Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lov'st thou that which thou receiv'st not gladly,
Or else receiv'st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: 'Thou single wilt prove none.'
The theme of the previous sonnets continues, but this time the poet states his case using a music conceit. In the image of a family "sire, child and happy mother," the poet sees sweet harmony, similar to the gorgeous sounds produced by concordant notes. The poet seems to imply that his young friend is not a fan of music, which he must want to remedy. Compare The Merchant of Venice:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. (5.1.83-88)
And, in Julius Caesar, when Caesar is describing his fear of Cassius to Antony he says:
he loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music. (1.2.204-205)
Music to hear (1): An address to his dear friend: O you, whom it is music to hear.
Sweets with sweets war not (2): you are sweet, thus you should delight in things that are also sweet (i.e. music).
Why lovest thou...annoy (3-4): why do you not gladly love the music you hear; or do you receive some gratification from your boredom ('annoy')?
concord (5): harmony.
unions (6): harmonious chords.
chide (7): scold. The notes rebuke the young friend for not participating in life's harmony by remaining single.
confounds (7): destroys.
In singleness...bear (8): by remaining a childless bachelor, the friend is failing to play his part in the harmony of life, which is family.
thou single wilt prove none (14): you will amount to nothing by remaining single. Most editors reference Dowden's annotation noting that the line is an allusion to the common saying "one is no number" (see also Sonnet 136).
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 8. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 12 Nov. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/8.html >.
Not surprisingly, Shakespeare alludes to or includes the text of well over one hundred songs in his works. Music was an integral part of Elizabethan life, as it is today. London publishers were constantly producing broadside ballads, madrigals, and consort pieces, and most educated people could read music and play a tune on a recorder, lute, or viola da gamba. Read on...
Shakespeare's Use of Songs... "Great personages who desire to hear music call for it, and the actual singing is performed by a servant or attendant, usually a young person. Here, of course, the influence of practical exigencies in determining the assignment of roles must be recognized. Singing parts would naturally be taken by the best vocalist in the company; and a company would be strangely fortunate in which the best vocalist possessed also the abilities qualifying him for the nobler roles. In principle, Hamlet as a complete gentleman should be a musician; but Hamlets who can rise to the part are not so common that the choice should be limited by adding dispensable requirements to the absolute necessities of the part. Often, indeed, the singer might not have histrionic talent for even humble roles." H. B. Lathrop. Read on...