A reading of a Shakespeare sonnet
‘For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any’: so begins Sonnet 10 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This sonnet represents a minor turning point in the sequence, since Shakespeare’s admiration of the Fair Youth and his beauty becomes personal, rather than merely being couched in terms of general praise. Here is Sonnet 10, and some notes towards an analysis of its meaning and language.
For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thy self art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murderous hate,
That ‘gainst thy self thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O! change thy thought, that I may change my mind:
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove:
Make thee another self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.
In summary, Shakespeare begins Sonnet 10 by chiding the Fair Youth (‘For shame’ might be read with an exclamation mark after it) for refusing to admit that he loves anyone, and this is especially shameful since the Youth isn’t even looking out for himself (he is being ‘unprovident’, i.e. failing to consider his own future, by refusing to marry and have children). Let us acknowledge that many people love you, but that you don’t love anyone.
In lines 5-8, Shakespeare argues that the Youth is so filled with ‘murderous hate’ (i.e. hatred for his own posterity, by remaining childless) that he has no problem (‘stick’st not’ can be analysed as ‘finds no problem, or sticking point’) with conspiring to destroy (‘ruinate’) his house (‘roof’ is a synecdoche for ‘house’ here, and ‘house’ stands in metonymically for the Youth’s family and lineage – like ‘royal house’) by letting the family name die out, when to ‘repair’ this ‘roof’ (i.e. maintain the ‘house’ or family line) should be the Youth’s main wish.
In lines 9-12, Shakespeare urges the Fair Youth to change his views on having children, so that the Bard can change his (currently rather critical) opinion of the Youth. ‘Gentle love’ would be a more fitting attitude or emotion to be ‘lodged’ in the gentle, fair face of the Youth, rather than hate (i.e. hatred of having children). The Youth’s attitude should match his appearance: fair, gentle, lovely. Or, at the very least, be kind to yourself.
In the concluding couplet, Shakespeare urges the Youth to have a child as a way of making ‘another self’, i.e. another version of himself, and to do this for love of the Bard, if nothing else. That way beauty will live on in the Youth’s children.
A few additional words of analysis might be useful. Take that last line. Why does Shakespeare tell the Fair Youth that having a child will mean that beauty will live on ‘in thine or thee’? Surely the Youth’s fair beauty will fade whether or not he has children: siring a son will not keep him from losing his beauty. His beauty will live on in his young son, which explains ‘thine’, but why add ‘or thee’? It’s a subtle touch, but might be interpreted in the following way: Shakespeare is saying that the two are interchangeable. This links back to the metaphor of the ‘roof’ (for house, for family line) earlier in Sonnet 10: the father and the son are both closely connected, by blood and by beauty. But by the same token, Shakespeare does not say ‘thine and thee’, which would have been clearer here. So another interpretation suggests itself: Shakespeare is beginning to ‘go off’ the Fair Youth, and realise that his outward beauty means little so long as he harbours such churlish distaste for the idea having children. It’s the age-old idea of admiring someone for their physical appearance, only to start finding them less attractive when we realise they hold some pretty odious views. True, the Bard is still praising the Fair Youth’s beauty here, but he is giving the odd hint that his admiration may be in danger of cooling, if the Youth doesn’t become more agreeable. It’s a small touch, a little twist at the end of the sonnet, but – if we analyse it in this way – quietly revealing. ‘For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any’ sounds much like the way we might address someone whom we like, but are beginning to discover unpleasant sides to.
In Sonnet 10 Shakespeare introduces a new metaphor – that idea of mending the ‘roof’ or house – and so puts a slightly different spin on the argument of the ‘Procreation Sonnets’. So far we’ve analysed the first 10, but there are another seven sonnets in this little group to go. What other original takes on the basic argument of ‘go on, have kids!’ will Shakespeare come up with?