Sonnet 80 | Breakdown of Shakespeare's Sonnets
writing a sonnet

Sonnet 80

Written by on | Shakespeare

In this sonnet we see the poet referencing the rival poet. This is a part of the greater series that we see pop up almost like a b-plot. We also see the poet once again downplay their own skill and status as a writer, saying that their writing is not on par with the rival poet. Lets take a bit of a closer look.

 

Original Text

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 wrecked, 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.

 

 

Translation

Oh I feel so discouraged when I write about you
Knowing that a better writer than me is writing about you
And in praising you uses all of his strength
To make me forget how to write when I speak about your love
But since your worth which is as wide as the ocean
Which can carry any boat or ship
My weak boat, which is far inferior to his
On your wide ocean stubbornly appears
Even your shallowest waters keep me afloat
While he sails even your deepest oceans
And if I’m shipwrecked, I am a worthless little boat
And he’s a proud and tall ship
So if he sails on and I’m thrown away
The worst thing of all is only this: My love is what destroyed me

 

 

Verse Breakdown

Bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern

 

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

 

 

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Oh I get so discouraged when I write about you.
We start with self deprecation. A classic. Hold on though there’s more to come.

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
Knowing that a better writer is writing about you.
Here we introduce the third party, the rival poet.

And in the praise thereof spends all his might
And in praising you he uses all his strength.

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.
To make me forget how to write about you.
The rival poet uses all his strength to make me forget how to write.

But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
But since your worth which is as wide as the ocean.
We introduce the metaphor of the fair youths glory being like the sea.

The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
Both humble and proud ships and boats are supported by your seas.
This is a comparison between the poet and the rival poet. Saying that the poet is inferior to the rival poet.

My saucy bark inferior far to his
My weak boat which is far inferior to his.
Blatant comparison of the poets but we’re continuing on with the nautical metaphors.

On your broad main doth wilfully appear.
On your broad seas I willfully sail.
Even though I know my boat is inferior I still stubbornly sail onward.

Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat
Your shallowest waters support me.
Even your shallowest waters support my weak boat.

Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
While he sails your deepest waters.
My boat is supported by your shallowest waters and his can sail where he pleases.

Or being wrecked, I am a worthless boat,
If I’m shipwrecked I am worthless.

He of tall building and of goodly pride.
While he will still be a tall and proud ship.
If I’m wrecked I’m worthless and he will still be a proud ship.

Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
Then if he thrives and I’m thrown away.
If he thrives on your oceans and I’m wrecked and thrown away.

The worst was this: my love was my decay.
The worst thing was only this: My love destroyed me.
Even if I fail, am wrecked and thrown away. The worst thing I can say is that my love for you is what destroyed me, and that is all I can do.

 

 

Unfamiliar Language

Faint (v.) lose courage, show fear, lose heart, take fright

Spend (v.) expend, employ, exert

Bark, barque (n.)
old form: barke: ship, vessel

Saucy (adj.)
old form: sawsie: insolent, impudent, presumptuous, defiant

Main (n.)
old form: maine: open sea, ocean

Soundless (adj.)
old form: soundlesse: beyond the ability to sound, unfathomable

Wrack (v.)
old form: wrackt: wreck, shipwreck, lose at sea

Building (n.) build, construction

Tall (adj.) large, fine, grand

Goodly (adj.) good-looking, handsome, attractive, comely

Pride (n.) splendour, magnificence, pomp

Decay (n.) destruction, downfall, ending

 

 

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + three =