Sonnet 110

Shakespeare Sonnet 110

ALas ’tis true, I haue gone here and there,
And made my ſelfe a motley to the view,
Gor’d mine own thoughts, ſold cheap what is moſt deare,
Made old offences of affections new.
Moſt true it is, that I haue lookt on truth
Aſconce and ſtrangely: But by all aboue,
Theſe blenches gaue my heart an other youth,
And worſe eſſaies prou’d thee my beſt of loue,
Now all is done, haue what ſhall haue no end,
Mine appetite I neuer more will grin’de
On newer proofe, to trie an older friend,
A God in loue, to whom I am confin’d.
Then giue me welcome, next my heauen the beſt,
Euen to thy pure and moſt moſt louing breſt.

Sonnet 110 begins by confessing to the strayings of the preceding sonnet (“I haue gone here and there”). Its structure, “Alas ’tis true,” “Most true it is,” follows that of Astrophil and Stella 5.1,5,8, “It is most true.” The poet’s errancy, physical or moral, is a thing of sadness (“Alas”). It is also the first occasion in the sequence, when he confesses to his own transgressions. Disporting himself in public, he has made a fool of himself (“made my selfe a motley to the view”); “motley” was the parti-coloured clothing of the fool (see AYL 2.7.43-44, “O that I were a foole, / I am ambitious for a motley coat”). He has “Gor’d mine owne thoughts.” A ‘gore’ was a triangular scrap of cloth used to widen a garment (Florio has, “Gheroni, the skirts or quarters of a coate, or ierkin, the gores or gussets of a smocke or shirt, the side peeces of a cloke”). The fool’s variegated costume was a patchwork of gores and to be gored was to be covered over with patches. ‘Under gore’ was a colloquialism for ‘under one’s clothes.’ Metaphorically it was used of reputation (compare Tro. 3.3.227-28, “I see my reputation is at stake, / My fame is shrowdly gor’d”). Here the poet has covered over or kept to himself what he truly thought. (Other meanings of “Gor’d,” ‘pierced’ or ‘made bloody,’ seem not relevant.) He has “sold cheap what is most deare.” What he has sold remains unspecific, but given the sonnet’s later sexual theme, it must include the poet’s self (“most deare” to himself and the youth) with a suggestion of prostituting his self. Similarly he has “Made old offences of affections new.” New liasions have turned out to be repetitions of past disloyalties.

The poet admits that he has “lookt on truth / Asconce and strangely.” “Asconce” or ‘askance’ intends ‘disdainfully,’ ‘with suspicion,’ or sideways (turning aside from truth), while “strangely” suggests he has misconstrued truth or been a stranger to it. He invokes heaven (“by all aboue”) to swear that his “blenches,” his deviatings or transgressions, were used to fool himself into thinking that he was young again (“gaue my heart an another youth”). (The sense of “blench” as ‘oeillade’ and the idea of a youth other than the beloved are further possible readings.) The more reprehensible of his escapades (“worse essaies”) merely proved the youth to be that which he loved best (“thee my best of loue”).

Amendment is integral to a confession and the poet now resolves to leave the past in the past, “Now all is done,” a familiar phrase common to deathbed prayers and commitals to heaven in imitation of Christ’s “consummatum est.” 1 He asks the youth to accept his unending resolution, “haue what shall haue no end.” He determines not to pursue other loves (“Mine appetite I neuer more will grin’de”), where ‘grind’ means to whet or sharpen the appetite (compare Sonnet 118.1, “to make our appetites more keene”), but with a specific sense of exercising the sexual appetite, as in Job, “Then let my wife grinde vnto an other man, and let other men lye with her” (31.10; BB). He will seek no new experiments (“newer proofe”) to test “an older friend,” by apposition, a “God in loue,” the youth who, where love is concerned, is godlike (rather than a reference to Cupid). To him the poet is “confin’d,” either ‘bound’ as one is ‘confined’ in service, or ‘attached to,’ so that he cannot range “here and there” (in each case there is an echo, through con + fines = ends together, of “what shall haue . . end”). Given his confession and purpose to amend, he asks that he might be welcome to the youth (“Then giue me welcome”), who is to him the closest thing to heaven (“next my heauen the best”), and rest in the youth’s “pure and most most louing brest,” defined in the preceding sonnet as his “home of loue.”


110.1. Compare Stubbes, Christal Glas C4r, “Now it is done. Father into thy blessed hands I commit my spirit;” or Anthony Nixon, Londons Dove: Or a Memoriall of the life and death of Maister Robert Doue (London: Thomas Creed, 1612) D4r, “Now it is done; Father into thy blessed hands I commend my Spirite.”