Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;
More than enough am I that vexed thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.
This and the following sonnets ring the changes on the potential bawdy connotations of one word, 'will'. Commentators have identified six or seven relevant meanings (not all of them bawdy). Any reader of the two sonnets (this and the following one) soon realises that the hidden meanings are of greater importance than the surface meaning. In fact the obvious signification of will as 'volition, desire, intent' is often suppressed entirely, and a straightforward reading of the poem, bypassing or ignoring all the bawdy puns, tends to produce nonsense. One therefore has to be aware of these other meanings to make sense out of apparent nonsense. (The different meanings of 'will' are given below left, and, where appropriate, in the main commentary).
It must be said that the poem is not entirely flattering to the woman addressed. One wonders whether or not she was ever shown any of these productions. Probably not, because they are written so entirely from a male perspective that it would be considered appropriate only to circulate them within a coterie of male friends. Women were considered to be deficient in understanding of many topics. Lord Cecil reprimanded an ambassador for discussing a particular subject with Queen Elizabeth because, as he said, 'it was a matter of such weight, being too much for a woman's knowledge'. But here the subject matter is, apart from its indelicacy, of such a nature that any woman seeing it, if she were of an independent mind, would be inclined to dismiss it as being typical male mythology, totally unrelated to the way in which women act and think. For it is based on the viewpoint, common to all male dominated societies, that the female through her sexuality constitutes a threat to established order. Any woman was potentially regarded as a man eater and capable of alluring males to her so that they might be held in bondage for evermore, as in the Homeric myth of Circe. Although not clearly stated, except perhaps in folk literature, the bondage was often that of having to satisfy her enormous sexual appetite. The subject of the Chaucer's Wife of Bath's tale is the attempt to discover 'what women most desire'. The answer finally given is that they most wish for dominion over their husbands, but many counter suggestions are made before this conclusion is reached. GBE (p.253) cites a poem by Nicholas Breton, published in Melancholicke Humours 1600.
Childrens Ahs and Womens Ohs
Doe a wondrous griefe disclose;
Where a dugge the one will still,
And the t'other but a will...
Let the child then sucke his fill,
Let the woman have her will,
All will hush was heard before,
Ah and Oh will cry no more.
dugge = breast, nipple. The theme is the usual one that all will be well provided the woman's libido is satisfied and she receives a good rogering. The sonnet, working on a similar theme, is about as direct as it could be, and it implies that the woman has a capacious vagina, that she takes all comers, and that she cannot get enough of them. Not exactly the sort of flattering poem one would wish to address to the mistress of one's heart.
Nevertheless the sonnet is essentially one of despair. It sues to be recognised and pleads for recompense 'more than that tongue that more hath more expressed', but both it and the following one leave the impression that the author is excluded from the charmed circle. Although others seem to be enjoying the dark lady's favours with very little restriction, the same is not true for the poet, and he is left on the outside, his mind inflamed, and his spirit and body cast into the outer darkness.
The most interesting precursor of this sonnet is The Ballad of Will which is uncertainly attributed to Thomas Wyatt. I give the text of it below in the additional notes.
The meanings of will which recur throughout the poem are as follows.
1. Wish, desire; thing desired.
2. Carnal desire, lust, sexual longing.
3. The auxiliary verb denoting a future tense, as in 'it will be so, thou wilt vouchsafe'.
4. Willfulness, obstinacy, determination.
5. A slang term for the male sex organ. As in - this night he fleshes his will in the spoil of her honour. AW.IV.iii.14.
6. A slang term for the female sex organ.
7. The name 'William'.
The italicisation of some of the 'will's in the Q text implies an effort to distinguish them in meaning from those presented in ordinary script. The difficulty with following the typescript rigidly is that the Q text is generally very arbitrary in such matters, in some sonnets italicising a word while in others, where the use seems to be exactly comparable, a plain typeface is used. In this sonnet the italicised Wills could relate to its uses where the predominant meaning is the name 'William'. However even that explanation is doubtful for its occurrences in lines 2, 11 and 12 only obliquely fits that meaning. I have compromised by omitting the italicisation and retaining the capital letters for those instances of 'Will' in which it is found. Readers in any case have to bear in mind the large numbers of meanings which the word carries, and allow in each case the relevant suggestions to filter into their minds.
The 1609 Quarto Version
WHo euer hath her wiſh, thou haſt thy Will,
And Will too boote,and Will in ouer-plus,
More then enough am I that vexe thee ſtill,
To thy ſweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou whoſe will is large and ſpatious,
Not once vouchſafe to hide my will in thine,
Shall will in others ſeeme right gracious,
And in my will no faire acceptance ſhine:
The ſea all water,yet receiues raine ſtill,
And in aboundance addeth to his ſtore,
So thou beeing rich in Will adde to thy Will,
One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
Let no vnkinde,no faire beſeechers kill,
Thinke all but one,and me in that one Will.