William Shakespeare – Sonnet 40

Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.
Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam’d, if thou thy self deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty:
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong, than hate’s known injury.
   Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
   Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.

This is one of the most desolate sonnets in the entire series. Desperate situations call for desperate remedies, and the poet casts around to find a way out of his misery. He cannot disguise the naked fact that his beloved youth has behaved treacherously and stolen his mistress. This and the following two sonnets try to come to terms with the reality of the deception and loss. The initial exclamation springs as it were from exhaustion, as if having examined all possible motives for the actions of the youth, he can find no justification therein and decides to throw in the towel. Let his beloved have all his loves, for they are valueless compared to the love which he feels for the youth. Yet immediately doubts begin to resurface. The beloved’s motives are called into question once more. Did he really believe that he could augment his store of love by adding the poet’s mistress? Or did he not rather deliberately deceive himself, and act out of sheer wantoness, with no thought of the other’s hurt? But perhaps that is too gross an accusation. Whatever the motives, forgiveness is the best course, for something must be salvaged from the wreck. Even so, querulousness cannot be supressed and the beloved comes close to being depicted as the worst sort of thief stealing a miserable pensioner’s last savings. The proverbial thought is cited that the harm a lover’s wrong can do is far greater than injuries caused by an enemy. The closing couplet tries to rescue the situation, and its very weakness seems to give it its strength, a strength greater than any linguistic tour-de-force could have provided. It is the drowning man clutching at straws – ‘Destroy me, yet we must remain friends. I have nothing else left to which I can make appeal. If I abandon this rock on which my life rests, that my love for you is above all other eventualities, then all is lost and I am doomed. So I will turn away from your wrongs and maintain my friendship with you despite everything.’

 These three sonnets, 40-42, are matched by three in the dark lady sequence, 133, 134 and 144, and probably relate to the same incident or series of incidents. The reasons for the current arrangement are not known, and we may only speculate that the poet perhaps wished the three later sonnets, addressed to his mistress to balance these three written to the youth.

It is noticeable that this sonnet uses the word ‘love’ considerablymore than in any other sonnet (10 times, as love, love’s or loves). This may be an expression of the fact that the poet feels his love more threatened than at any other time, and by repetition of the word he will cast a spell by it and prevent it from flying away.

The 1609 Quarto Version

TAke all my loues,my loue,yea take them all,
What haſt thou then more then thou hadſt before?
No loue, my loue,that thou maiſt true loue call,
All mine was thine,before thou hadſt this more:
Then if for my loue,thou my loue receiueſt,
I cannot blame thee,for my loue thou vſeſt,
But yet be blam’d,if thou this ſelfe deceaueſt
By wilfull taſte of what thy ſelfe refuſeſt.
I doe forgiue thy robb’rie gentle theefe
Although thou ſteale thee all my pouerty:
And yet loue knowes it is a greater griefe
To beare loues wrong,then hates knowne injury.
   Laſciuious grace,in whom all il wel ſhowes,
   Kill me with ſpights yet we must not be foes.


1. Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all;all my loves – the sonnet plays on the various meanings of love. a.) mistress (lines1,5,6). b.) the youth (lines1,3). c.) the experience of loving, love per se, as in lines 3, 11, or as in phrases such as Love is too young to know what conscience is. Sonn 151. d.) the specific love of the speaker for the youth (line 5). All these meanings overlap to a certain extent. The primary meaning of the line is ‘Take all my mistresses, yes all of them’, but it can also mean ‘Deprive me of any love you have ever had for me’.2. What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?Have you gained any increase in love over that which you already possessed?3. No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;

 You have not gained anything which could be called true love. And/or ‘You might have gained a love but you will not genuinely be able to address her as ‘my true love’ ‘. To modern ears there is a slight worry about the duplicity of this situation. For why, if the poet’s love for the youth was genuine and absolute, should he need another love in the form of a mistress? Evidently he compartmentalises this other love, and regards it as not genuine, in some way inferior to his love for the youth. These references to ‘true love’ may have in mind the anonymous poem (sometimes attributed to Raleigh) ‘As Ye came from the Holy Land’, some verses of which I add below.

As ye came from the holy land/Of Walsinghame,
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came?

How should I know your true love,That have met many a one
As I came from the holy land,
That have come, that have gone?

It then transpires that the speaker has been abandoned by his love because he is no longer young, and he proceeds to moralize on love.

Know that love is a careless child,And forgets promise past,
He is blind, he is deaf when he list,
And in faith never fast.

His desire is a dureless content,And a trustless joy;
He is won with a world of despair,
And is lost with a toy.

Of womenkind such indeed is the love,Or the word love abused,
Under which many childish desires
And conceits are excused.

But true love is a durable fire,In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never dead, never cold,
From itself never turning.4. All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more.All mine = all my love, all my mistresses, all my possessions. (See lines 9-10)5. Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest,If, because of my love for you, you accept my mistress as yours, (thinking that, as our loves are one, you are expressing your love for me by doing so). receivest has rather nasty undertones, as in receiveing stolen goods, or receiving sexual favours. The feminine ending of these four lines (5-8) is also frequently commented on. They give a sense of awkwardness and unease, as if both poet and lover know that the latter is in the wrong, but are not prepared to say so openly.6. I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest;for my love thou usest = because (for) you have intercourse with my mistress. For meaning ‘because’ is common in Shakespeare. E.g. from Sonn 106:
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing.
To use
 in the sense of ‘have intercourse with’ (OED.10.b) is found elsewhere in Shakespeare:
Come, I must bring you to our captain’s cave:
Fear not; he bears an honourable mind,
And will not use a woman lawlessly.
SIL. O Valentine, this I endure for thee! 
SB gives the additional meaning of ‘profiting from my love for you’, as the usurer profits from the capital he employs by letting it out at interest. SB.p200.n6.7. But yet be blam’d, if thou thy self deceivestbe blamed = be found guilty, accept that you are at fault.
Q gives this selfe, which is retained by some editors. It could refer to the poet, who has been deceived, but it is an awkward reflexive construction and not very convincing. The compositor made frequent errors with thy/their/this.8. By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.wilful taste = sexual experience, wanton use and enjoyment. The suggestion is that the youth’s better part declines to take advantage of the situation, but his lustful nature dominates and encourages him to seize the opportunity. ‘You will be found in the wrong if you deceive yourself into thinking that nothing is amiss when you rashly decide to enjoy what in your heart of hearts your conscience would refuse to accept as just’.9. I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,thy robbery = the theft of the poet’s mistress.gentle thief – there is no other example of the use of this oxymoron in Shakespeare, but there is gentle cheater in 151, and tender churl in 1. (See the note to sonnet 1). Neither of them are as harsh as the combination used on this occasion, especially as the character of the thief is made even more unpleasant in the following line. The whole thought is softened by the charitable overtone of forgiveness, making the speaker almost Christlike in his endurance. It is also softened by the appeal to the language of love, which often involves theft:

O me! you juggler! you canker-blossom!
You thief of love! what, have you come by night
And stolen my love’s heart from him?
That I an accessary needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
 Sonn.35.10. Although thou steal thee all my poverty:thou steal thee = you steal (for yourself). thee is more or less redundant, being almost equivalent to the se element in a French reflexive verb. This construction is an old one, called the ethic dative, as in JC.I.2.262-4: …when he perceived the common herd was glad he refused the crown, he pluckt me ope his doublet and offered them his throat to cut.
The use of steal thee in this sonnet is equivalent to he pluckt me in the JC example above.
all my poverty = what little I have. The context suggests that, in the field of amatory conquests, the youth has almost unlimited choice, whereas the poet has almost nothing. It is therefore all the more cruel that he (the youth) should find it necessary to steal this one small thing from his beloved.11. And yet, love knows it is a greater grieflove knows – echoes the more common phrases ‘God knows’, ‘heaven knows’. Possibly an echo here from Virgil: Quis fallere possit amantem? Who could ever deceive a lover? Aen.iv.296, referring to the unerring ability that someone in love has to see through subterfuge. The pathos of this and the following line is enhanced by the naturalness of the language.12. To bear love’s wrong, than hate’s known’s wrong = the psychological injury that a lover can inflict.
hate’s known injury = the anticipated (known) harm which is done by an enemy.13. Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,lascivious grace = graciousness which is lascivious and sensual; sensuality which is gracious and elegant. The contradiction is brought into sharper focus by the second half of the line, in which ill (evil) and well (good) become interchangeable. There is also a religious meaning of grace as in ‘God’s grace’, referring to God’s beneficence. And to the grace of a nobleman’s title, ‘Your Grace’, which would be relevant if we new that the youth was real and was a nobleman of Elizabeth’s or James’ court.14. Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.

spites = malignant actions, harsh treatment. As in
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow, 
Sonn 90.
yet we must not be foes
 – the conclusion can seem lame, but I think in the context of what has preceded it is not so. The speaker has no other suggestions to offer, all his golden words are spent. But love must continue and bear it out even to the edge of doom, even if the beloved is cruel.  One must also remember the importance that was attached to retaining and strengthening one’s friendships in the Elizabethan world.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel


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