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     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Please click on the numbers and then on the microphones to listen to Royal Shakespeare Company actress, Claire Marchionne, reading the sonnets. A few are read by myself, Shaun MacLoughlin.

With comments by:

W. H. Auden  John Barton  Melvyn Bragg  Robert Browning  Anthony Burgess   Colin Burrows   John Keats   John Kerrigan   Peter Levi   Gary O'Connor   Charles Robinson   Stanley Wells   William Wordsworth

Sonnets by Number - Click to go to your Choice

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44
45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66
67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88
89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110
111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132
133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154

Sonnets by First Line - Click to go to your Choice

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted (20)
Accuse me thus, that I have scanted all (117)
Against my love shall be as I am now (63)
Against that time - if ever that time come (49)
Ah, wherefore with infection should he live (67)
Alack, what poverty my Muse brings forth (103)
Alas, 'tis true, I have gone here and there (110)
As a decrepit father takes delight (37)
As an unperfect actor on the stage (23)
As fast as though shalt wane, so shalt thou grow'st (11)

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press (140)
Being your slave what should I do but tend (57)
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan (133)
Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took (47)
But be contented: when that fell arrest (74)
But do thy worst to steal thyself away (92)
But wherefore do not you a mightier way (16)

Canst thou, O cruel! say I love thee not (149)
Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep (153)

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paw (19)

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing (87)
For shame deny that thou bear'st love to any (10)
From fairest creatures we desire increase (1)
From you have I been absent in the spring (98)
Full many a glorious morning have I seen (33)

How can I then return in happy plight (28)
How can my muse want subject to invent (38)
How careful was I, when I took my way (48)
How heavy do I journey on the way (50)
How like a winter hath my absence been (97)
How oft when thou, my music, music play'st (128)
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame (95)

I grant thou wert not married to my muse (82)
I never saw that you did painting need (83)
If my dear love were but the child of state (124)
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought (44)
If there be nothing new, but that which is (59)
If thou survive my well-contented day (32)
If thy soul check thee that I come so near (136)
In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes (141)
In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn (152)
In the old age black was not counted fair (127)
Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye (9)
Is it thy will, thy image should keep open (61)

Let me confess that we two must be twain (36)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds (116)
Let not my love be call'd idolatry (105)
Let those who are in favour with their stars (25)
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore (60)
Like as, to make our appetite more keen (118)
Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch (143)
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou seest (3)
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage (26)
Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate (142)
Love is too young to know what conscience is (151)

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war (46)
Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd (24)
Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly? (8)
My glass shall not persuade me I am old (22)
My love is as a fever longing still (147)
My love is strengthen'd, though more weak in seeming (102)
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (130)
My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still (85)

No longer mourn for me when I am dead (71)
No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change (123)
Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck (14)
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments (55)
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul (107)

O! call not me to justify the wrong (139)
O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide
O! from what power hast thou this powerful might (150)
O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem (54)
O! how thy worth with manners may I sing (39)
O! lest the world should task you to recite (72)
O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head (148)
O! never say that I was false of heart (109)
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power (126)
O truant Muse what shall be thy amends (101)
Oh, how I faint when I of you do write (80)
Oh that you were yourself! But, love, you are (13)
Or I shall live your epitaph to make (81)
Or whether doth my mind, being crown'd with you (114)

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth (146)

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud (35)

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault (89)
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (18)
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye (62)
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea (65)
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind (113)
So am I as the rich, whose blessed key (52)
So are you to my thoughts as food to life (75)
So is it not with me as with that Muse (21)
So, now I have confess'd that he is thine (134)
So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse (78)
So shall I live, supposing thou art true (93)
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill (91)
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness (96)
Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said (56)

Take all my loves, my love; yea take them all (40)
That god forbid, that made me first your slave (58)
That thou art blam'd shall not be thy defect (70)
That thou hast her it is not all my grief (42)
That time of year thou mayst in me behold (73)
That you were once unkind befriends me now (120)
The forward violet thus did I chide (99)
The little love-god lying once asleep (154)
The other two, slight air, and purging fire (45)
Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame (129)
They that have power to hurt, and will do none (94)
Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me (132)
Those hours that with gentle work did frame (5)
Those lines that I before have writ do lie (115)
Those lips that Love's own hand did make (145)
Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view (69)
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits (41)
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art (131)
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes (137)
Thus can my love excuse the slow offence (51)
Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn (68)
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts (31)
Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain (122)
Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear (77)
Tired with all these for resful death I cry (66)
'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed (121)
Two loves I have of comfort and despair (144)

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse (86)
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed (27)
Were't aught to me I bore the canopy (125)
What is your substance, whereof are you made (53)
What potions have I drunk of Siren tears (119)
What's in the brain, that ink may character (108)
When forty winters shall beseige thy brow (2)
When I consider everything that grows (15)
When I do count the clock that tells the time (12)
When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd (64)
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes (29)
When in the chronicle of wasted time (106)
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see (43)
When my love swears that she is made of truth (138)
When thou shalt be dispos'd to set me light (88)
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought (30)
Where art thou Muse that thou forget'st so long (100)
Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid (79)
Who is it that says most, which can say more (84)
Who will believe my verse in time to come (17)
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will' (135)
Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day (34)
Why is my verse so barren of new pride (76)

Your love and pity doth the impression fill (112)

Gary O'Connor, one time director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and full time author, writes:

O'Connor writes with enormous, extravagant enthusiasm.  The ideas jostle each other off the page.

The Sonnets, linked and ordered in a sequence which seems to suggest a frail thread of incident, were primarily a dramatic account of emotional growth. Sometimes, far from having the poet adress a young man, Shakespeare has a young woman address a man; sometimes the poems are deliberately ambiguous, with no mention of gender, like many popular songs today which have an easy unisex extensibility.

This is why English Wordplay produce an edition of readings almost entirely by a woman, the Shakespearian actress Claire Marchionne.


Peter Levi, Professor of Poetry at Oxford University from 1984 to 1989, says:

An outstanding biography with a poet's insight

Many of the 154 sonnets are the most thrilling and intimately deep poems in our language.

The first sixteen are clearly written to Lord Southampton, whose recorded looks and youthful vanity (no Elizabethan nobleman was so often painted) they mirror.  Shakespeare could be writing on behalf of Southampton's mother to persuade her son to take a wife.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, 1603, in the Tower, attributed to John de Critz

The Sonnets are arranged more carefully than at first appears, though they need not have been written in the order of arrangement.

They are a series of 125 with an envoi or closing poem, followed by another 25 of which the second last (151) is surely obscene.

The last two are translations from a Greek original in the Palatine Anthology, perhaps by way of a Latin version.

Stanley Wells, the Editor of the Penguin Shakespeare, says:

The Sonnets are utterances of love that help us to define our own experiences.

John Barton, Founder Member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Author of Playing Shakespeare, says:

One of the best books on acting ever written

Because Shakespeare is first and foremost a dramatist, the Sonnets are essentially dramatic.

They cry out to be spoken.

They provide excellent acting exercises.

The poetry is notes to the actors.

All we need to know about the background is that that the Sonnets are all about either a beautiful young man or a dark lady, who is a wanton.

Shakespeare loved both and they betrayed him with one another.

The Adventure of English, the Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg:

a captivating history of how the English language came into being

The Sonnets were his duelling ground, his language laboratory and his visiting cards.

He was new from Warwickshire, 'uneducated', a ragtaggle actor, but, in print, a poet.

He is writing eternal lines and as long as anyone can breathe or see, they will read what he has written.

In his Shakespeare Anthony Burgess, author of over fifty books, writes:

a bright, racy, intelligent book - Terry Eagleton Auden on Shakepeare

A man of twenty nine may admire a youth's beauty.

If he is a poet, he will find the right words, and only to the na´ve will the right words suggest a wrong relationship.

However the sexual orientation of Elizabethan actors may have been influenced by the fact of boys taking women's parts and taking them well.

In his essay Shakespeare's Sonnets, the poet W. H. Auden describes:

The Young Southampton? Third Earl of Southampton

The young Southampton probably knew he had some power over Shakespeare, but was unaware of the intensity of the feelings he aroused.

Southampton gives the impression, Auden writes, of being ''a young man who was not really very nice, very conscious of his good looks, able to switch on the charm at any moment, but essentially frivolous, cold-hearted and self-centred.''

Above left is an Elizabethan portrait, owned by the Cobbe family, previously believed to be of Lady Norton, daughter of the Bishop of Winton.  However Alastair Laing, the National Trust's adviser on art believes the portrait is not of a woman, but of a young man apparently dressed as a woman.

Biographer, Anthony Holden believes this could be a portrait of the young Southampton.  Compare it with the well known portrait above right.

William Wordsworth,

William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet.

With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart.



To which Robert Browning replied:

Robert Browning

Did Shakespeare?

If so, the less Shakespeare he!



John Keats says:

John Keats

The sonnets are full of fine things said unintentionally.

Shakespeare led a life of allegory: his works are the comments on it.



Two recommended editions of the Sonnets are:

Oxford Introduction considers the mysteries of the dark lady Penguin: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee

The Oxford Shakespeare: the Complete Sonnets and Poems edited by Colin Burrows 2002

Penguin Classics: The Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint edited John by Kerrigan 1986



If you would like to acquire a beautifully illustrated version of the Sonnets, we recommend:

Crescent Books, New York




Charles Robinson (1870 - 1937) was a prolific British book illustrator.

The first full book he illustrated was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (1895) which includes over 100 pen and ink drawings.

It was extremely popular, going through many reprints.

He illustrated many fairy tales and children's books, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Grimm's Fairy Tales and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.

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