it highlights the element of exaggeration in the speaker's rhetoric, thus hinting that those emotions spring more from self-pity than from justified hurt. Other critics agree to the complexity without admitting that it is ironic. David Shallwyck asserts that the sonnet "accomplishes the remarkable feat of simultaneously offering an apology and levelling an accusation."
- Alden, Raymond. The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1916.
- Baldwin, T. W. On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1950.
- Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
- Schallwyck, David. Speech and Performance in Shakespeare's Plays and Sonnets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Boston: Belknap Press, 1999.