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De Vere Poem 13: Love Compared to a Tennis-Play

The Introduction to this new Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship edition of the known poems of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), explaining their text, format, annotations, and historical background, with key to abbreviations and works cited, is available here (see copyright notice therein, note 1). The other de Vere poems published in this edition (and a printable and citable pdf version of the entire article, including all 20 poems with annotations) may be accessed from the Introduction.

Poem No. 13: “Love Compared to a Tennis-Play”

(May #13: sonnet, though not in classically “Shakespearean” form)

1            Whereas the heart at tennis plays, and men to gaming fall,

2            Love is the court, hope is the house, and favour serves the ball.

3            The ball itself is true desert; the line, which measure shows,

4            Is reason, whereon judgment looks how players win or lose.

5            The jetty is deceitful guile; the stopper, jealousy,

6            Which hath Sir Argus’ hundred eyes wherewith to watch and pry.

7            The fault, wherewith fifteen is lost, is want of wit and sense,

8            And he that brings the racket in is double diligence.

9            And lo, the racket is freewill, which makes the ball rebound;

10          And noble beauty is the chase, of every game the ground.

11          But rashness strikes the ball awry, and where is oversight?

12          “A bandy ho,” the people cry, and so the ball takes flight.

13          Now, in the end, good-liking proves content the game and gain.

14          Thus, in a tennis, knit I love, a pleasure mixed with pain.

 

(1) Whereas the heart at tennis plays, and men to gaming fall

‘stuff’d tennis-balls’ (Much, 3.2.46); ‘the tennis-court-keeper knows better than I, for it is a low ebb of linen with thee when thou keepest not racket there’ (2 Hen. IV, 2.2.18); ‘tennis-balls, my liege’ (Hen. V, 1.2.258); ‘The faith they have in tennis and tall stockings’ (Hen. VIII, 1.3.30); ‘brought to play at tennis’ (Kins., 5.2.56); ‘There was ’a gaming … There falling out at tennis’ (Ham., 2.1.58-59).

Both Oxford (devoting this entire poem to it), and “Shakespeare,” refer extensively and with apparently spontaneous naturalism to the then-aristocratic sport of tennis and its terms of art.

The Hamlet reference to “falling out at tennis” has been seen, including by Chambers (142), as a likely topical reference to the famous 1579 London “tennis court quarrel” between Sir Philip Sidney and Oxford—many years before the orthodox view would allow Hamlet to have been written.

Shakespeare of Stratford was a 15-year-old boy at the time, still in that provincial town. The incident was about a decade in the past by the time conventional wisdom holds he arrived in London, and still farther in the past when he is often said to have written Hamlet. Of course, any playwright might have written about an incident in which he himself was not involved—but decades later, when it was old news? Sidney died of battle wounds in 1586 at age 31 and was revered as a national hero. Would a commoner, writing after that, dredge up an unsavory incident from years before?

(2, 10) courtchase

‘That all the courts of France will be disturb’d With chases’ (Hen. V, 1.2.266).

(6) Sir Argus’ hundred eyes where­with to watch and pry

Watch thou and wake when others be asleep, To pry into the secrets of the state’ (2 Hen. VI, 1.1.247-48); cf.Watch me like Argus’ (Merch., 5.1.230); ‘purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight’ (Troil., 1.2.29).

Argus Panoptes was a multi-eyed giant in Greek mythology. It was said that some of his eyes would always remain watchfully awake while others slept.

(9) the racket is freewill, which makes the ball rebound

‘When we have match’d our rackets to these balls’ (Hen. V, 1.2.261); cf. ‘the tennis-court-keeper knows better than I, for it is a low ebb of linen with thee when thou keepest not racket there’ (2 Hen. IV, 2.2.18).

[posted January 22, 2018]

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