Sonnet 23 | Breakdown of Shakespeare's: Sonner 23
sonnet 23

Sonnet 23

Written by on | Shakespeare

In this sonnet, we see Shakespeare once again alluding to the power that the poet’s words have to express love, to immortalise the young man, and to keep his love alive forever. This sonnet also is about the poet’s confidence. Not in his words per se but in how they’re delivered. The poet feels they cannot speak the words they feel they need to say but does feel the written word can do the job.

Sonnet 23 (Original Text)

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’ercharged 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 expressed.
O learn to read what silent love hath writ!
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Verse Breakdown

Bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern

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

 

Modern Translation

Just like an unskilled actor on stage
Whose nerves make him forget his part
Or some fierce animal filled with rage
Whose abundance of strength makes it weak
So I not trusting myself forget to say
The right words to my love
And decay because of the strength of my love
I’m overcome by the burden of my loves strength
Then let my writing speak eloquently for me
And my words reveal my heart
They plead for love and look for recompense
Better than if I spoke them
Oh learn to read my words of love written down
With love you’ll read between the linesSonnet 23

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Just like a poor actor on the stage. We begin with the first of many similes.

Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Whose nerves make them forget their part. The second part of the simile. Full thought is just like an actor who’s nerves make them forget their lines on a stage.

Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Or some fierce thing filled up with too much rage. This could be anything but is often seen as an animal, a beast.

Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
Whose abundance of strength weakens its heart. So just like some fierce beast who is so filled with rage is depletes them, hurts them.

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
So I, not trusting myself, don’t know how to say…

The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
The perfect words to express my love for you. I’m so full of nerves like an actor on a stage, like a fiery fierce animal that I don’t trust myself to say the words I need to, to express my love for you.

And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
And under the weight of the strength of my own love for you seem to decay.

O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
I’m overcome by my love for you. So my love for you is so strong that it causes me pain. In other words. Love is a losing game, love hurts, etc etc.

O let my books be then the eloquence
Oh then let my writing be the eloquence I need…

And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
And my words show the inner workings of my heart…

Who plead for love and look for recompense
Which both plead for love and look for recompense…

More than that tongue that more hath more expressed.
More than my words can ever say. So basically; let my writing show you how I feel for it pleads for your love with more eloquence than my words ever could.

O learn to read what silent love hath writ!
Oh learn to read what I can never say myself!

To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
I know your love will let you read between the lines.

What it all boils down to is essentially this: Like so many things who are their own worst enemy I am mine. For my love for you is so strong that it hurts me and I can never really express how I feel for you. Except with my writing which has more agency in this than anything. Learn to read my protestations of love for you and I know you’ll read between the lines.

Unfamiliar Language

Unperfect (adj.)
old form: vnperfect imperfect; not word perfect, unskilled

Overcharged (adj.)
old form: Ore-charg’d overburdened, overtaxed, overwrought

Book (n.)writing, written composition
Presager (n.)indicator, interpreter, announcer

Wit (n.)
old form: wihtintelligence, wisdom, good sense, mental ability

Read more: Shakespeare’s Best Sonnets

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

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