Poem introduction

The man Shakespeare loves has about him a quality of sexual ambiguity – he reminds one of a woman, and the poet knows well that this loved one is destined and equipped to satisfy and give pleasure to women, but he thinks that perhaps he, Shakespeare, as lover and poet, can enjoy the man's love while the women in his life can enjoy him physically. But this division of labour turns out to be unrealistic.

Sonnet 20: A woman's face

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted 
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion; 
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted 
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth; 
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created; 
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated, 
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Recordings

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Downloads read by James Fenton

1Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage

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2Sonnet 130: My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun

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3Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee

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4Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold

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5Sonnet 65: Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea

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6Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws

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7Sonnet 147: My love is like a fever, longing still

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8Sonnet 20

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Books by William Shakespeare