Shakespeare's Sonnets: Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Sonnet 129

Original Text: 
SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (London: G. Eld for T. T. and sold by William Aspley, 1609): h3v.
4Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
7Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
12Before, a joy propos'd, behind, a dream:
14    To shun the heav'n that leads men to this hell.


1] spirit] pronounced as a single syllable (cf. OED, "sprite"). "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" (F. D. Hoeniger). 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" (F. D. Hoeniger). Back to Line
3] bloody, full of] bloody full of Q. Back to Line
5] Enjoy'd: "used sexually for pleasure (OED "enjoy" v. 4b)" (F. D. Hoeniger). straight: at once. Back to Line
6] "This line and the next exemplify rhetorical anaphora, the repetition of the same phrase ("Past reason") in successive clauses" (F. D. Hoeniger). Back to Line
8] laid] "(1) set in place; (2) by implication, bedded. Back to Line
9] Made] Q, which makes sense as it stands, "made (mad)", although "mad" would be "An example of rhetorical anadiplosis, the repetition of the last word of one clause ('mad') at the beginning of the next clause" (F. D. Hoeniger). Back to Line
11] in proof] as it is being experienced. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: