When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29.
The Bard was envious. The greatest writer who ever breathed, the one that stands now in immortal isolation above the literary world, coveted another’s talent — he found himself “desiring this man’s art”.
Sonnet 29 is a poem that we would all be the richer having memorized. Not only is it musically flawless, it tells of something both unsettling and reassuring: the apparent envy and inner-struggle of the great Shakespeare. Here is a man who troubles “deaf heaven” with hopeless prayers, bemoaning his “outcast state” as one always in want of the appearance (“featured like him”), the freedoms (“scope”), and the friendships of other men. He even envied the craft, the artistic gifts, of another. Only one question could arise here: who in the world did Shakespeare see as more gifted than himself?
I have to know the answer.
As an aside: it’s interesting that the sonnet ends on a note of hope. In thinking about the love of the poem’s addressee, Shakespeare emerges like a lark from his sunken state, filled with hope enough to scorn to change places with a prince. So Shakespeare, who was a Protestant (though some interesting textual evidence suggests he was a closet-Catholic), transcends the torment of melancholy through the plain solution of earthly love, rather than the salvation offered by a deaf sky.
Something to consider.