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   Sonnet 86

A controversial biography

Shakespeare Revealed, a Biography by René Weis: The Rival is said to be mentored by 'spirits' and thus enabled to strike the poet dumb.  The implication is that the rival poet moves in mysterious, even dangerous circles.  In 'his compeers by night' Shakespeare may be having a dig at what the Jesuit Parsons referred to as Marlowe's 'School of Night', (also referred to in Love's labours Lost).

Shakespeare by his contemporaries

The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate: The two most plausible candidates are George Chapman and Christopher Marlowe.  'Compeers by night' has been linked to Chapman's poem 'The Shadow of Night' and the 'full sail' to the ample fourteen syllable line of Chapman's verse translation of Homer.  The 'spirit' has been supposed to be that of Homer.

Read by Claire Marchionne
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Incidentally Bate begins his book by discussing the anecdotes that were told about Shakespeare during his life, looking at how his contemporaries saw him.  Then he moves on to dissect the sonnets showing the various ways they have been used to provide a biographical key to their author's life.

a cornucopia of a book

A. L. Rowse in his Shakespeare's Sonnets writes: Marlowe was killed in a tavern at Deptford on 30 May, and was buried there on 1 June 1593.  It is thought he had that event in mind when he wrote As You Like It, III.iii.12-13: 'It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoninhg in a little room'.

Three masted ship; gold, enamelled and pearl pendant, Italian, late 16th Century (V&A Museum, London)

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write,
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonished.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
I was not sick of any fear from thence:
  But when your countenance fill'd up his line,
  Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine.

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