Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 638 pg 639 129
- Editor’s Note1Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
- 2Is lust in action, and, till action, lust
- Editor’s Note3Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
- Editor’s Note4Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
- Editor’s Note5Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
- Editor’s Note6Past reason hunted, and, no sooner had,
- 7Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
- Editor’s Note8On purpose laid to make the taker mad,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus9Mad in pursuit, and in possession so,
- Editor’s Note10Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus11A bliss in proof and proved a very woe,
- Editor’s Note12Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
- Editor’s Note13 All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
- Editor’s Note14 To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
1–2 Th' expense … action 'The achieved end of lust is the shameful squandering of vital powers.' Spirit (disyllabic here) can mean 'semen' (as in Mercutio's bawdy ''Twould anger him | To raise a spirit in his mistress' circle', Romeo 2.1.23–4), It could have a more rarefied sense: 'mental energy, vitality'. The waste of shame similarly ranges from the extremely carnal (playing on 'waist' to mean 'ejaculating into a shameful waist') to the aridly spiritual ('with the result that one is left in an emptiness of shame').
3 perjured … bloody false to oaths, prone to kill and maim
full of blame (a) packed with guilt; (b) full of recrimination
4 extreme severe, violent
rude brutal, barbarous
not to trust not to be trusted
5 Enjoyed … straight No sooner does it achieve its ends than it loathes them. Enjoyed combines 'To have the use or benefit of' (OED 4a) with 4b, 'To have one's will of (a woman)'.
6 Past reason hunted sought with an eagerness which is beyond all that is reasonable
8 On purpose laid set there with the deliberate desire. Bait allures and then kills.
8–9 mad, | Mad The anadiplosis (repetition at the end of one clause and the beginning of the next) uniquely here bridges the gap between two quatrains. The energy of the poem surges unstoppably. Q reads 'Made', which is an acknowledged sixteenth-century spelling of 'mad'. McLeod (see note on l. 11 below) would retain it. The compulsion evoked by 'Made In pursut' does contribute to the picture of lust in the sonnet, but so requires an adjective to refer back to, which must surely be mad rather than 'made'.
9 Mad] q (Made)
9 so the same, i.e. mad
10 in quest … extreme Q's 'in quest, to haue extreame' is defended by Robert Graves and Laura Riding in A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927), 68–9, on the grounds that Q presents lust as wishing to possess extremity itself. It is unlikely that any early modern reader could have read the line this way, and many read with a quill to hand to correct printers' slips.
11 and proved a] sewell; and proud and q
11 A bliss … woe primarily 'A source of delight whilst it is being tried out; once experienced a source of utter misery'. Q's reading, 'A blisse in proofe and proud and very wo', has its champions, notably the tireless anti-editor Randall McLeod, 'Information Upon Information', Text: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarship 5 (1991), 241–78, who calls the emendation of the second 'and' to 'a' 'stupid' (250). He argues that Q's character string 'proud' could be read as both proud and 'prov'd' by a contemporary reader (compare collation to Lucrece l. 712). 'Proud', in the sense of showing pride, does have strong associations with the uncontrollable energies of lust in the Sonnets, but to read 'proud' in a modernized text would be misleading. However, the line in Q is ambiguous. It could, unemended, be read by a seventeenth-century reader as a string of adjectival clauses akin to those in 3–4, making lust 'a bliss in proof and proud and very woe'; or it could reinforce the idea of the previous line that all stages of lust are undifferentiatedly dreadful by reading 'A bliss both while it is being tried out (in proof), and when it has been tried out (proved), and a source of complete misery'. The chief argument for the emendation of the second 'and' to 'a' is that the line in its emended form moves towards the following line's claim that 'before action lust is a joy; after action it is an insubstantial dream'. Q's lack of pointing is retained here, however: in order to make a link with the previous line it must be possible momentarily to read 'a bliss in proof and proved' as a single unit of sense meaning 'a source of bliss both when one is trying it out and when one has finished trying it out' before the bliss evaporates in woe.
12 Before … dream in anticipation a joy which is looked forward to; in retrospect an insubstantial dream. Cf. Lucrece ll. 211–12.
13 All this … well Everyone knows this proverbial piece of wisdom; but no one really knows when it comes to practice.
14 hell (a) hell of guilt; (b) slang for the vagina