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As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharg'd with burden of mine own love's might.
O let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
   O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
   To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.


XXIII. Overcome by nervous hesitancy and trepidation, the poet cannot declare all his love for his friend. His Sonnets must speak for him; but his love is greater than even these can express. This nervousness was probably not altogether a poet's fiction.

2. Put besides his part. We now use the phrase "put out."

3, 4. Or some fierce thing, &c. Or some fierce animal which has lost self-control.

5. It seems doubtful whether "for fear of trust" is to be regarded as meaning "fearing that I shall not be trusted," or "fearing to trust myself." Dowden takes the words in the latter sense. I prefer the former.

6. The perfect ceremony, &c. The full and due expression of love. Rite. Q. "right."

7, 8. Cf. lines 3, 4.

9. My books. It has been supposed that the Sonnets were sent to Mr. W. H. in successive written books.

10. Presagers. Meaning almost "interpreters," but also implying that the poet's love had not yet been altered.

11, 12. Who plead, &c. Myself who plead for love, and a recompense greater (first "more" of line 12) than "that tongue" (the voice of my books) hath better (third "more ") expressed than my voice could do that greater love and recompense ("that more") which I plead for. I have here adopted an interpretation suggested to me by Mr. G. Bernard Shaw. As to the construction, "my speaking breast, who," &c., cf. Coriolanus, Act iv. sc. 5, line 84, "Thou hast a heart of wreak in thee that will revenge."

13, 14. Learn to read, &c. Learn to understand the full meaning of the love expressed in writing, and so "hear with eyes" the voice of the silent tongue. With eyes. Q. "wit eies." Wit. Q. "wiht."

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2013. < >.

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Sonnet Essentials... Shakespeare's sonnets are written predominantly in a meter called iambic pentameter, a rhyme scheme in which each sonnet line consists of ten syllables. The syllables are divided into five pairs called iambs or iambic feet. An iamb is a metrical unit made up of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. An example of an iamb would be good BYE. Read on....


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