Some glory in their birth, some in their skill. (a)
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force. (b)
Some in their garments (though new-fangled ill). (a)
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse. (b)
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure (c)
Wherein it find a joy above the rest. (d)
But these particulars are not my measure; (c)
All these I better and one general best. (d)
Thy love is better than high birth to me, (e)
Richer than wealth prouder than garments cost, (f)
Of more delight than hawks or horses be, (e)
And having thee of all men’s pride I boast, (f)
Wretched in this alone; that thou mayst take (g)
All this away and me most wretched make. (g)
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91 puts a unique spin on the traditional Shakespearean love sonnets by having the speaker express how wonderful it feels to be in love. Rather than describing his beloved beauty, the speaker in this sonnet uses the term love as an analogy and compares it to wealth and aristocratic status. After comparing love to immaculate wealth and aristocratic status, the speaker uses love as a metaphor to argue that having the ability to feel love is priceless. Ultimately, he argues that feeling love is more powerful than the luck of high birth or having a unique skill. In other words, the speaker is arguing that love is not a birthright or possession – it is something more profound. Throughout the sonnet it is clear that the speaker believes he has something so profound it supersedes the elite. However, the last two couplets express the speaker’s fear of losing his power by the use of imagery which gives the reader a glimpse of seeing him as a broken man. He concedes that if he loses the ability to feel love he will be just an ordinary man — one who is hopelessly lost without love.
Hidden beneath the cryptic language of this sonnet lies a conflict between high birth, wealth, pride, and love. Love in this instance seems to be the most powerful term in the sonnet. The speaker seems to pit high birth, wealth, and pride against one another. He uses love to express something that is more profound and implies that he sees high birth, wealth, and pride as a physical possession and therefore powerless. Upon reflection, one could argue that another main metaphor for love is power as the speaker expresses that he has something that those with immaculate wealth do not. The way in which love is placed above high birth signifies that love is placed above one’s social status, pride, and wealth. The speaker mocks those who are privileged by implying that the feeling of love gives him more pride and wealth than could be imagined. Ultimately, this power allows for an additional conflict between love and the speaker. The sonnet’s conclusion implies that the speaker is aware of the possibility that he can lose the power of feeling love. In the last two couplets, the speaker acknowledges his fear of losing his unique ability, and implies that extreme wealth and privilege cannot substitute for the power of love.
“humour | humor, n.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 19 January 2014 <http://catalog2.nmsu.edu:2232/view/Entry/89416?isAdvanced=false&result=1&rskey= HEoyez&>.