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Andrew Culver
English 560
Dr. Taufer

Sonnet 40
Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all:
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.
5 Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robb’ry, gentle thief,
10 Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.

Sonnet 40 is an appeal to the beloved, as well as a warning and a plea for constancy. It

also functions as a defense of the speaker’s own inconstancy on one level. If you reject me, the

speaker says, you will be hurting yourself the most – but I forgive you. The speaker begins by

asking the beloved to think about what he is doing by refusing the speaker’s love. He appeals to

the beloved’s guilt and questions his need for more attention from other people. The speaker then

asks why the beloved needs this extra attention, and carefully places blame and judgment upon

him. While ostensibly forgiving the beloved, the speaker indulges in his self-righteous anger and

sense of superiority. Then, in a sudden turn to martyrdom, the speaker states that if he is to be

killed or ruined, he would rather it be from hate than from love. Love’s injuries would be too

painful, because they involve betrayal and loss.

The first quatrain consists of a cryptic statement to the beloved – take all my loves raises

questions. Shakespeare is playing with the multiple meanings of love here. The plural form of

love causes the reader to think about the suggestions of the opening statement. At first it seems

as if the plural is a mistake, and the speaker is really telling his beloved to take all his love. But it

can be no mistake when we get to the end of the line and see that the speaker is definitely

referring to the plural – take them all. In this case the loves the speaker refers to may be close

friends of both the speaker and the beloved. These loves could be possible lovers, former lovers,

courtly flatterers or false rival poets. Loves may even refer to love poems written by rival poets.

The line has another layer of meaning, as well: take all the love and attention away from me, and

direct it to yourself. Just go ahead, the speaker says. You hog the glory, and enjoy yourself,

because my love isn’t going to be here when you need it.

The second love is the address to the beloved and is quite straightforward. The speaker

addresses the beloved as my love and is literally daring the beloved to take the attention of all the

other people (loves) who seek to flatter him. The love of line 3, when the speaker says “No love,

my love, which thou mayst true love call”, refers to the love of the many flatterers that distract

the beloved from the speaker. The speaker then says that all his love belonged to the beloved

before, but if the beloved gives in to the flatterers then the speaker’s love may wither up and go

away: All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more. This is a way of saying “you can have

fake love from all these people, or you can have true love from me alone.” The speaker argues

that more is less when it comes to lovers.

The first quatrain has several interesting syntactical inversions that almost, but do not

completely mirror each other. The first line flirts with antimetabole while never totally

committing to it. The first statement, Take all my loves, is then reversed: my love, yea take them

all. However, the sense of the line is not divided this way. The speaker is clearly addressing his

love, and the line in reality is divided like this: Take all my loves, my love, followed by yea, take

them all. This reversal of word order occurs in the second line, which cleverly takes the phrase

hast thou then and mirrors it with than thou hadst. By slightly altering the words hast and then

Shakespeare has created a feeling of being in a hall of mirrors. Taken together, the first two lines

set up a playful pattern of inversions that demand the reader’s constant attention to the smallest

of details. These mirroring effects are not unlike the mirroring of the two lovers of the sonnets.

This sonnet describes a small world governed by the actions of two people, and the speaker is

constantly comparing the beloved to himself.

Line 5 forces the reader to read the phrase “my love” in two different ways, each time

emphasizing a different word. We focus on love as a possession as well as a thing given and

received. The speaker does this by cleverly alternating stresses: in the first “my love” the my is

stressed, while in the second “my love” the love is stressed. The two “my loves” are carefully

juxtaposed against one another. This causes the reader to note the importance of the possessive

pronoun “my” as well as the fact that “love” is the direct object of “receivest”. Line 5 is also

cryptic because of the word “for”, which must be teased out to clarify meaning. One very

possible meaning, which the OED finds elsewhere in Shakespeare himself, is for as a stand-in for

before, or in front of (1a). Also possible is “In the presence or sight of” (1b.) This elucidates line

5: “Then if in the presence of, or in the sight of my declarations of love, you receive my love.”

This elucidation hints at the falseness and inconstancy of the beloved. The speaker knows that

the beloved may receive his love in his presence but abandon it when the speaker is absent.

Line 6 hinges on the possibilities inherent in the word usest. The OED elucidates the

word use: “to celebrate, keep, or observe” (1a). Also mentioned is the obsolete “To frequent

(another’s company),” which is Shakespeare’s most likely intention. With this in mind, we can

read the line as follows: “I cannot blame you if you celebrate my love and frequent my

company.” But in a reversal, as lines seven and eight tell us, the beloved can be blamed if he

deceives himself by refusing the speaker’s love. So we see that in the second quatrain the

speaker negotiates blame for the beloved’s actions. If the beloved is kind and basks in the

speaker’s love, he is not to be blamed, even if he does it greedily. However, if the beloved

belatedly desires the neglected love of the speaker, only he can be blamed for deceiving himself.

Line eight’s “By wilful taste of what thyself refusest” refers to the beloved’s desire for what he

has given up, which has a sexual connotation from the words “will” and “taste”.

The third quatrain shifts from the thrust of the first two, and discusses the harm done to

the speaker by the beloved. Here the speaker gives the beloved a series of statements,

qualifications and reversals. The speaker forgives the beloved, although he has left him bereft;

and although the speaker has forgiven the beloved, his grief is greater than if the beloved had

merely hated him from the beginning. The forgiveness is nothing more than an excuse to drive

the dagger deeper into the beloved. The speaker is essentially saying “I forgive you, although

you cruelly left me, and the pain is worse than if we had never loved each other.” In a startlingly

savage outburst, the speaker says that not only is he injured, but he wishes the injury had come

from an enemy rather than a lover.

The couplet completes the thought from the third quatrain. In an eloquent paradox, the

speaker apostrophizes “Lascivious grace”, and tells it to kill him with “spites.” Definition 2a.

from the OED shows the most probable gloss for “spite”: A strong feeling of (contempt,) hatred

or ill-will; intense grudge or desire to injure; rancorous or envious malice”. By addressing the

lascivious grace of the beloved, the speaker refers to the beloved’s dual qualities of inconstancy

and beauty, which cannot be separated from one another. He addresses this lascivious grace

(possibly because he is so angry at the beloved that he can no longer address him directly) and

tells it to hurt him with hatred, malice, or ill-will, rather than love. As he has said in lines 11-12,

it is worse to be a victim of love than of hate. In another reversal, the speaker says “yet we must

not be foes.” This may be an admission that the speaker is no stranger to lascivious behavior,

having practiced it himself. Or this could be another confusion of love and hate, which are so

intertwined in this sonnet. The speaker is unable to separate himself from the one who has

harmed him, and so implicates himself in his downfall.

Alliteration works throughout this poem to create an obsessive and sometimes

claustrophobic effect. After all, we are perpetually trapped inside the speaker’s monodrama.

Aside from line seven’s “but yet be blamed” and line eight’s “By wilful taste of what thyself

refusest”, there is line eleven’s “greater grief”. But there is one glaring and overwhelming source

of alliteration, and that is the constant repetition of “th” sounds throughout the sonnet. In line two

we have thou then and than thou; in line three that thou; line four thine, thou and this; line five

then and thou; line six thee and thou; line seven thou thyself; line eight thyself; line ten thou and

thee, and line twelve the single than. The speaker uses repetition of this sound perhaps

unconsciously, but it creates an effect nevertheless. When a reader perceives certain sounds over

and over again, the poet or speaker gives the impression of being slightly obsessive. The

preponderance of thees, thyselfs and thous, as well as then and than, alert us to the speaker’s

obsession with the beloved as well as with comparisons between himself and the beloved.

The repetition of feminine endings in the second quatrain echoes the sonnet’s

uncommonly feminine tone. All four lines of the second quatrain end in amphibrachs: receivest,

thou usest, deceivest, and refusest. The rest of the poem’s line endings are masculine. In this

peculiar quatrain the speaker almost sounds like a woman addressing her male lover and asking

him to be faithful. The main concern is with the beloved’s actions toward the speaker’s love:

receive, use and refuse, with the exception of deceive, which is a self-inflicted action of the

beloved. There are certain lines in which it seems as if the speaker is a woman. “And yet love

knows it is a greater grief/ To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.” To be abandoned by

a man after being deflowered, without being married, would be worse for a reputation than being

injured, abused or slandered by a known enemy.


Epizeuxis is a strong element in the poem, with the phrase “my love” and “my loves” in

the first line and the repetition of “love” three times in the third line. In line five “my love” is

repeated twice. These subtle repetitions reinforce the sonnet’s emphasis on the speaker’s

differing meanings of “love”. There is the false love of the courtly flatterers, and there is the true

love of the speaker. The interplay of the speaker and the beloved creates a world of echoes,

mirrors and differences. Polyptoton serves this function as well. In lines six and seven the word

“blame” is echoed: “I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest,/ But yet be blamed, if thou my

love refusest”. In lines eleven and twelve this occurs again: “And yet love knows it is a greater

grief/ To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.” Working within the claustrophobic world

of the fourteen-line sonnet, the speaker must be a master of reduction, somehow evoking the

hugeness of his experiences in an absurdly small format. Exploiting the multiplicity of meanings

of single words, like love, blame, know, hast, thou, and others, allows the speaker to capture

something as big and complex as the human heart in the reduced, gemlike intricacies of a single