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Shakespeare Sonnet 24: “Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d”

Updated on October 7, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

"the real Shakespeare"
"the real Shakespeare" | Source


The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 24 deeply loves his art; therefore, he not only employs it to express his emotions, but he also employs it to feel those emotions even more strongly.

This speaker appreciates his talent, which rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart. He disdains artists whose works remain superficial, speaking only about that which they can see and hear with the physical senses.

This speaker lives a spiritual life, exploring not only the heart and mind, but also the soul. It is, after all, the soul that offers the artist the greatest insights. This sonneteer urges poets, painters, and other artists to live more deeply, in order to express more than decorated beauty.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 24

First Quatrain: “Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d”

In the first quatrain, the speaker informs his poem that like a painter he has captured the poem’s beautiful form and now keeps it locked in his heart. With that image placed in the central location of the heart, his body functions as a picture “frame” to hold that form.

The speaker further makes the claim that “perspective it is best painter’s art.” This point of view reveals that the best artist has a deeply felt “perspective” or attitude toward his subject and that “perspective” or attitude is the force that propels his creativity.

Second Quatrain: “For through the painter must you see his skill”

Also continuing his comparison of the poet to the painter, the speaker insists that the viewer for, reader of, or audience to the artist can comprehend the artist’s creations only by taking note of “his skill.”

This speaker is inviting criticism of his art, and he portrays a confidence that his skill can win over any audience. He not only knows he has talent, but he also loves his talent and is grateful to God for granting him that talent.

The speaker explains, “To find where your true image pictur’d lies,” you must realize that the creations are in the artist’s heart—at least the artist, whose eyes are cast lovingly upon his own works, as the speaker/poet insists his are.

Third Quatrain: “Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done”

Then the speaker reveals that the artist’s eyes can do marvelous creations when they are lovingly cast upon his works. His works look back at him and reflect the love the artist feels for his creations.

They do each other “good turns” because each is brightened by that love, as if “where-through the sun / Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.”

The Couplet: “Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art”

This speaker demonstrates that he is interested in art that expresses more then mere superficialities. He complains that too many intelligent poets, painters and artists of all stripes merely offer decorated products that do little more then show off egotistically motivated urges.

This speaker lives and breathes on a more spiritual level; thus he insists on filling his own poetry with spiritual truths, truths that live in the deep heart, not merely on the surface.

This speaker urges poets to write from depth of being, not simply parrot surface findings. He also urges painters to concentrate on more substantial fare than only "draw what they see."

This speaker is deeply in love with his art, and therefore he not only uses it to express his emotions, but he also uses it to feel them more abundantly.

The speaker lives deeply in his talent, and his talent rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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