Sonnet 28

Shakespeare Sonnet 28

HOw can I then returne in happy plight
That am debard the benifit of reſt?
When daies oppreſſion is not eazd by night,
But day by night and night by day opreſt.
And each (though enimes to ethers raigne)
Doe in conſent ſhake hands to torture me,
The one by toyle, the other to complaine
How far I toyle, ſtill farther off from thee.
I tell the Day to pleaſe him thou art bright,
And do’ſt him grace when clouds doe blot the heauen:
So flatter I the ſwart complexiond night,
When ſparkling ſtars twire not thou guil’ſt th’eauen.
But day doth daily draw my ſorrowes longer, (ſtronger
And night doth nightly make greefes length ſeeme

Sonnet 28 continues Sonnet 27’s complaint about lack of sleep in the face of long “toyle” and “trauaill.” Given his lack of “quiet,” the poet now asks how he might “returne in happy plight,” in good physical or mental condition, when he is “debard the benifit of rest.” Legally a “benifit” was a privilege granted a particular class, such as ‘Benefit of Clergy,’ from whose “plight” or legal sanction to exercise the ministry one could be technically “debard” or excluded. For the poet “rest” is a privilege prohibited him.

As he twists and turns seeking sleep, he is subject to “torture” (with the play on its etymon, torquere = twist or turn), and to “oppression,” which, with “oprest,” suggests the ‘press’ of the punishment of peine forte et dure (normally sleep not its lack was thought to oppress). Being weighed-down by the day’s activities he finds no easing by night as day and night ‘oppress’ or compound each other. Day and night, though adversaries to each other (“ethers,” an obsolete though common Great Bible spelling of ‘eithers’), strike a bargain or seal a treaty (“shake hands”) to “torture” the poet. Day tortures him by “toyle,” by fatigue and “trauaill;” night tortures him by forcing him to lament the lengths to which he must now go (“How far I toyle”), given his distance from the youth.

The poet tries to appease both day and night: to pleasure day the poet informs him (Latin, dies = day, is masculine) of the youth’s brightness, which can compensate for the day’s lack of fairness when clouds block out the sun (“blot” with its added sense of ‘disfigure’). So too the poet will “flatter . . the swart complexiond night,” where “swart” is an archaic word for ‘black;’ “complexiond,” as in Sonnet 18’s “gold complexion dimm’d,”  is both a dark body colour and a dark or melancholic humour. The night is told that the youth  ‘guilds’ (gilts) or makes golden the evening (“guil’st th’eauen”), when the sparkling stars don’t “twire” or ‘peep’ down on earth. The night is illumined by the youth just as the “blacke night” is by a “iewell” in the preceding sonnet. The couplet is conventional and does not require the change of “length” to “strength” made by earlier editors. The lengthening of the poet’s pain recalls the lengthening out of the ‘presse,’ the torture wheel or rack, on which the pain is stronger as the body is stretched longer (“But day doth daily draw my sorrowes longer, / And night doth nightly make greefes length seeme stronger”).

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