Welcome to a short post about sonnet 23.
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.
In sonnet 23, the speaker feels that he cannot adequately express his love because of its intensity. He compares himself to an actor who cannot perform in the first two lines, As an unperfect actor on the stage, / Who with his fear is put besides his part, a feeling which Shakespeare would have known all too well as an actor and playwright. I really love this metaphor, not only due to the biographical link to Shakespeare but also because it’s just the perfect way to describe this feeling. It’s a simple but vivid image.
The rest of the sonnet continues in much the same way as the speaker explains that his passion, or rage, leaves him weak and, in lines five and six, the speaker acknowledges that he often forgets to say / The perfect ceremony of love’s rite because he is overwrought with emotion.
Sonnet 23 focuses on the limits of language. Words are not enough to express love, love is too passionate an emotion to be contained by mere words. He’s asking the Fair Youth to read between the lines or, to quote Shakespeare, to learn to read what silent love hath writ and he’s asking the Fair Youth to ignore his inability to express how he feels and to focus on the speaker’s overwhelming emotion.
I really like sonnet 23! It’s simple but very effective.
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