home contact

Sonnet 80

O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame!
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark inferior far to his
On your broad main doth wilfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
Or being wreck'd, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building and of goodly pride:
   Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
   The worst was this; my love was my decay.

Paraphrase of Sonnet 80

O, how I feel discouraged when I write about you,
Knowing a greater poet uses your name
And in praising your name spends all his energies,
So that I am tongue-tied when speaking of your fame!
But since your worth is as wide as the ocean,
That can bear both the humble and proud sail,
My impudent craft, far inferior to the other poet's,
Recklessly appears in your circle.
Your most casual favor keeps me encouraged.
While the other poet rides upon the depths of your favor;
But if I am wrecked by losing your favor, it must be because my boat is worthless,
While his remains mighty and proud.
Then if he thrives in your favor and I am cast away,
The worst was this: my love for you was the cause of my decay.


humble...bear (6): - The poet's friend is humble yet of the highest merit, and he tolerates those around him who are arrogant.

Sonnet 80 is a continuation of 79, and Shakespeare draws us even closer to the rival poet, who now displays more animus, trying deliberately to make the author "tongue-tied." But here we do see the start of a change in the poet's attitude. "He begins to accept the challenge, to see and to grapple with the paradox of inexpressibility, to consider the weight and the relative value of speech and silence, to defend actively the virtue that resides in his dumbness and in the humble plainness of his silence-like words" (Habicht, 195).

Lines 5-12 contain an extended nautical conceit, in which the author's friend is compared to the wide ocean, the author to a 'saucy bark' and a 'worthless boat', and the rival poet to 'the proudest sail.' The sea-and-ship imagery illustrates that the author is not exactly disconcerted despite the opening lamentations. "And this contrast takes on additional force when we remember that it was drawn by a poet in days when saucy English boats were almost every year engaging, and often sinking, tall-built full-sailed galleons upon the Spanish main" (Wilson, 183).


How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 80. Shakespeare Online. 14. May. 2010. < >.

Habicht, Werner. Shakespeare's Universe: Renaissance Ideas and Conventions. New York: Scolar Press, 1996.
Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

Even More...

 Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?
 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time

More to Explore

 Introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets
 Shakespearean Sonnet Style
 How to Analyze a Shakespearean Sonnet
 The Rules of Shakespearean Sonnets

 Shakespeare's Sonnets: Q & A
 Are Shakespeare's Sonnets Autobiographical?
 Petrarch's Influence on Shakespeare
 Themes in Shakespeare's Sonnets

 Shakespeare's Greatest Love Poem
 Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton
 The Order of the Sonnets
 The Date of the Sonnets

 Who was Mr. W. H.?
 Are all the Sonnets addressed to two Persons?
 Who was The Rival Poet?


Did You Know? ... "Among the minor questions relating to the Sonnets which have been the subject of no little controversy the only one that seems to claim notice here is the identity of the "rival poet" of Sonnets 79-86. Spenser, Marlowe, Drayton, Nash, Daniel, and others have been suggested by the critics, and Mr. Lee adds Barnabe Barnes, "a poetic panegyrist of Southampton and a prolific sonneteer, who was deemed by contemporary critics certain to prove a great poet." On the whole, Chapman, whom Professor Minto was the first to suggest, and whom Dowden, Furnivall, and many others have endorsed, is most likely to have been the poet whom Shakespeare had in mind." W. J. Rolfe. Read on....


 Shakespeare on Jealousy
 Shakespeare on Lawyers
 Shakespeare on Lust
 Shakespeare on Marriage

 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet
 Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
 Shakespeare on the Seasons
 Shakespeare on Sleep