Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 36: "Let me confess that we two must be twain"

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

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 36: "Let me confess that we two must be twain"

There is a natural, fundamental unity binding the three components of creation: the creator, the act of creating, and the resulting created entity. For artists, those trinities for poetry, painting, and music can be designated thusly: poet, making, poem; painter, painting, painting; musician, composing, score. A generalized art trinity is thus: artist, creating, art. Each component of the Trinity of Art may be compartmentalized in order to be analyzed and studied.

The speaker in Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, particularly in the thematic grouping labeled "The Muse Sonnets," compartmentalizes that art trinity to examine each component in order to create his little dramas. For example, he often separates himself as the poet from the poem in order to subtly praise the sonnet. Other times, he performs this act simply to revel in the reunification process that results in the creation of an especially belovèd and exceptional poem.

Within this paradigm also exists the phenomenon of duality vs unity. Any two aspects of creation may understood to work together or to work against each other. The poet, therefore, can experience duality as he separates himself from his poem for some specific reason. As he engages the process of separation, the act of creation becomes silent because it is understood. Duality becomes the focus in order to analyze and study the nature of the relationship between the artist and his art, without engaging the complex issue of the process of creating.

Thus, the third scenario, in which this speaker performs this disunifying act, is simply to speak to his sonnet, even as it is the process of being created. In Sonnet 36, the speaker is dramatizing the dual nature of unity and separation, as he expresses his own unique view regarding those two phenomena that he has gained through experience.

Sonnet 36: "Let me confess that we two must be twain"

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Shakespeare Sonnet 36

Commentary

The speaker of Sonnet 36 again addresses his poem, dramatizing the unique duality of unity and separation, as the artist experiences those two phenomena.

First Quatrain: Addressing the Poem

Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.

In the first quatrain of Sonnet 36, the speaker/poet, addressing his poem, confirms that although he and his poem are essentially individual beings, they share a common goal, "our undivided loves are one." And though both the speaker/poet and the poem are united in their quests, the speaker admits that any error that occurs in his poem-inspired art is his alone and does not belong to his poem.

Such a confession reminds the reader of the artist who thanks his assistants by giving them much credit for the ultimate production of the art but still claims that if there is anything wrong the art, it is the artist’s flaw and not the assistants.

Second Quatrain: The Drama of Unity

In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.

The second quatrain again dramatizes the closeness and unity of the poet and the poem. Despite the fact that they covet a common goal, their individual beings remain an obstacle with which the artist must ever contend.

The poet and the poem may never completely merge, but they may share the same “sweet hours” that they acquire “from love’s delight.” The poet, during his creative hours, may sometimes be deceived into believing that the poem will always complement his creative nature, even as the dark times return repeatedly to emphasize their separation.

Third Quatrain: No Honor in Blaming Others

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:

The speaker says that perhaps he will not credit his poem for his poetry, because his failure, if he fails, would then attach to the poem, and the speaker/poet avers that there is no honor in blaming anyone but himself for his failures.

And the speaker then opines that the poem will not announce its relationship to his work, unless it does so in its own name. The speaker is, obviously, citing a situation that is impossible, but he, nevertheless, avers that his own inspiration in the form of an imaginative poem can do no other than agree.

The Couplet: Poem Need Not Fret

But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

Finally, the speaker tells the poem not to be concerned. The poem need not do anything other than inspire the speaker/poet.

The speaker/poet will continue to honor and love the poem because as he asserted in the beginning, they are, in fact, one and indivisible in matters of the heart, and whatever the speaker accomplishes, so does the poem: "mine is thy good report."

A Publishing Error?

In Sonnet 96, the reader will find that the couplet—"But do not so; I love thee in such sort / As thou being mine, mine is thy good report"—is identical to the couplet of Sonnet 36—a mysterious event which is addressed in the commentary about Sonnet 96.

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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles