Who is it that the Dark Lady has bewitched in Sonnet 134? – Howard Schumann

Schumann: In his e-book discussion of Sonnet 134, Edward Furlong states that the male friend whom the author’s lover (presumably Anne Vavasour) has bewitched is John Lyly. What is your view of this?

Hughes: Along with a number of others, I see Sonnets 127 through 152 as expressing the feelings of someone so besotted with a sexually appealing young woman that nothing can break the spell, not the fact that she “belongs” to someone else, that she is unfaithful, that she is “unjust” and “tyrannous,” upbraiding him for things he can’t control, and so forth.  He’s her love slave, he’s helplessly in love with her, as these poems testify, though of course we can’t tell how long the spell lasted.  Such things are more often a matter of weeks than months or years.

As has also been pointed out by many, this series matches with a series of three sonnets, 40-42, that occurs during the first group, 1 through 126, written for and about “the Fair Youth.”  In these the poet seems to be referring to the same situation, i.e., that the woman has seduced the poet’s young friend. In fact, however opaquely, Sonnet 134 sounds very much like he’s saying pretty much the same thing he’s saying to the youth in Sonnet 42.

As many concur, the Fair Youth was the Earl of Southampton, to whom Oxford dedicated Venus and Adonis in 1593 during the period when he and Burghley were trying to get Southampton to marry Oxford’s daughter.  As I’ve indicated a number of times elsewhere, I agree with A.L. Rowse that the Dark Lady was the poet musician Emilia Bassano.  Thus the answer to your question is that the friend that the Dark Lady bewitched was Southampton.  This occurred at some point in the early 90s when Oxford was in his early 40s, Southampton was in his teens, and Emilia was in her early 20s.

It makes no sense to see Ann Vavasor as the Dark Lady. Emilia was half Italian, while Ann was pure anglo saxon with pale skin and light brown hair.  Ann was also far too early.  Oxford in his early 30s could not possibly have been in the mood he was in (“all chopped and tanned with antiquity”) when he wrote the Sonnets.  The best authorities date them to 1590-96.

As for a word for word breakdown of the meaning of Sonnet 134 (or 135-137), I must confess it’s beyond me, and I would think beyond anyone to penetrate to the bottom––no pun intended, though puns definitely intended by Shakespeare, and surely as funky as he ever got.  Our boy was having one heck of a mid-life crisis.  I’d just as soon leave it at that.

3 thoughts on “Who is it that the Dark Lady has bewitched in Sonnet 134? – Howard Schumann

  1. I grant that many, perhaps even most of the sonnets were written in the 1590s and early 1600s, yet I do not see why some could not have been written in the 1580s. In this sonnet (134) we’re actually told the friend ‘learn’d but surety-like to write for me..’ That brought Lyly to mind who worked for de Vere for a decade and was a close friend.

  2. There are almost as many interpretations of the Sonnets as there are fish in the sea. I hold, along with many others, that all but (possibly) the last two were written within a short period of time and were published in the order in which they were written, a view that fits with the long tradition of sonnet cycles and that (to me) makes more sense than any rearrangement I know of. That this period of time is the early 90s seems to me beyond dispute (though of course, it is frequently disputed). Also, I know of no supportive evidence that Lyly was a “close friend” of Oxford’s. He was his secretary, but that doesn’t make him the kind of friend that the Fair Youth so obviously was. But again, when it comes to the Sonnets, it’s each to his own.

  3. I think at least two of the sonnets can be dated to 1581, when Oxford reconciled with his countess Anne Cecil. Sonnets 110 and 117 are what I call the “penitent husband sonnets” because they seem to apologize for straying “making a motley to the view” and being estranged “given to time your own dear-purchased right”. The last lines could fit only Anne, of all his lovers: (110) “Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best/ Even to thy pure and most, most loving breast.” and (117) “since my appeal says I did strive to prove/ The constancy and virtue of your love.” The Stratfordians have erred in assuming that there was only one woman referred to in the Sonnets. I think there were four altogether.

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