Sonnet 46

Shakespeare Sonnet 46

MIne eye and heart are at a mortall warre,
How to deuide the conqueſt of thy ſight,
Mine eye, my heart their pictures ſight would barre,              thy
My heart, mine eye the freeedome of that right,                    freedome
My heart doth plead that thou in him dooſt lye,
(A cloſet neuer pearſt with chriſtall eyes)
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
And ſayes in him their faire appearance lyes.                         thy
To ſide this title is impannelled
A queſt of thoughts, all tennants to the heart,
And by their verdict is determined
The cleere eyes moyitie, and the deare hearts part.
As thus, mine eyes due is their outward part,                      thy
And my hearts right, their inward loue of heart.                 thy

Sonnets 46 and 47, a pair, work the sonneteer’s common conceit of the eyes and heart in conflict, leading often to a legal contention. 1 The pair’s metronomic and chiastic characteristics suggest routine exercises, an impression supported by Sonnet 46’s loose use of “their” and “thy” (possibly a compositor’s misreading), and by the sloppy rhyme-scheme of lines 10-14 (“heart,” “part,” “part,” “heart”), found nowhere else in the sequence.

Sonnet 46 opens hyperbolically with the poet’s eyes and heart at “mortall warre,” a war to the death. Their dispute concerns the division of spoils or “conquest,” each laying claim to the “sight” of the beloved; “conquest” (echoed in “quest” later) begins the sonnet’s subset of legal terms, being a possession obtained other than by inheritance. 2 The first claimant, the poet’s “eye,” would close off or prevent (“barre”) the “heart” from seeing what the eye pictures. To “barre” a claim was to prevent it from advancing (cf. Jn. 2.1.192, “A Will, that barres the title”). As a counter-claim the heart denies the eye the right that conveys “freedome” to look on the youth. The heart argues that the sight of the beloved is contained within it: the heart is a hidden “closet,” which not even the sharpest or purest eyes can pierce (“A closet neuer pearst with christall eyes”). Technically the pericardium was the heart’s “chamber (camera) or closet” or even its “shoppe,” in which, in Sonnet 24, paintings are wrought, an image developed also in Sonnet 47. 3 The ‘closet of the heart’ and ‘crystal eyes’ were hackneyed Petrarchan phrases. 4 The eye, the defendant in the case, denies the heart’s, the plaintiff’s, plea and claims that the youth’s picture is contained within it (“in him their faire appearance lyes”).

The sestet provides the verdict, opening, “To side this title.” To “side” intends either to ‘assign to one party or another’ (the only instance cited in the OED), or aphetically to ‘’cide’ or ‘decide,’ a form not used elsewhere by Shakespeare. To determine the judgement, a “quest” or ‘jury’ is “impannelled” or enrolled, a “quest” being a body of persons charged with rendering a verdict. But the “quest of thoughts” is a stacked jury, because the thoughts are in service to the heart (“tennants to the heart;” the word’s etymon, quaestus, was associated with suborning for personal gain, Thomas Dictionary defining it as, “a measure to increase his private profite”). 5 Since the impanelled thoughts lack the “freedom” denied above by the heart to the eye, the jury determines which share (“moyitie”), not necessarily an equal half, should be assigned to the “cleere eyes” and which share (“part”) should be awarded to the “deare” heart. The couplet gives details of the decision: that which is due the poet’s eyes is the outer form or “part;” that which is due the heart by right is the beloved’s “inward loue of heart.”


46.1. Compare Spenser, Amoretti 12.1-2,13-14, “One day I sought with her hart-thrilling eies, / to make a truce and termes to entertaine;” “So Ladie now to you I doo complaine, / against your eies that iustice I may gaine.”

46.2. Compare Spenser, Amoretti 29.9, where the Lady, “will the conquest challeng.”

46.3. de la Primaudaye, Academie (1594) 218 & 222.

46.4. Compare Spenser Amoretti 85.9 & 45.5, 11-12, “Deepe in the closet of my parts entyre,” and, “Within my hart . . the goodly ymage of your visnomy, / clearer then christall would therein appere.”

46.5. Thomas Thomas, Thomae Thomasiii Dictionarium summa fide ac diligentia accuratissime emendatum (Cambridge: John Legatt, 1594) quaestus.