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De Vere Poem 19: If Women Could Be Fair and Yet Not Fond

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. 19: “If Women Could Be Fair and Yet Not Fond”

(May PBO #3: 6 x 3)

1            If women could be fair, and yet not fond,

2            Or that their love were firm, not fickle still,

3            I would not marvel that they make men bond

4            By service long to purchase their good will;

5            But when I see how frail those creatures are,

6            I muse that men forget themselves so far.


7            To mark the choice they make, and how they change,

8            How oft from Phoebus they do flee to Pan;

9            Unsettled still, like haggards wild they range,

10          These gentle birds that fly from man to man;

11          Who would not scorn and shake them from the fist,

12          And let them fly, fair fools, which way they list?


13          Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

14          To pass the time when nothing else can please,

15          And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

16          Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

17          And then we say when we their fancy try,

18          To play with fools, of what a fool was I!


(4) By service long to purchase their good will

‘I entreat true peace of you, Which I will purchase with my duteous service’ (Rich. III, 2.1.63-64); cf.purchase us a good opinion’ (Caes., 2.1.145).

(5) how frail those creatures [women] are

Frailty, thy name is woman’ (Ham., 1.2.146).

(7) To mark the choice they [women] make, and how they change

She must change for youth: when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have change, she must’ (Oth., 1.3.355).

(9) like haggards wild they [women] range

her spirits are as coy and wild As haggards of the rock’ (Much, 3.1.35-36); cf. ‘Another way I have to man my haggard, To make her come, and know her keeper’s call’ (Shrew, 4.1.193-94); ‘If I do prove her haggard, Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings’ (Oth., 3.3.260-61).

This parallel, involving a more generic reference to women as wild haggards, is not as strong as that with No. 9.14 (The haggard hawk with toil is made full tame) (see discussion there of Professor May’s arguments), though this one does constitute a triple word parallel: like/as wild haggards.

(15) subtle oath


Compare Sonnet 138:


When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her, though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutor’d youth,

Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.


[posted January 22, 2018]

About Bryan Wildenthal

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