Sonnet 36

Shakespeare Sonnet 36

LEt me confeſſe that we two muſt be twaine,
Although our vndeuided loues are one:
So ſhall thoſe blots that do with me remaine,
Without thy helpe, by me be borne alone.
In our two loues there is but one reſpect,
Though in our liues a ſeperable ſpight,
Which though it alter not loues ſole effect,
Yet doth it ſteal ſweete houres from loues delight,
I may not euer-more acknowledge thee,
Leaſt my bewailed guilt ſhould do thee ſhame,
Nor thou with publike kindneſſe honour me,
Vnleſſe thou take that honour from thy name:
But doe not ſo, I loue thee in ſuch ſort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Sonnet 36 is of note, because it shares its couplet with Sonnet 96: “But doe not so, I loue thee in such sort, / As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.” Quite why the repetition occurred is unclear: a compositor’s error, a deliberate duplication on Shakespeare’s part, an oversight, all remain possibilities. A case can be made for its placement in either sonnet, although the strong link between 2 Cor. 6.8, where Paul exhorts (godly) behaviour, “By honour and dishonour, by euyll report and good report” (BB), and the poet’s associating the youth’s “honour” with his “good report” confirms that the couplet fits well here.

The sonnet continues the themes of separation and stain of the preceding Sonnets 33, 34 and 35. The poet’s admission, “Let me confesse that we two must be twaine,” where “confesse” intends ‘admit’ (compare Sonnet 116’s opening, “Let me not . . Admit”), hints at a religious confession, given the biblical subtexts of the preceding sonnets; “twaine,” primarily means ‘two,’ but here ‘separated into two parts,’ ‘distant from’ or ‘divided from’ each other. The separation appears physical in contrast to the pair’s “vndeuided loues,” which remain “one.” Given the spatial divide, the poet is forced to “bear” alone, “those blots that do with me remaine,” the faults and spots of recent sonnets. In the youth’s absence the poet must bear them, “Without thy helpe.”

The second quatrain’s “one respect,” which is in “our two loues,” emphasizes the unity of their loving relationship, but suggests a looking at each other (“respect” from respicere = look at), which unites them as one. Classically Fortune was titled respiciens or respecta, for her looking upon individuals, often spitefully, an allusion taken up in “seperable spight,” which looks forward to “Fortunes dearest spite” of the next sonnet. The “spight” is that ill-will, which is able to separate or divide the lovers and which doesn’t “alter . . loues sole effect,” foreshadowing the love, which “alters not with his breefe houres and weekes” (Sonnet 116.11). The spite of separation reduces the number of hours available for the pleasures of love (“Steale sweet houres from loues delight”).

The sestet continues the confessional motif, which requires an acknowledgement of fault and a resolve to amend. Henceforth the poet determines not to acknowledge the youth (“I may not euer-more acknowledge thee”). The reason behind his public avowal is to avoid inculpating the youth (“do thee shame”) through his “bewailed guilt,” the same “Comparing the fault” of Sonnet 35. On the reverse side the youthful patron is advised not to “honour” the poet “with publike kindnesse,” or if he were to, then only after separating his favour from his name, so making it anonymous: “take that honour from thy name.” The couplet, however, reverses the advice, instructing the youth to withdraw neither his name nor his support: “But doe not so.” The poet’s proferred motive is that he so loves the youth (“loue thee in such sort”) and so strongly possesses him (“thou being mine”), that the “good report,” the ‘reputation’ or ‘standing’ of the friend, is the prerogative of the poet. (See the commentary on Sonnet 96 for further discussion of the couplet.)

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