Tuesday 23 April 2024

Shakespeare's Birthday


What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend;
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set
And you in Grecian tires are painted new;
Speak of the spring and foison of the year:
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear,
And you in every blessed shape we know.
    In all external grace you have some part,
    But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Sonnet 53

Note: "tires" means "clothing", as in "attire", and not the sort of tyre / tire that goes on a wheel, amusing as that might be, and "foison" means "an abundant harvest". "Every blessed shape" is hard  to read without a smile, too, for fans of minced oaths. Settle down at the back! And, yes, that final couplet is deeply ambiguous, open to multiple readings... Is "like" a preposition or a verb, for example? Are "you" a "constant heart", or not? Ah, you're such a big tease, Will!

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