Sonnet 53: And you in every blessed shape we know

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.

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 53: And you in every blessed shape we know (4) (2013-09-26)

September 2013


The process of painting a sonnet often subverts the common meaning of pronouns. Who is “I” when I am reading (and painting) a sonnet? Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s character? I, the reader? Who is “you”? The mysterious young man? An imaginary character? Someone in the reader’s mind?

The fifty third sonnet calls for a complete turnaround of “you” and “I”: if we in you in every blessed shape we know are actually “we” — his twenty first century audience, then who can be you but Shakespeare himself? Harold Bloom writes in his foreword to “Living with Shakespeare”:

“In my long career as a teacher, I have found that students, interviewers, and fellow readers keep asking me, “Why Shakespeare?” It seems a question as necessary to ask as it is impossible to answer, unless you respond, “Who else is there? Who but Shakespeare has influenced so many creative intellects?” The genealogy includes Milton, Austen, Dickens, Keats, and Emily Dickinson, and many of the strongest writers of our own generation. Who besides Shakespeare has perfected expressions of experience, and broadened and defined the horizons of human possibility? <…>

His is the most capacious of consciousnesses. He comprehends and apprehends realities that are available to us but beyond our ken until he manifests them. <…>

His is an electrical field. Anything entering it will light up, but Shakespeare powers the illumination.

There is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare. Yahweh is not God. William Shakespeare is God. Heinrich Heine said, “There is a God, and his name is Aristophanes.” On Heine’s model, I again remark: there is a God, there is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare.”