Sonnet for Advent 7: Sonnet 36

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Sir Frank Dicksee, 'Romeo and Juliet'

Sir Frank Dicksee, ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Today’s sonnet is about the difficulty of love, ‘a separable spite’ that steals ‘sweet hours from love’s delight’. The lovers – and the relationship between the poet and the addressee real or imagined seems pretty clear here – are experiencing a difficulty comparable to Romeo and Juliet: they feel ‘undivided’ yet separated by ‘public’ demands. It’s worth noting that Sonnet 36 has the same couplet as Sonnet 96, which suggests Shakespeare was thinking of both as literary exercises and that for him the couplet was sometimes an exchangeable block of meaning. But what a couplet! And perhaps there is an echo of Antonio’s lines to Sebastian in Twelfth Night, or What You Will ‘But come what may. I do adore thee so / That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.’ (2.1.42-3).

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one;
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name.
But do not so. I love thee in such sort,
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Click on the post below to hear Sonnet 36 read by Roger Howells, former Production Manager for The Royal Shakespeare Company and now a wonderful and much-loved volunteer for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Library and Archive.

You might like to visit a similar Shakespeare for Advent project led by students at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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