List of Chapters & Sample Chapter                                         from Book 2 (2009)

"Music in the Sonnets" by Peter Jensen 


Author Photo by Sandy Jensen

I have written these chapters and more in Book 2 (June 2009)

1. Music in the Sonnets (Reproduced here in full.)

2. Anagrams & Acrostics in Shake-speare's Sonnets

3. Texts by Will & Aemelia: Is this a Dialogue?

4. Christopher Marlowe, Rival               Poet, in Will's Sonnets

5. Is there Name Code in "The Phoenix and the Turtle?"

6. Shakespeare's Practice of                     Perspective in the Sonnets

7. Seven Colors in Shakespeare's             Sonnets: Gold, Black, Red, White, Yellow, Green, and Purple

8. The Fibonacci Series in                            Shakespeare's Sonnets

9.Three Shorter Separations and            One Longer, Three Year Separation in Shakespeare's             Sonnets

10, What's So Funny? Three Fools & More 

12. Boy actors & Gender Benders 

13. Dialogue with René Weis

14. The Coda & 7 Double Bars

15. The Allegory of Hamlet 

Sonnet 8    8 is for octave 

Italian Keyboard

Composer Robert Johnson

Embedded like an ANAGRAM

In Sonnet 8:





"Family Concert"

by Leandro Bassano


Names embedded a second time in      Sonnet 128:







"Beware the Boar!"



"10th Muse"

"My music"

The lutanist

from "Family Concert"

by Leandro Bassano



The keyboardist



Sonnet 128 




Sonnet string:

127, 128, 129, & 130 






Sonnets 8 & 128 

Sonnet 9 



Sonnet 129

Revolted Volta

Sonnet 130




Logo: Great Blue Heron with a broken feather

Teenaged Henry Wriothesley (NOTE: This link goes to a family tree site, which is [mistakenly] Marlovian). Henry may have looked like the image below when Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 8 on music & Sonnet 20 for "... the master-mistress of my passion."

    Music in the Sonnets

Musical and social harmony—musical and social theory, were key analogies of Renaissance thought. Music should harmonize and be a friend of love.   Shakespeare loved to insert music in his plays; he wrote wonderful lyrics for many beautiful songs. Many of his characters quote funny or sad lines from songs, and they should sing them, especially if we still know the tunes. 


NOTE: There is a whole book—Shakespeare’s Songbook by Ross Duffin—full of Shakespeare's song lyrics, songs by others his characters sing, and correct or possible tunes.



But there are only two sonnets (8 & 128) about music in the Sonnets, and they are closely related by number and name code. Both numbers contain the magic, musical number 8 for the octave, and since 128 is about keyboard playing, it also numbers with 12 the keys above C that bring us to the next C up. Sonnet 8 records Will asking a sullen youth at a May Pole Day (May 1, 1590 O. C.) celebration why he does not enjoy the music and why he cannot enjoy the tonic chord as a sound vision of happy family life. [See recently rediscovered illustration above of Henry Wriothesley as a teenager.] (We will find in Sonnet 19—written after the youth’s 17th birthday on October 6, 1590 and perhaps next May 12, 1591 O. C. —that it is because the youth does not love the young lady proposed as his future wife.) Sonnet 128 records another public, musical celebration (on 27 May 1592 O. C.) when the dark lady is playing a keyboard instrument—some say a virginal, but I think it’s a Bessano family built clavichord. (See below: a table top, portable, painted keyboard from Venice.)   

I want to say something about inserting speculative dates next to sonnets. No one else seems willing to do this now, but I think I have found a possible timeline and a system to back it up. If putting dates on sonnets offends you, take them off! Nothing is a hard to fix as time. Stick it with a pin, and it slips off. As soon as we all admit that Will’s Sonnets were written and rewritten from 1589 to 1609, then real Renaissance time and sidereal time and poet’s time get so complicated that it’s like dizzy on a merry-go-round as a little kid who’s eaten too much cotton candy. But I do want to try out my system, and I do insist on speculating about any new layers of meaning or interpretation these possible dates of origin give us.     

As for hidden names, the embedded code is quite specific. In both sonnets the name of a minor player in Shakespeare’s life, who links Will and Aemelia, that of Robert Johnson, is embedded twice. Johnson was Aemelia Bessano’s cousin and the composer for music in both Shakespeare’s and Ben Jonson’s plays. It is fitting that Shakespeare identify this major composer and his musical collaborator both at the May Day celebration in 1590 and as the composer whose songs the dark lady is playing in 1592. In the answer to the opening chiasmic question of line 1,
“Music to hear, why hear thou music sadly?” 

Sonnet 8, lines 2—9, records Johnson’s double braided name:
    Sweets with sweets war not, JOy delights in JOy:
    Why lov’s tHou tHat which thou Receiv’st not gladly,
    Or else Receiv’st with pleasure thine aNNoy?

    If the true cOncOrd of well tuned SoundS,
    By uniONs marries, do OffeNd thine ear,
    They do But swEetly chide thee, who confound
    In singleness the paRTs that thou shouldst BEaR;

    Mark how one sTring, sweet husband to another …

Perhaps Robert Johnson is there, too, playing and conducting his music at this event meant to bring Elizabeth de Vere to dance with 16 or 17 year old Henry Wriothesley just after he graduated from Cambridge law school. Could this musical event be at Titchfield or at Montague House in Southwark in 1590? (See below: Painting "Family Concert" by Leandro Da Ponte called Bassano)



When we shift to May 27, 1592, we are at a London musical event. Perhaps it is sponsored by Lord Hunsdon or more likely, the Bessan0 family, and Aemelia, who worked as a keyboard music teacher to young, upper class ladies, may be playing her cousin Robert’s songs. Lines 4—11 & 13—14 reveal his doubled name again:     

    The wiRy cOncord that mine eaR cOnfounds,
    Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap
    TO kiss the teNder inward of thy Hand,
    Whilst my poor lipS, which Shouldst that harvest reap
    At the wOOd’s BoldNess by thEe Blushing stand!
    To bE so tickled they would change theiR staTe …

    Since saucy Jacks sO Happy are iN this,
    Give them thy fiNgeRS, me thy lips TO kiss.

So this two times, double braided naming in sonnets 8 and 128 links both the youth and the dark lady to the most significant musician/composer in Shakespeare’s life. Later, we will see the dark lady’s (AEMELIA BESSANO) two names double braided in this same fashion in Sonnet 151.    

I like the sullen teen image of the youth in Sonnet 8. This mood may give Shakespeare a clue that all the marriage pressure being put on Henry Wriothesley by his mother and the sonnets Shakespeare is writing for her to read at his 17th birthday party, are not going to be listened to until Henry falls in love for himself. Perhaps, even at 16 or 17, Henry has distaste for the Burleigh, Cecil, de Vere faction at court. Henry is more a soldier like Robert Leiceister and Robert Devereaux than a sneaky politician or lawyer like Burleigh or Cecil. And he may have heard rumors of the warning Queen Elizabeth gave to one of her favorites in 1571 about the corrupt character of Edward de Vere: “Beware the Boar!” Of course, I wonder what the Queen’s appropriately nasty nickname for de Vere has to do with the killer Boar in “Venus and Adonis” and/or the allegorical emblem of Richard III’s white Yorkish Boar. The De Vere Family symbol is the Blue Boar.

In Rex Gibson’s good edition of the Sonnets, he reproduces a Nicholas Hilliard miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute across from Sonnet 8 (15). Perhaps this is the very lute that Aemelia’s father, Baptist Bessano, gave to the Queen as a Christmas present. In his new recording of Dowland’s songs for voice and lute, Songs from the Labyrinth, Sting records the moment of Robert Johnson’s death and Dowland’s hope that he would be named to replace him. But then, Dowland speculates that he didn’t get the position because of his Catholic religion. So Dowland goes abroad to the courts of Denmark, Germany, and Italy.

In sonnet 8, Shakespeare analogs the tonic chord with its tones on 1, 3, and 5 to the happy family of father, child, and “happy mother,” each played on separate strings. Note that the mother is the perfect fifth, and the child is the third snuggled between them. When I was a little boy, my parents Marion and Bill would embrace with me in between them. My mother called this their “Peter butter sandwich.” Shakespeare is trying to tempt the youth with such an image of “concord.” And sonnet 8 plays on and reminds the youth of his family’s old French motto: “Tout pour un et un pour tout.” Line 12 states most of this motto: “Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing;” but the couplet warns the youth what happens if he doesn’t play love music and marry:

        Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
        Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’

One equals none—that’s the hard motto of another fellow, Narcissus, who drowned from self-love. So we see how the all in one motto (if not honored and completed by the youth) will wilt as one turns to none.

Shakespeare loves the puns on concords and unions as referring both to musical chords and marriages. Of course, Henry Wriothesley will not marry Elizabeth de Vere. He will pay an enormous fine to Burleigh of 5,000 pounds, and he will court and secretly marry Elizabeth Vernon tying himself to that more dangerous faction, that of the Earl of Essex. Love and marriage do not always lead to social harmony. They can also lead to complex conflicts of loyalty and even rebellion.

But once we shift to Sonnet 128 and the concords the dark lady is playing, we are in much sexier territory. Shakespeare looks at Aemelia from behind as she sways at her keyboard and at other young men, “saucy jacks,” who stand around her at this May 27th summer party. The wooden keys of the clavichord are tickled by her fingers. The Jacks of her audience, “… kiss the tender inward of thy hand.” But Will is like Romeo at the Capulet party; he is begging a kiss on his lips. If this is 1592, we have here a precursor and perhaps the original model for the great dialogue sonnet when Romeo first meets Juliet and, as a pilgrim of love, pleads for a kiss from his saint. Both sonnets contain the key words “blushing … stand” as if Shakespeare were linking these two moments by quoting himself in 1595 (Sonnet 128.8 & R&J I.5.94). Or did Shakespeare revise Sonnet 128 in 1604 or 1608 to make it echo the romantic play?  I love this hall of mirrors. Time slows down as it approaches the speed of light. What does it do when it enters a loop through Will’s brain at a later moment of revision?

Line one of 128 repeats the double use of “music” played on in chiastic line 1 of sonnet 8 but with the difference of back to back nouns with different meanings:
        “How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st”
                                                                        (Sonnet 128.1).
Unlike Henry, who Shakespeare called his “tenth Muse,” Aemelia is Will’s “music.” Unlike the lover and patron Henry, Aemelia’s a player and entertainer, too. Her large musical family, establish in England by four brothers who came from Venice as a recorder consort in the reign of Henry VIII, is also part of her context for Shakespeare. She is a second generation, Italian musician tied by the blood of her mother’s family to the English composer Johnson. In sonnet 127, she suddenly became “my mistress.” In sonnet 128, she is Will’s musician. Of course, Aemelia is also a budding, twenty-three year old lyric poet, too, and she needs a new patron. Her five years of experience as a royal mistress to the Queen’s cousin (or some say half bastard brother) Hunsdon makes her an aggressive seducer of nineteen year old Henry as patron and lover, too. But Will does not admit this painful event has happened in writing until sonnet 133.

(See above: The lutanist from "Family Concert" by Leandro Bassano.     This painter does not belong to Aemeila's musical family, but it is a different Bassano family of painters from the same Italian home town. See below: The keyboardist from the same painting.)

We can imagine her playing Robert Johnson’s songs perhaps at a family summer musical party in 1592. She knows she’s pregnant, and so does Shakespeare. He writes of her “bastard shame” in Sonnet 127. But here (in Sonnet 128), she is delightful and flirting with other men, and yet she is already Will’s “mistress.” Of course, once they make love, he writes the disappointed sonnet 129 about the wages of his lust. And then he shifts quickly back to humor in the classic, anti-romantic parody in Sonnet 130.

Unlike Romeo, Will has not won the exclusive love of his Juliet, and they are no longer teens but twenty some-things. In sonnet 128, we see her in perspective from behind. Sonnet 127 had his eye gazing deeply into her mourning “black” eyes, a stance he took with the youth and his sunny eyes in Sonnet 24. But this musical portrait shifts point of view to behind her back in a public place, and her “wiry concords” are not about harmonious family life but are about her amazing sexual attraction. And Shakespeare’s desire amuses him; he makes fun of himself. He is more like Mercutio than Romeo, but he is not as rough. He imagines being tickled by her fingers as the wooden keys are. Since they are also “jacks,” he permits her to present her fingers for other, “saucy” men to kiss. But he wants to place exclusive kisses on her lips from his lips. We have here the eyes and ears of the lover making him want what Romeo wanted, a kiss.

So sonnets 8 and 128 are linked, but they are opposites. Music is magic, and it should help both love and marriage and love making along, but both next sonnets admit that the spell of music can be easily broken. Sonnet 9 asks the unmoved youth if he is not interested in music and marriage because he fears “to wet a widow’s eye” (sonnet 9.1). Sonnet nine is based on a gamey debate between the initials of the widowed Mary Wriothesley (with 21 W’s and 11 M’s). And, as if to repeat the mirror image of sonnet 3 between son Henry and mother Mary, those two letters can make a rebus mirror image, one standing for marriage and Mary, the other for widow and Wriothsley:

This is a stark image of vertical letter contrast that represents a stark choice for the youth who seems immune to the joys of music. And then, after the musical party of sonnet 128, sonnet 129 records the sharpest and most sudden turn in emotion in all this sequence. There is no escaping the fact that Will felt deep despair as soon as his love for Aemelia had been consummated and is then viewed as his lust.                 

                Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
                Past reason hated as a swallowed bait

                                                                                (Sonnet 129.6—7)

We cannot know exactly what happened to sink Will in such deep self-disgust or made him feel so quickly trapped. We may speculate that Aemelia is quite desperate for his protection and support, and she may demand all sorts of conditions and pay back from Shakespeare in order to continue their affair. (Think of Beatrice’s demand that Benedick kill Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing.) Fortunately, for Shakespeare, his despair turns next to his sudden laughter of parody in Sonnet 130. But he is now off on a roller coaster affair, and the dark lady will put him through hell to get to her “heaven.” He does admit that he                 

                    … love[s] to hear her speak, yet well I know
                    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

                                                                                        (Sonnet 130.9—10)

To judge from the rest of the dark lady sonnets, he is going to hear a lot more of her voice. But, unfortunately, he is not going to hear more of her music.


Peter Jensen