Shakespeare Sonnet 84: "Who is it that says most? which can say more"

Updated on October 1, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles in My Article Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source


The speaker in sonnet 84 is once again exploring the nature of the genuine vs fake art. He contends that each human soul's abundance of truth provides the repository from which all artists may partake in producing their works.

This speaker believes that only genuine feeling can produce useful, effective, beautiful art. His interest in pursuing the reality of truth and beauty continue to motivate his poetics explorations.

Reading of Sonnet 84

First Quatrain: "Who is it that says most? which can say more"

In the first quatrain of sonnet 84, the speaker begins with a two-part question: "Who is it that says most? which can say more / Than this rich praise,—that you alone are you?"

The speaker is addressing his soul, the life force that makes each human being unique, as he has many times before, and with his rhetorical question asserts that the greatest praise one can receive is the recognition of one’s uniqueness.

The speaker then insists that each individual contains the seeds for his own growth. His art production will "equal" the value of the individual’s worth because each person is unique.

The speaker, of course, is examining his own uniqueness specifically, but his claims also flourish to universality through his broad scope and study.

Second Quatrain: "Lean penury within that pen doth dwell"

The speaker then asserts that the writer who cannot afford "some small glory" to his own soul is, indeed, a poor writer.

The reader has become well aware that the speaker’s obsession with the art of writing dominates his musings.

This talented speaker has intuitively grasped that the soul is the true creator, being a spark of the Supreme Creator.

Therefore, the speaker can say with certainty that if the writer will contact his soul, he will find that his work "dignifies his story."

The speaker, however, does also insist that the writer must be able to distinguish the soul from the ego; the writer must be able to "tell / That you are you."

Third Quatrain: "Let him but copy what in you is writ"

The speaker claims that all the writer has to do is "copy what in [the soul] is writ."

The soul is the repository of all knowledge, and if the writer will contact the soul, he will never be guilty of "making worse what nature made so clear."

And furthermore, that soul-writer’s style will be "admired every where."

The speaker, as the reader has discovered in many of the sonnets, is most interested in truth, beauty, and love.

And as such a genuine of the true and beautiful, this speaker continues to castigate poetasters for their betrayal of truth.

This speaker also has on many occasions rebuked pretenders who use poetic devices as mere cosmetics.

This speaker holds special scorn for those who abuse love. In this sonnet, the speaker is especially concerned with truth; he insists that soul knowledge is the answer to the opening question.

The Couplet: "You to your beauteous blessings add a curse"

In the couplet, the speaker scolds the ego, who, when it fails to attend the soul, "add[s] a curse" to its own "beauteous blessings."

And when the ego allows itself to become inebriated "on praise," the resulting art becomes inferior. If such art is praised, it is done so by sycophants, not true art lovers.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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