Sonnet 83

Shakespeare Sonnet 83

I Neuer ſaw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your faire no painting ſet,
I found (or thought I found) you did exceed,
The barren tender of a Poets debt:
And therefore haue I ſlept in your report,
That you your ſelfe being extant well might ſhow,
How farre a moderne quill doth come to ſhort,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow,
This ſilence for my ſinne you did impute,
Which ſhall be moſt my glory being dombe,
For I impaire not beautie being mute,
When others would giue life, and bring a tombe.
There liues more life in one of your faire eyes,
Than both your Poets can in praiſe deuiſe.

Sonnet 83 continues the argument of Sonnet 82, affirming the natural beauty of the youth: “I neuer saw that you did painting need.” The superfluous “painting” concerns Wilson’s “colours of Rhetorique,” as well as the cosmetic fuci of which the youth, already “faire . . in hew” (Sonnet 82.5), has no need. The poet, accordingly, has “to your faire no painting set;” “set” refers to the fixing of paint including cosmetics setting on the face and hints at the literary phrase, ‘setting pen to paper.’ The poet seems hesitant (“I found (or thought I found),” although later the “thought” will be revealed as a mistake, because the youth can be depicted. For the moment he thinks the youth beyond the scope of what is owed a patron (“you did exceed, / The barren tender of a Poets debt”). A “tender” is an offering which might expect reciprocation (compare Ham. 1.3.100, “many tenders / Of his affection”), but the poet’s offerings have been “barren,” either empty of themselves or fruitless of return.

“And therefore,” is a rhetorical repetition. The poet has stayed silent (“slept”), when it came to reporting on the youth, so that the youth, by standing forth of his own accord (“being extant”), might show the inadequacy of a rival poet: “How farre a moderne quill doth come to short.” As in Sonnet 17 the poet observes Sidney’s distinction between “Auncient” and “Moderne” poetry: the “Moderne, obseruing onely number,” is capable of being extended into “stretched miter” or, as here, falling short. 1 His silence is intended to reveal the inability of the rival poet(s) to express the youth’s flourishing value (“what worth in you doth grow”).

The youth, however, has misconstrued the poet’s intent, interpreting it as a sin, “This silence for my sinne you did impute.” So the poet has recourse to David’s example, who wrote, “Blessed is that man to whom the Lorde wyll not impute sinne” (Rom. 4.8; BB). Even as he is “dumbe” his silence will be his blessedness (“glorie”). Being silent (“mute”), he doesn’t damage beauty or make it worse (“impaire,” from in + peior = to make worse, see Sonnet 84.10, “making worse”), even as other writers, while trying to “giue life,” produce only a “tombe,” to be read both as ‘tomb’ and ‘tome.’

The couplet returns to the concluding image of Sonnet 82, “the colours of Rhetorique,” whose copiousness, Wilson states, Quintillian likened to an over-abundance of eyes:

Quintilian likeneth the colours of Rhetorique to a mans eye sight. And now (quoth he) I would not haue all the bodie to be full of eyes, or nothing but eyes: for then the other partes should wante their due place and proportion. 2

So also in one of the youth’s eyes there is more life than in all the rhetorical colour that “both your Poets can in praise deuise.” As in Sonnet 82.9 “deuise” means ‘invented;’ “both your Poets” suggests the poet and his rival, but, given the plural in “others” at line 12, two further poets, who vie with each other to praise the youth, are possible.


83.1. Sidney, Defence L1v.

83.2. Wilson 171.