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Shakespeare Sonnet 40: "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all"

Updated on May 5, 2018
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

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 40

In Shakespeare sonnet 40, the speaker becomes ultra crafty, cleverly playing on the word, "love," as he again feigns an imaginary distance from his creations. This speaker loves his poems and his ability to craft them more than life itself. He has proven that love and his appreciation for his ability to write poetry in nearly every sonnet up to this point.

And, spoiler alert! he will continue to demonstrate his love and loyalty to his writing vocation, even beyond this current sequence (The Writer/Muse Sonnets 18-126) that focuses directly on that topic.

Sonnet 40

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then, if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam’d, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.

Reading of Sonnet 40

Commentary

Sonnet 40 continues the hiatus from unity taken by the speaker that he declared in Sonnet 39, but instead of praising the poem, he appears to be chiding it.

First Quatrain: Art Can Take All

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.

The speaker begins by commanding "[his] love" to go ahead and relieve him of all that he loves. His poetry takes much energy, time, and dedication, so he affirms that he is giving in and letting his art take all that he is, all that he loves. Of course, this speaker's greatest love is the art itself, as he has affirmed repeatedly. But now the speaker remonstrates that even if his art succeeds in taking all of the speaker’s loves, it will not have more than it already has. This claim stands perfectly in line with the fact that his poetry already has all of his love.

The speaker plays on the word "love," repeating it over and over with slightly different meanings: "No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call." The first love refers to the ordinary abstract referent, while the second directly addresses his art, and the third refers back similarly to the first abstract referent, except instead of mere "love," the speaker emphasizes it by calling it "true love."

Second Quatrain: Playing on Love

Then, if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam’d, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues playing on the word "love" as he addresses his poem. He muses that even if his work takes all of his love, because of his love, the poem will assuredly be blamed if it deceives itself by taking his loves when the speaker will need his loves to enrich the poem.

The poem can deplete itself only by depleting the speaker. The speaker whimsically personifies his art in order to chide it for usurping all of the speaker’s energy, time, and, of course, "love."

Third Quatrain: Robbed of Poverty

I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.

The personification continues as the poem becomes a "gentle thief," who has robbed the speaker of his "poverty." However, unlike a real robber who robs wealth, this "gentle thief" robs poverty from the speaker.

Paradoxically, the speaker asserts, "love knows it is a greater grief / To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury." This paradox plays out in time simply on top of the theft of poverty that provides the speaker with the entanglement that only his feigned lost love can possibly rectify.

The Couplet: The Nature of Affection

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.

By averring that "[l]ascivious grace" would be responsible for "kill[ing]" the speaker "with spites," the speaker repudiates the nature of affection that could divide the speaker from his art perpetually. The crafty speaker then seals the unification to which he has returned by demanding, "we must not be foes." This demand is, of course, greatly understated.

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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    Linda Sue Grimes 12 months ago from U.S.A.

    Mark, one of the fascinating qualities of the Shakespearean persona is his ability to originate tension in each drama. In this sequence 18-126, the speaker is contemplating his talent, his skillful control over his art.

    In sonnets 39-42, the speaker is dramatizing a fancied division or separation between himself and his poem. He is creating this distance so that he can acknowledge the value of his creation without slipping into an ugly solipsism.

    That he chooses to call his talent "his love" may at first seem confusing because adversarial, but it becomes apparent as the sequence progresses that the speaker does, in fact, love his own talent and thus his own creations above all else in his life.

  • Mark Tulin profile image

    Mark Tulin 12 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

    The writer's obsession with his art doesn't feel like love at all. It feels adversarial and he seems to be stuck in the middle of it all.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
    Author

    Linda Sue Grimes 12 months ago from U.S.A.

    Because I can discern no person in any sonnet in this sequence, I suggest that the group of sonnets (8 to 126) has been widely mischaracterized. It has been titled the "Fair Youth" sonnets and thought to be speaking to a young man. However there is no person, no young man, in this group of sonnets.

    In this sequence, the speaker engages three ostensibly differing addressees: his muse, his writing talent, and even the poems themselves. As might be expected, the speaker even muses on writer's block in some of the sonnets.

    Sonnets 40-42 specifically engage the notion of unity between artist and art, or poet and poem.

    Thank you for offering your interesting suggestion, Glenis.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 12 months ago from UK

    This is an interesting interpretation.

    The Norton Shakespeare suggests that 40-42 describe a love triangle. In light of this, I wonder if perhaps the writer is referring to the taking of his sonnets and of his lover by his patron?

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