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Shakespeare Sonnet 42: "That thou hast her, it is not all my grief"

Updated on December 12, 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 writer of these Shakespeare sonnets continues to concoct clever little dramas to examine his own talent in this section of the sequence. His exploration of art and artist has revealed that he has a nimble mind that can create many different angles to unveil his thought processes.

Can an artist be separated from his art? What is the difference between the artist, the act of creating the art, and the final, created product? Sonnets 30-42 have been exploring, even agonizing, over this conundrum.

In sonnet 42, the speaker continues to contemplate the unified nature of art and artist, or poem and poet.

Also once again, this speaker is musing on and addressing his talent. He cleverly personifies that talent as a lover who has attempted to capture the heart of his mistress, the sonnet.

Reading of Shakespeare sonnet 42

First Quatrain: “That thou hast her, it is not all my grief”

In the first quatrain, the speaker uses his ingenuity to set up a scenario of a love triangle. The speaker addresses what seems to be a third party, who has stolen or tried to steal the speaker’s mistress: “That thou hast her, it is not all my grief.”

However, the speaker ford make it abundantly clear that even if the would-be lover-thief has, indeed, stolen the mistress, the speaker is not devastated by it.

Even though the speaker “lov’d her dearly,” he is more upset that the mistress might return the affection of the intrusive lover, that is, be taken by him. If she is willing to take the third party of the triangle, the speaker is more affected.

Second Quatrain: “Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye”

Then the speaker addresses the would-be intrusive lover and the supposed mistress, calling them “Loving offenders” but saying he “excuses” them. And he explains why he is being so magnanimous: he knows that the intrusive lover loves his mistress, only because the speaker loves her.

And the mistress’s affection for the intrusive lover is the result of her wishing to keep favor with the speaker.

Such a situation demonstrates that the speaker is not referring to a literal unfaithful mistress and would-be adulterer. The personified concepts stand metaphorically for poem (mistress) and talent, or art and process (would-be stealer of the mistress’s heart).

Third Quatrain: “If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain”

The speaker then speculates about the nature of loss, and he decides that if he loses that particular poem, he still wins because he has the ability to create others.

If the poet/speaker loses the ability to create others, he would lose both that poem and any future poems he might create. And that loss would indeed result in his having a “cross” to bear.

The Couplet: “But here’s the joy; my friend and I are one”

However, the speaker then triumphantly announces, “here’s the joy; my friend and I are one.”

Once again, the musing speaker reaches the conclusion that he is eternally united with his talent. So because there is no separation between himself and his ability to create poems, he cannot lose either the poem or his talent.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 11 months ago from U.S.A.

      Good point, Mark. The speaker seems to go through some tortured logic at times, but his contortions always result in those marvelous dramas that make abundant good sense.

      How fortunate we are that this Shakespearean writer wrote so well and so much!

    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 11 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      I like the realization at the end. It seems to me that talent and the person outweighs any one poem. Because you could always create more poems if you have the talent.