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Shakespeare Sonnet 24: "Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 24: "Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d"

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 24, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, loves his art deeply; therefore, he not only employs it to express his emotions, but he also employs it to feel those emotions even more strongly. This speaker appreciates his talent, which rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart. He disdains artists whose works remain superficial, speaking only about that which they can see and hear with the physical senses.

This highly talented speaker lives a spiritual life, exploring not only the heart and mind, but also the soul. It is, after all, the soul that offers the artist the greatest insights. This sonneteer urges poets, painters, and other artists to live more deeply, more intensely seeking the inner life, in order to express more than decorated beauty. Art sometimes is employed for merely decorative purposes, but works that become classics are always more consequential than those pieces used for superficial, cosmetic enhancement.

Interestingly, graffiti artists even make searching attempts to elevate their art into more than just paint splayed out across public entities. They not only want to attract attention for themselves, but they also want to be known for some ideal that they hold dear or even some characteristic that they feel best represents them. In that regard, they have much in common with the Shakespeare bard, who cherished ideals above mere ornamentation.

Sonnet 24: "Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d"

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

Reading of Sonnet 24

Commentary

The conjoining of the two art forms, painting and poetry, offers a whole new world of expression. The speaker in Sonnet 24 compares the art of poetry to the art of painting, revealing the importance of heartfelt love in the creation of art.

First Quatrain: The Poetic Form

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.

In the first quatrain, addressing the sonnet itself, the speaker is informing his poem that like a painter he has captured the poem’s beautiful form and now keeps it locked in his heart. With that image placed in the central location of the heart, his body functions as a picture "frame" to hold that form.

The speaker further makes the claim that "perspective it is best painter’s art." This point of view reveals that the best artist has a deeply felt "perspective" or attitude toward his subject and that "perspective" or attitude is the force that propels his creativity.

Second Quatrain: Skill and Comprehension

For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.

Also continuing his comparison of the poet to the painter, the speaker insists that the viewer for, reader of, or audience to the artist can comprehend the artist’s creations only by taking note of "his skill." This speaker is inviting criticism of his art, and he portrays confidence that his skill can win over any audience.

This talented speaker not only knows he has talent, but he also loves his talent and is grateful to the Divine Creator for granting him that talent. The speaker explains his position by insisting that his exalted purpose is to find the true, the good, and the beautiful by intuiting the very image that results from those sacred qualities. In order to accomplish that feat and complete the discovery, the artist must realize that the creations are in the artist’s heart—at least the artist, whose eyes are cast lovingly upon his own works, as the speaker/poet insists his are.

Third Quatrain: Love of Art

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;

The speaker then reveals that the artist’s eyes can perceive marvelous creations when they are lovingly cast upon his works. His works look back at him and reflect the love the artist feels for his creations. They perform for the creative artist and do each other "good turns" because each is brightened by that love, as if beautiful images come dancing from the very sunbeams that brighten the day. Those dancing images come to the intuitive eye of the artist and allow that artist to "gaze" upon them as he becomes amazed and inspired to create his best, truest art.

The Couplet: Art of the Profound

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

This speaker demonstrates that he is interested in art that expresses more than mere superficialities. He complains that too many intelligent poets, painters, and artists of all stripes merely offer decorated products that do little more than show off egotistically motivated urges.

This speaker lives and breathes on a more spiritual level; thus, he continues to insist on filling his own poetry with spiritual truths, truths that live in the deep heart, not merely on the surface. This speaker urges poets to write from a depth of being, not simply parrot surface findings. He also urges painters to concentrate on more substantial fare than only to "draw what they see."

This speaker is deeply in love with his art, and therefore he not only uses it to express his emotions, but he also uses it to feel them more abundantly and intensely. The speaker lives deep inside of his talent, and his talent rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart. He aspires to a life greater than the sum of its part, and his reliance on art for elevation becomes more and more the vehicle for that upward artistic evolution.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

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