It’s true; we are on the eve of a most romantic day for lovers everywhere, a long-heralded day of St. Valentine. School children exchange valentines both playful and delightful. Adults plan getaways at romantic destinations complete with special suites in glamorous hotels with copious amounts of wine or champaign served in candlelight; while cuisine favorites feature chocolate in any variety followed by luxurious dining in four to six courses at a table for two.
However, in the time of Shakespeare, if you were the beloved of the playwright/actor/author, you might receive a sonnet, painstakingly written in language you may not be able to readily decipher. If you were a Londoner in Elizabethan England for instance, you may not have been able to read or write unless you were a royal, a noble, a highly decorated knight, or a very accomplished working actor. And often, these aforementioned people might have had some difficulty signing their own names. Yet, Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, poetry, and other writings remain……..in Elizabethan English.
Let those who are in favor with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast
Whilst I whom fortune of such triumph bars
Un’look’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold in the sun’s eye
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for worth
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
Then happy I that love and am belov’d
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
That’s Sonnet 25 by William Shakespeare. It may not look it or sound it, but Shakespeare is stating his profound and undying love to the reader. He compares his life to others – courtiers, who live their lives at court in splendor, but at a frown from the king or prince may lose all, and then he compares his position to the valiant hero-soldier who through one defeat may erase a lifetime of victories.
To Shakespeare, to love and be loved are the ultimate. He stipulates by comparison that all he needs or wants is the love of his beloved and the need to express his love in kind. Courtiers and generals have no inkling of his joy, his honor, and that joy and honor are forever.
Who wouldn’t want to receive a valentine like that?
However, upon first glance, did you really think Sonnet 25 was so glorious? Even English speakers need translators for Elizabethan English. It’s rather interesting how very necessary good translations are.