This sonnet demonstrates Shakespeare’s great ability of playing with words. According to him a person is tongue-tied when he has either too much or too little to say. He illustrates his idea by giving an example of an unperfect actor who forgets his lines on stage and more curiously, some fierce thing whose heart is weakened by the weight of his own strength. This use of paradox adds intensity to the sonnet and lays the foundation for the following quatrain. The first quatrain is like the silence before a storm; the way it is presented suggests that there is more to come.
The actor and the beast are summoned to serve only as analogues to Shakespeare’s double-edged analytical presentation in quatrain 2 of love’s agonized lack of words:
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.
The persona here compares him to the characters beckoned in Q1. In a passage such as this, the distance between the composing author and the fictive speaker almost vanishes, as it is very easy to imagine that Shakespeare, a master of expression, would tell himself that a perfect ceremony of love could be invented. Another aspect worthy of note is the way the phrase mine own love’s has been used repeatedly; in line 7 the persona speaks of the decay of his love and in the very next line he speaks of its strength. This double stranglehold is an extremely interesting case, and is beautifully expressed here.
The first and second quatrains can be coupled together as they basically portray the same idea. The sonnet therefore can be divided into two parts instead of four. An octet followed by a sestet. While the octet speaks of the persona’s tongue-tiedness, the sestet is a plea to his beloved to understand the depth of his love. ‘O, let my books be then the eloquence / And dumb presagers of my speaking breast’ the persona here wishes that his writing be the silent and truthful foreteller of all the love in his heart. Q3, in hinting at the beloved’s preference for a rival poet, tongue that more hath more expressed, ascribes the tongue-tiedness of the speaker to his new perception of the debased judgment exercised by the beloved. At first, for fear of trust (line 5) might seem to mean, fearing my own powers, but when the unnamed rival enters the scene (line 12), we see the tongue-tiedness rather as a fear of trusting the potentially faithless beloved. Furthermore, the verbal parallelism of the octet is replaced by an irregular line-motion as the persona’s agitation achieves full force.
The sestet ends with the frustrating speechlessness of the lover finding a way of talking, by deviating into the third person in the final line: To hear with eyes belongs to loves fine wit. It is a proverb coined by the persona and it somewhat negates his inadequacy. It has a sense of pride and provides a perfect end to the poem.