Sonnet 35 by Shakespeare: How to Understand this Sonnet Easily

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 35, also known by the first line, No more be grieved at that which thou hast done, is the continuation of the theme-shift started in Sonnet 33. These sonnets are about the Fair Youth who has committed a sensual mistake, perhaps of having an affair. But it is the language and the way Shakespeare talks about this error that makes this sonnet so interesting to read. 

This sonnet has confused many people, questioning the actions of the young man and even the sexuality of Shakespeare himself. We’ll analyze the article and try to answer all the questions arising from the sonnet, the meaning of it, and what Shakespeare was trying to convey. But first, let’s take a look at the sonnet. 

Sonnet 35 by William Shakespeare

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authórizing thy trespass with compare,

Myself corrupting salving thy amiss,

Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense—

Thy adverse party is thy advocate—

And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence.

Such civil war is in my love and hate,

   That I an áccessory needs must be

   To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Paraphrase of Sonnet 35

Don’t regret so much for the things that you have done 

Even beautiful roses have thorns, clear rivers are laden with mud,

The moon is sometimes covered by clouds, eclipses often cover the bright sun,

Unsightly cankers often are present on beautiful flower buds. 

Everyone makes mistakes, even I am doing it right now 

Justifying your mistake by comparing it

Corrupting myself by refuting your faults,

Making more excuses for your sins than your sins are.

I am justifying and adding reasons for your sensual faults 

For I am your accuser and I am your advocate

And I am in this battle with and within myself 

A civil war inside me, between love and hate 

And I have become an accessory for you

Justifying the crime of you robbing me 

Analysis of the sonnet

Before we think about analyzing why Shakespeare wrote this sonnet and question his preference for love, we need to look at the sonnet without any connection to Shakespeare. Let’s assume that this sonnet is written by someone whose gender or name we do not know. 

Looking at the sonnet without knowing who the poet is, we see that the sonnet is about betrayal, about breaking someone’s trust, and at the same time the need and dependency on that love that makes the sufferer forget about all the wrongdoings. It is the ugly and painful side of love. Let’s analyze the sonnet, quatrain by quatrain.

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:

Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

The first quatrain is very different from the rest of the sonnet and quite easy to understand. The speaker asks his/her love (remember, we are not aware of the poet) love not to be upset or sad for what he/she has done. This deed is clearly infidelity and the poet’s love is feeling remorseful. 

Then the poet compares all the beautiful things and how they are often accompanied by unpleasant, undesirable things. Roses have thorns, beautiful clear rivers have mud. The bright moon and golden sun are often covered with dark clouds and shadows, and rotting cankers live in beautiful flower buds. 

What the poet is trying to convey here is that even though the person did something wrong, it does not take away his/her worth, and he/she is still beautiful. People do not start disliking the sun or moon or sweet buds or roses because they have a few dislikable parts. 

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authórizing thy trespass with compare,

Myself corrupting salving thy amiss,

Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:

The second quatrain brings the interesting part of the sonnet. Here we see how powerful and often blinding love can be. Even though the mistake has been committed by the poet’s love, the poet now starts pointing to his/her own mistakes. 

The poet says that even he/she is making the mistake of justifying his/her love’s act of infidelity by comparing it, rhetorically giving poetic examples to make the wrongdoing sound excusable. It is important to note that this comparison is not done for anyone else or the readers, but for the poet’s own mind. 

The poet is corrupting himself/herself by accepting the wrongdoings and mistakes of his/her love, making more excuses than the mistakes his/her love has committed. Which is true. Just one act of infidelity has made the poet spin out so much comparison, excuses, and justification. 

For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense—

Thy adverse party is thy advocate—

And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence.

Such civil war is in my love and hate,

The first line of this quatrain is brilliant. For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense. The poet brings sense to his/her lover’s sensual faults. The poet is adding reason to a fault that clearly happened due to a lack of reason. 

This is where we see how love has blinded the poet. The poet says that he/she is the accuser and he/she is also the advocate. The poet is both criticizing and supporting the wrongdoings. This is a clear conflict of love and hate, and love is winning.

Sonnet 35 by William Shakespeare
Sonnet 35 by William Shakespeare

It is important to know that this is all happening internally. A conflict of emotions, the hate, and anger of being lied to, but at the same time the love and the fear of losing someone overpowering the hate. This civil war of love and hate is one of the most complicated and hurtful emotions to humans.

   That I an áccessory needs must be

   To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

The couplet, in the end, summarizes what the poet is feeling and trying to say. The poet has become an accessory, an aid to that sweet thief who robs him/her of joy and happiness. The sweet thief here is his/her lover and even though he/she is a thief.

This love is so sweet for the poet that he/she lets it rob him/her sourly. It conveys that the poet is so used to the sweetness of love, so dependable on it that he/she can take the sourness it brought, but never let the sweetness leave. 

Why ambiguity is necessary

The addition of ambiguity in this sonnet is very important to make it easily understandable and not create any confusion. The fact that it has been written by Shakespeare for a “fair youth” makes people question the sexuality of the poet. Was he writing these poems for someone? Was it for his lover? But that’s not the point of the sonnets. 

The sonnets, especially this one, are meant to convey the meaning of love and the complications that arise from it. It isn’t about Shakespeare revealing his sexuality in a cryptic way. The moment you get rid of the knowledge about the poet, his gender, and name, the sonnet becomes so much easier to understand and enjoy.

Sonnet 35 is about the delirious effect of this sweet feeling we call love? This love can cause us to suffer so much that we refuse to see the wrong things being done to us. There are so many people, some readers of this article too, who may have gone through something similar. And showing that is what Shakespeare intended to do. 

An author or a poet is often non-existent in his literary works. There is no concrete version of himself or herself. When a male writer writes about a female character’s point of view or vice versa, it has nothing to do with the author’s personal life, but about the character. The point of this sonnet is love and what it can make people do. 

It isn’t about a man loving another man, a woman loving another woman, or a man loving another woman. The common factor here is love and it does the same thing to everyone, irrespective of gender. That’s the essence of Sonnet 35.

Literary devices in the sonnet 

Rhyming scheme: The poem has a rhyming scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet; ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and the volta or the “turn” occurs happens at the couplet. Each line of the sonnet has ten syllables and is written in iambic pentameter.

Metaphors: The sonnet is carried by metaphors. Metaphors are the essence of this one. The first quatrain is all metaphors, conveying the message that everything beautiful also has some unsightly qualities as well. 

“Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.”

Other examples include; “Thy adverse party is thy advocate”, “Such civil war is in my love and hate”, etc.

Enjambment: The final lines of the sonnet uses enjambment. Enjambment is when a line is continued to the next line. Take a look: 

Such civil war is in my love and hate,

   That I an áccessory needs must be

   To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me

This was all about Shakespeare’s Sonnet 35. Here are some Shakespeare sonnets that you can read about. Take a look:

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