What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit,
Is poorly imitated after you.
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new.
Speak of the spring, and foison of the year;
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty appear,
And you in every blessed shape we know.
—In all external grace you have some part,
—But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Shakespeare, Sonnet LIII

A poem of ‘abundant flattery,’ this has been described. The young Earl of Southampton, to whom this was probably addressed, could not have been displeased. Shakespeare had not only compared him to a summer’s day, but also as the promise of spring and the bounty of autumn. The Earl was hailed not only as the most beautiful of men (like the Adonis of Venus) but the equal of Helen (the most beautiful of women) too. Who’s he? What’s he made of? Spring, autumn, Adonis, Helen. What a piece of work he must have been!

The poem may seem straightforward, but Shakespeare is clever. In the very first phrases, he hints at a subtle interpretation: substance and shadow. The reference is to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In this cave, there is a fire burning behind us, and the fire’s light casts shadows on a wall. We are chained inside the cave, facing the wall, and unable to look around. We see moving shadows, we see life passing in outline before our eyes. But we have no knowledge of the solid reality behind the shadows. We believe that the shadows are real. Plato implies that beneath the surface of appearances there exists another level of reality (the transcendental reality). Everything and everyone ‘has, every one, one shade’, and none can reveal all aspects of itself at once.

Except, it seems, for Shakespeare’s friend. Shakespeare paints a picture of someone with the power to represent all ways of existing. Almost magical, with a ‘stage charm’ spell. Unlike Plato who recommended a ban for such charismatic trance, Shakespeare had no courage to disregard. Yet he knew the trouble he was in. In his other sonnets, Shakepeare chided, railed, amd complained against his friend. The poem in its deeper meaning is no poem of ‘abundant flattery’. It is a lament.

The world is abundant in shadows. The key is to search for truth and understand the substance. In Sex, Drugs, and Sausage Rolls, guy_interrupted lamented on bodies to die for:

“Now I’m not going to deny that these examples of hard training look amazing, but seriously, if they don’t die of organ failure because of their ridiculously low calorie intake, they’ll probably either get cancer from sunbed abuse, or a heart attack from all the drugs they’re using to help them on their way to the body beautiful … Is being perfect really worth that? … I got so used to the constant parade of plucked, preened and pumped bodies walking around that they all started to become curiously unsexual. I mean, every single one of them looked the same! … Screw the body beautiful.”

Joshua Hunt also explored the deception in his brief stint as a gold digger:

“… did I ever sign up for gaygolddiggers.uk.com? It’s a shabby little site where young, occasionally handsome liars (catchphrase “I’m not shallow enough to care about looks!”) seek to pair up with dumpy moneybags, many of whom seemed to mainly want a boyfriend that matched their three-piece suite. I suppose I probably logged on for research purposes … Attached to very little back then, I loved the idea of dropping everything and running away… But even then I knew that the power of his mighty wallet would sour things eventually. Sure, it would spirit me away into a faraway, shiny world – but it would also mean we’d both wonder whether filthy lucre lurked behind any affection we gave each other … I still think about him sometimes … hope he ended up with better than winning someone’s love with money.”

Have you heard of the story of The Frog and The Scorpion. Over at Copyblogger, this story is told in the context of business, but the lesson remains universal:

A scorpion needs to cross the river. He asks a friendly-looking frog to carry him across. “Do you think I’m stupid?” asks the frog. “You’re a scorpion. You’ll sting and kill me.” “No I won’t,” says the scorpion. “That would be completely against my self interest. If I sting you, I’ll fall in the river and drown.” The frog sees the sense in this and agrees to carry the scorpion across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings him. “Why did you do that?” asks the dying frog. “I’m a scorpion,” answers the drowning scorpion. “It’s my nature.” … This painful little story illustrates something we’ve all seen, but sometimes forget. Lie down with dogs and you’ll get fleas. Do business with scorpions, and you’ll get stung.

ScottDB went on about Irish sins and scandals, despite having to initially state that Ireland was once romanticised as being called The Isle of Saints and Scholars:

“As the Irish government released the Murphy Report, an investigation into the decades of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic Church, shockwaves spread out from Dublin to all over the world, especially to America and Britain where a large proportion of the Irish Diaspora reside. Bishops were strongly encouraged to resign, and it finally came to light how corrupt the Church, once the backbone of Irish society, truly was.”

And because Homo Knows got irked by a magazine’s surprisingly interesting article about prices of printer cartridges, his outrage resulted into posting:

“It makes it look like HP saw a 30% drop in pages printed, when it was only really a 2% decline (most of the chart is a doomsday prediction). Fail, BusinessWeek – stop scaring the sh*t out of stupid people like (me and) other people who can’t read charts correctly.”

And finally, on a more specific (and practical) note, buying train tickets can become hazy and covered in shadows. Pubwebmaster recounted his experience:

“trouble is, these tickets, whilst advertised on the website, are only available directly from Southern, and Southern don’t sell tickets online! After selecting the trains you want, you are presented instead with a list of a dozen retailers (two of which charge a service fee!) comprising other TOCs (some of which are also owned by Southern-owning Govia), all of whom refuse to sell Southern’s discounted tickets … turns out, the only way to get the tickets is to go to a Southern ticket office and buy them in person. Fortunately, I was able to … and bought the tickets … £3 each way (so a further saving!), but this is a typical example of why the railway industry is held in such low esteem. People don’t mind restricted tickets provided they are advised clearly of the restrictions, but not being able to buy them at all takes the biscuit!”