Sonnet CXXIX: Th'expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame

Original Text: 
William Shakespeare, Shake-speares sonnets (London: G. Eld for T. T., 1609). STC 22353. Facs. edn.: London: J. Cape, 1925. PR 2750 B48 1609b ROBA.
3Is perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,


1] Th' expense ... action. The meaning will appear clearly if lust in action is regarded as the subject. expense: (1) spending, expenditure; (2) by implication, "ejaculation." Spirit: Thomas Thomas (1587) translates Latin "spiritus" as "Spirite, breath, winde, sauour, the soule, life, smell, aire, noise, fiercenes, heart, stomack, hawtinesse of courage." Shakespeare's sense here may be "the spirit of life [that] doeth walke mixed with bloode," that is, the "pulse" (Thomas Thomas, "arteria").waste: (1) squandering, useless consumption; and (2) by implication and punning, waist (a woman's middle), conventionally spelled "waste" in the period. Back to Line
2] lust in action: (1) enacted or fulfilled desire; (2) by implication, copulation. An example of rhetorical chiasmus, the reversal of the same grammatical structure ("lust in action ... till action, lust") in successive clauses. Back to Line
4] extreme: excessive. rude: brutal. Back to Line
5] Enjoy'd: used sexually for pleasure (OED "enjoy" v. 4b).straight: immediately. Back to Line
6] This line and the next exemplify rhetorical anaphora, the repetition of the same phrase ("Past reason") in successive clauses. Back to Line
7] as a swallow'd bait: a simile. The bait here ("lust in action" or copulation) is set out by the hunter to catch the animal but turns out to catch the hunter. Back to Line
8] laid: (1) set in place; (2) by implication, bedded. An example of rhetorical anadiplosis, the repetition of the last word of one clause ("mad") at the beginning of the next clause. Back to Line
9] Mad in: "Made In" in Q1 (1609). Back to Line
10] Had: (1) experienced; and (2) by implication, taken sexually. An example of rhetorical polyptoton, the repetition of a word with altered inflections ("Had, having ... to have'). Back to Line
11] in proof: experienced.prov'd a: "proud and" in Q1 (1609). very: true. Back to Line
12] Cf. "Enjoy'd" (5). a dream: a metaphor. Shakespeare may have in mind dreams of sexual conquest, intensely imagined while they are going on but afterwards ill-remembered and of no consequence in the awake world because it is "despised" (5). Back to Line
13] An example of rhetorical antithesis (contrasted ideas in like grammatical structures). Back to Line
14] An example of rhetorical paradox.heaven: evidently elided as a single syllable, "heav'n."hell: "putting the devil into hell," an euphemism for thrusting the penis into the vagina. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
F. D. Hoeniger
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.143-44.