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What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring and foison of the year;
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear,
And you in every blessed shape we know.
   In all external grace you have some part,
   But you like none, none you, for constant heart.


LIII. Ordinary objects have each but one shadow or one image. But the beauties and excellences of Mr. W. H. are so numerous that he is reflected millions of times. His image is to be discerned in every shape of beauty and grace; but no other object reflects his fidelity.

2. Strange shadows. Images of other persons and objects. Shadows and images are taken as identical. Cf. cxiii., cxiv.

3. Each individually has one shadow. The expression in the text is emphatic, to contrast with the multitudinous shadows caused by, or connected with, the single Mr. W. H. (line 4).

5. The counterfeit. The description, as possibly also in Hamlet (Act iii. sc. 4, line 54), "the counterfeit presentment of two brothers."

7. Depict Helen with all the skill of pictorial art.

8. Grecian tires. Grecian head-dress properly, though here the word "tires" would seem to be used more generally. Notice, however, from the comparison with Helen, the feminine character of Mr. W. H.'s youthful beauty. Cf. xx.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < >.

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Thoughts on the Sonnets

Cartoon of the Dunford Portrait "The critics who believe the Sonnets to be autobiographical generally agree in assuming that all of them (or all but two) are either addressed to one man and one woman, or connected with the poet's relations with those two persons. Is it not probable, on the face of it, that a poet who "unlocked his heart" to such an extent in this form of verse would occasionally, if not often, have employed it in expressing his feelings towards other friends or with reference to other experiences?" W. J. Rolfe. Read on...


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