Sonnet 35

Shakespeare Sonnet 35

NO more bee greeu’d at that which thou haſt done,
Roſes haue thornes, and ſiluer fountaines mud,
Cloudes and eclipſes ſtaine both Moone and Sunne,
And loathſome canker liues in ſweeteſt bud.
All men make faults, and euen I in this,
Authorizing thy treſpas with compare,
My ſelfe corrupting ſaluing thy amiſſe,
Excuſing their ſins more then their ſins are:
For to thy ſenſuall fault I bring in ſence,
Thy aduerſe party is thy Aduocate,
And gainſt my ſelfe a lawfull plea commence,
Such ciuill war is in my loue and hate,
That I an acceſſary needs muſt be,
To that ſweet theefe which ſourely robs from me,

Sonnet 35 returns to the “griefe” of Sonnet 34.9, for which the young man’s tears have gained satisfaction: “No more bee greeu’d at that which thou has done.” In trying to exculpate the youth the poet seeks precedents from other quarters: that “Roses haue thornes” was proverbial (‘No rose without a thorn’), while the pellucid waters of “siluer fountaines” (omnipresent in Petrarchan poetry) are often naturally besmeared with “mud.” “Cloudes and eclipses” darken (“staine,” recalling Sonnet 33.14, “Suns of the world may staine”) both superterrestial bodies, the “Moone and Sunne.” Finally the enemy of the rose, the cankerworm (“loathsome canker”), inhabits the “sweetest bud.”

The poet’s argument, after the deed, is concerned with establishing its right or wrong and is an example of the iuridical argument termed “Comparing the fault.” Thomas Wilson allows two modes or “states” of argument, either an “absolute” argument where “the matter by the [sic] owne nature, is defended to be right” or an “assumptiue” argument where a “little force or strength, to maintaine the matter” is used. One of the grounds by which an “assumptiue” argument can confirm or exculpate is “Comparing the fault,” in which factors extraneous to the deed are used and which Wilson defines as “declaring that either they must haue done that, or els haue done worse.” For example a faulty member can be authorized to be cut away to preserve the body (politic): “when we saie, that by slaying an euill man, we haue done a good deede, cutting away the corrupt and rotten member, for preseruation of the whole body.” 1 The poet’s exercise in the octet is an example of “Comparing the fault:” “All men make faults, and euen I in this / Authorizing thy trespas with compare.” “All men make faults” is a general axiom: to “make” a fault was to transgress the law or commit a misdeed. Shakespeare admits to making one further fault in particular: “euen I in this,” both in the comparative exercise of the prior four lines and in the three present participles that govern the following lines, “Authorizing,” “corrupting,” and “Excusing.” In finding precedents taken from the natural world he has condoned the youth’s fault and, by comparing the fault, has inculpated himself: “Authorizing thy trespas with compare.” (If in “Authorizing” there is the hint of being an ‘author,’ then “faults” takes on the sense of an ungrammatical sentence or misprint.) In absolving the youth’s transgression (“saluing thy amisse,” compare Sonnet 34.7 “salue”) the poet has, like Wilson’s example, corrupted himself, an action which, by compare, must be a “worse” deed. More generally, by using as an exculpatory basis of comparison the “staine” found in nature and the faults of all men (“excusing their sins,” with echoes again of “Suns of the world may staine”), the poet commits a sin greater than their sins (“more then their sins are”). (Editors are conflicted over the “their . . their” of line 8 and since Capell it has been emended to “thy . . thy,” or to any combination of “their” and “thy,” although to little advantage or clarification.)

The youth’s “trespas” is now identified as a “sensual fault” or a “fault of the flesh” (Rom. 10.4; GV sidenote), a “disease” the poet had forgiven in Sonnet 34. To the “fault” the poet brings “sense,” which retains its juridical Latinate meaning, defined by Rider as “iudgement, reason” 2 or the rational judgement of a courtroom, (“the sense of reck’ning” of H5 4.1.287). The poet is both the side presenting the case against the youth (“Thy adverse party”) and the side representing the youth (“thy advocate”). In such a divided role he can be seen as beginning (to “commence” an action or suit is technically correct) a “lawful plea” against himself; “lawful” intends ‘properly constituted.’

The sonnet’s final three lines rather than its final couplet must be seen as a unit. In them Shakespeare has recourse to a favourite locus, Whitney’s emblem, Intestinae Simultates, (“Ciuill Broyles” at 1H6 1.1.53; cf. Sonnets 53-55). Shakespeare’s image of a divided self as a civil war was commonplace, but thieves and robbing as consequences of civil war is a thought specific to Whitney: “Intestine strife . . parteth frends . . robbes the good, and setts the theeues a floate.” 3 Torn beween “loue and hate,” the poet is compelled to recognize that he is an “accessary” to, or someone who, though not the principal offender and not necessarily present at the offence, is nevertheless inculpated in the youth’s crime. The youth is presented as a “sweet theefe,” suggestive of the earlier pun on “in sence,” one whom the poet finds “sweet,” but whose action is bitter since it “sourely robs” or takes from the poet. (In Sonnet 40.9, “I doe forgiue thy robb’rie gentle theefe,” the poet’s act of forgiveness will imitate that of Christ on the cross in forgiving the good thief.)


35.1. Wilson 99-100.

35.2. John Rider, Riders Dictionarie Corrected and Augmented (London: Adam Islip, 1606) sensus.

35.3. Cf. Spenser, Amoretti 44.5 and Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 39.7, “ciuill warre;” Whitney 7.