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Shakespeare Sonnet 96: "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"

Updated on September 23, 2017
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles in My Article Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. The rule according to the MLA style for citing an untitled poem's first line as the title is to place the first line in quotation marks and capitalize according to the way the line appears in the poem. Along with the number of the sonnet, this is the format I follow for titling my articles featuring the Shakespeare sonnet


The speaker variously addresses his muse, his poems, and sometimes he bemoans writer’s block in this group of poems, sonnets 18 through 126.

A close reading of this group of sonnets reveals that there is, in fact, no person in them at all.

Sonnet 96, similar to Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 36, is addressing the poem itself.

Reading of Sonnet 96

First Quatrain: "Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness"

In the first quatrain, the speaker tells the sonnet that some people discredit its value by claiming that it merely portrays adolescent values or mere lust, while others say it is that very youth that gives the sonnet "grace" and "gentle sport."

But the speaker simply avers that both grace and faults have their place in poetry, and people "more and less" recognize that fact.

And besides, the speaker claims, the sonnet is the place where the crafty writer converts those faults into graces.

The speaker is, once again, addressing his poem in order to compliment its value as well as he own writing talent that accomplishes that value.

Second Quatrain: "As on the finger of a throned queen"

The second quatrain employs a simile to compare "errors" in a sonnet to "the basest jewel" on the finger of a queen.

The jewel will be considered valuable because of who wears it; the errors will be "translated" from error to truth in the sonnet. Use of the term "translate" supports the speaker’s idea that his sonnets have power through language.

Translation refers primarily to language, particularly conveying one language into another. The speaker is confident that error and lack can be "translated" into truth and value in the sonnet, created by a talented craftsman.

Third Quatrain: "How many lambs might the stern wolf betray"

In the third quatrain, the speaker makes another comparison, between the sonnet and a wolf. If the wolf could "translate" or change himself into a lamb, he could make off with his prey.

The speaker asks rhetorically, "How many lambs" might the wolf be able to attract through his mutation? The speaker is implying that the number is substantial.

Then the speaker asks, how many readers might the sonnet attract, if it would "use the strength of all [its] state!"

The sonnet has the power to capture the minds of its readers, as a wolf has the power to capture lambs, if only the wolf and the sonnet appear in the proper form.

The Couplet: "But do not so; I love thee in such sort"

The speaker informs his sonnet that it need not change, because the poem has the speaker's heart. The sonnet belongs to the speaker, and through his substantial talent, he has created a truthful and viable piece of art.

The speaker tells the sonnet that it will represent him well as it moves through the centuries. He knows that his own skill is responsible for the value of his worthy creations.

Repeated Couplet in Sonnet 36

Sonnet 36, in which the speaker also addresses the sonnet directly, has the identical couplet of Sonnet 96.

The couplet works well with either sonnet because in both cases the speaker is affirming his identity as the poem’s creator.

In both sonnets, the fact that they will go forth and engage readers in a way that reflects on the poet is asserted.

However, even though, or perhaps because, the couplet works with both sonnets, the possibility of a publishing error exists. It is difficult to see how that would occur, but it cannot be ruled out.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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