Sonnet 40

Shakespeare Sonnet 40

TAke all my loues, my loue, yea take them all,
What haſt thou then more then thou hadſt before?
No loue, my loue, that thou maiſt true loue call,
All mine was thine, before thou hadſt this more:
Then if for my loue, thou my loue receiueſt,
I cannot blame thee, for my loue thou vſeſt,
But yet be blam’d, if thou this ſelfe deceaueſt
By wilfull taſte of what thy ſelfe refuſeſt.
I doe forgiue thy robb’rie gentle theefe
Although thou ſteale thee all my pouerty:
And yet loue knowes it is a greater griefe
To beare loues wrong, then hates knowne injury.
Laſciuious grace, in whom all il wel ſhowes,
Kill me with ſpights yet we must not be foes.

Sonnet 40’s furacious conceit opens with an imperative to the beloved, born of a moment of impetuousity or even jealous petulance, “Take all my loues, my loue, yea take them all,” ‘accept’ or ‘steal’ from him all his love or all those whom he loves. The line’s repetition and exclamatory, “yea,” suggest the force of the poet’s outburst, which is compounded by the lack of profit any ‘taking’ by the youth might afford, since he already possesses the poet’s totality, “What has thou then more then thou hadst before?” The beloved’s ‘taking’ would be futile: he would gain no love that he might call true love, because any love beyond the poet’s totality of true love could only be false: “No loue . . that thou maist true loue call.” He asserts, “All mine was thine,” where the past tense, “was,” is ominous and leads to the inspecific, “before thou hadst this more.” Whatever “this” is, it can only be the object of false love, in the next sonnet identified as female.

The second quatrain’s “loue” remains imprecise: if, for the sake of the poet’s love (“for my loue”), the youth entertain the poet’s other love, his mistress (“thou my loue receiuest”), then the poet cannot impute blame to him (“I cannot blame thee”), because the friend is ‘using’ or sexually engaging the mistress (“my loue thou vsest”). (The innuendo becomes explicit in Sonnet 42, where the mistress of the poet is seen to “abuse” him by allowing the friend to “approoue” her.) On the other hand the poet would find blame, if the friend were to deceive “this selfe,” the poet’s true self (his “better part” in Sonnet 39), by obstinately or lasciviously (“wilfull,” with its pun on ‘will’) experiencing (“taste”) what the friend’s true self would refuse – but which his lesser self would not.

The sestet addresses the youth as “gentle theefe,” identifying his ‘taking’ as theft; “gentle” implies ‘well-born’ as well as, ironically, ‘good,’ while the title recalls the ‘good thief’ who sought forgiveness claiming, “We are righteously [punished] for we receaue according to our deedes” (Luke 23.4; BB). The poet grants forgiveness even if the youth for himself (“[for] thee”) has stolen “all my pouerty,” either the little the poet had or, if identified as the mistress, she who has reduced him to poverty. Yet, he claims, his love knows (“loue knowes,” with a hint of love itself knows) that to “beare loues wrong” causes “greater grief” than having to bear “hates knowne iniury.” The concealed wrongs caused by love are more difficult to sustain than the unjustly inflicted but open damage caused by hate. The final epithet ascribed the youth is “Lasciuious grace,” an Horatian ambiguity (from “veneris”) found in the Ars Poetica, lines used in the preceding sonnet. The youth is elegance and richness (“grace”), but of a lustful kind hinting at luxury. (Cooper’s Thesaurus defines lascivus as one who is “wanton in behauiour” and who “doeth things foolishly and toyingly.”) The paradox of grace and lust is continued in the amplification, “in whom all il wel showes,” in whom every evil appears as good or in whom every evil is clearly evident. The youth is ultimately instructed to “Kill me with spights;” “spights,” now the youth’s and not “Fortunes dearest spight” (Sonnet 37.3), intend injuries, especially those associated with contumely, hence reproaches or scornings that afflict the impoverished (Hamlet’s “poore mans Contumelie”). Even if the youth were so to scorn the poet, he resolves that they must not be “foes,” neither to engage in mortal combat nor to seek to injure each other.


40.1. Ham. 3.1.71