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Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war My eyes and heart are fighting a deadly battle
How to divide the conquest of thy sight; About how to divide the spoils of war (your image);
Mine eye my heart thy picture's sight would bar, My eyes would prevent my heart from looking upon your picture,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right. My heart would prevent my eyes the right to see the picture.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie - My heart pleads that you lie within it -
A closet never pierced with crystal eyes - A private place never pierced by transparent eyes -
But the defendant doth that plea deny But the defendant (my eyes) denies this
And says in him thy fair appearance lies. And says that your beauty lies in him.
To 'cide this title is impanneled To decide this title is enrolled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart, A jury made up of thoughts, all of which live in my heart,
And by their verdict is determined And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye's moiety and the dear heart's part: The keen eye's share (of your picture) and the heart's dear share:
As thus; mine eye's due is thy outward part, As this: your outward part is given to my eyes,
And my heart's right thy inward love of heart. And your inner heart (your love) is given to my heart.


Mine...war (1): The beginning of a conceit, which is an elaborate extended metaphor, often more popular for its novelty than its poetic merit. William R. Keast describes a conceit as "a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness." The war between heart and eye was a conventional Renaissance conceit, but Shakespeare takes it in an original direction with the addition of rich legal imagery.

mortal (1): deadly.

bar (3): prohibit.

freedom (4): to exercise freely (that right).

plead (5): claim.

closet (6): private place.

the defendant (7): i.e., the eye (while the heart prosecutes).

'cide (9): decide.

empanelled (9): enrolled (to appear in court).

quest (10): jury or inquest.

moiety (12): share.

And thus (13): And so. The concluding couplet reveals the verdict.

Sonnet 46 is one in a series of eye-heart Sonnets (24, 38, and 47 are the others) and it is one of the more difficult for modern readers to understand, partially due to the conceit of the war between the poet's eyes and heart, and the use of legal terminology. Regarding the references to titles and verdicts: "Contemporary life is reflected in the impaneling the jury, the tenants of the manor: their verdict was to award a 'moiety', i.e. 1/2, to each. We still retain the word 'quest' in local country speech: a 'crowner's quest' means coroner's inquest" (Rowse 95). For more information on the eye-heart sonnets, please see the analysis of Sonnet 47.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 46. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2008. < >.

Keast, William R. Ed. Seventeenth-century English poetry: modern essays in criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.

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Did You Know? ... "Of the countless editions of the works of Shakespeare that show a frontispiece likeness of the poet, it is a singular fact that by far the greater number favour the 'Chandos' portrait. The face and features of Shakespeare as 'imaged' in that portrait are those with which his readers are probably most familiar. It is not easy to account for this, since the Chandos Portrait is certainly not the first in point of genuineness, whatever may be its degree of artistic merit. Possibly it satisfies more fully the popular ideal of the likeness of a great creative poet than does the bust or print just referred to. Be that as it may, the 'Chandos ' portrait, for various reasons, more than justifies its being kept in the custody of the nation as a very rare and valuable relic of its greatest dramatist." Alexander Cargill. Read on....


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