Shakespeare’s Sonnet #23: “As an unperfect actor on the stage”


As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,

Reading of Sonnet 23

Click on video to play 

The images in the YouTube video are from an original 1609 edition of Shake-speares Sonnets held by the British Library.  It is one of only thirteen copies in existence.  Images courtesy of the Octavo Corporation.

Modernized Spelling and Punctuation

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more expressed.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ;
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Simplified Modern English Translation

Like a beginning actor on the stage 
who is too nervous to speak his lines,
or like someone possessing so much emotion
that the thought of expressing it verbally is too daunting;
so I, not trusting myself, neglect to tell you
face-to-face how I truly feel, as any lover should as a normal part of courtship,
and, paradoxically, seem to be withdrawing, when in fact
I am actually overwhelmed by the strength of my love for you.
Therefore, please read these carefully composed sonnets
that are silent representations of my inner voice
that are pleading for your love and looking for a favorable response,
much more so than anything I might have the courage to speak openly about.
Oh, learn to read what silent love has written, 
and use your eyes to hear what I truly wish I could speak out loud.

Text from Original 1609 Quarto

Transcription courtesy of University of Virginia Library:

As an vnperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his feare is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing repleat with too much rage,
Whose strengths abondance weakens his own heart:
So I for feare of trust, forget to say,
The perfect ceremony of loues right,
And in mine owne loues strength seeme to decay,
Ore-charg’d with burthen of mine owne loues might:
O let my books be then the eloquence,
And domb presagers of my speaking brest,
Who pleade for loue, and look for recompence,
More then that tonge that more hath more exprest.
O learne to read what silent loue hath writ,
To heare with eies belongs to loues fine wit.



 Posted by at 9:58 am

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