Sonnet 23 is one of the 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare. Like other sonnets, sonnet 23 also follows the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG written in iambic pentameter. It has three quatrain and an ending couplet. This sonnet was published in 1609 Quarto.
Sonnet 23 is about the poet’s inability to speak of his love to the youth due to his uncontrollable emotions. The title of the sonnet reads Sonnet 23: As an unperfect actor on the stage. Continue below for the summary and analysis of the sonnet.
SONNET 23: AS AN UNPERFECT ACTOR ON THE STAGE
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burthen of mine own love’s might.
O! let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
SONNET 23 SUMMARY
In the first quatrain of the sonnet, the poet explains how he is unable to express his love to the Fair Youth. He compares himself to an inexperienced actor on the stage who forgets his dialogue because of extreme nervousness. Like him, the poet is also in the loss of control, his emotions restrict the words from his mouth. In the next two lines, the poet likens himself to a wild beast whose extreme fierceness causes it an inability to achieve anything.
In the first two lines, the poet employs a simile ‘As an unperfect actor on the stage’. An extended metaphor is used in the next two lines: ‘Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage, Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart’. In these lines the poet compares himself to a fierce wild beast.
In the second quatrain of the Sonnet 23, the poet says that he becomes so weak in the company of the youth. In the fear of trust, he is unable to say the youth the right things; he forgets to say the right ceremony of love’s rite. And he is overcharged with the burden of his own love’s might, so his love’s strength seems to be weakening.
In the third quatrain of the Sonnet 23, as he is caught up in the might of love, he says, he is unable express his feelings anymore through his speech. His uncontrollable emotion and fear prevent him from speaking. When he is dumbstruck, he believes his book will be more eloquent. So, he encourages the youth to read his book to understand the depth of his heartfelt love. His books can speak louder than his tongue.
In the final couplet of Sonnet 23, the speaker comes to an end, insisting his beloved to learn to read and hear through eyes if he has to understand what his silent love intends to say. His books better speak his words rather than his tongue. The speaker is impotent to speak and the writer shows up himself here.
Poetic techniques or devices are literary devices used in poetry to enhance the intensity of feeling, to create rhythm and in particular to beautify the verses. The poet makes use of several poetic techniques in this sonnet ranging from simile to enjambment.
A Simile is a more vivid and direct comparison of two unlike and different things. This figurative language uses words like ‘as’ and ‘like’ to compare one thing to another similar thing. The poet uses simile in the first line ‘As an unperfect actor on the stage‘. He compares himself to an imperfect actor on the stage.
Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. Alliteration is found in the fifth line ‘for fear of trust, forget to say‘, the repetition of ‘f‘.
Enjambment is a thought that does not come to an end at a line break. But it continues to the next line. Enjambment is employed in the lines five and six: So I, for fear of trust, forget to say The perfect ceremony of love’s rite.
THE 1609 QUARTO VERSION OF SONNET 23
AS an vnperfect actor on the ſtage,
Who with his feare is put beſides his part,
Or ſome fierce thing repleat with too much rage,
Whoſe ſtrengths abondance weakens his owne heart;
So I for feare of truſt,forget to ſay,
The perfect ceremony of loues right,
And in mine owne loues ſtrength ſeeme to decay,
Ore-charg’d with burthen of mine owne loues might:
O let my books be then the eloquence,
And domb preſagers of my ſpeaking breſt,
Who pleade for loue,and look for recompence,
More then that tonge that more hath more expreſt.
O learne to read what ſilent loue hath writ,
To heare wit eies belongs to loues fine wiht.