I tend to resist biographical readings of Shakespeare’s Sonnets as inappropriate and reductive. But at the same time I want to admit that the poems reflect something of Shakespeare’s personality, precisely what is open to debate.
Sonnet 23 relates directly to the poet’s reputation as an actor and a dramatist. Shakespeare knew what it was to forget lines on a stage and instead points the lover to his written works, hence the injunction ‘to hear with eyes’, that is to hear what you read as your eyes move across the page.
This one is read by Professor Michael Dobson, of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.
As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides 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’er-charged with burden 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 expressed.
O learn to read what silent love hath writ;
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
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Listen to the same sonnet being read by a student at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.
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