Sonnet 36: Let me confess that we two must be twain by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 36’ also known as ‘Let me confess that we two must be twain,’ is number thirty-six of one hundred fifty-four that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence of sonnets which explores the emotional ups and downs related to an undefined relationship between the speaker and a beautiful young man. They span from sonnet number one through one hundred twenty-six. This sonnet is the last of a short secondary sequence that is generally referred to as the estrangement sonnets. They last from sonnet 33 to 36. They are all concerned with the speaker responding to something, an unnamed sin, that the Fair Youth committed.

 

Summary of Sonnet 36 

‘Sonnet 36’ by William Shakespeare is addressed to the Fair Youth and explains how the two of them are no longer going to be able to see one another. 

The speaker tells the youth throughout the fourteen lines of this poem that it is not possible for them to greet one another in public anymore. It would just bring shame upon them both. The speaker expresses his guilt over something that happened and his desire that the remain united in love even if they cannot delight in love’s pleasures. 

 

Structure of Sonnet 36

‘Sonnet 36’ by William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. 

The last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. This is anther common feature in Shakespeare’s poems. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.

 

Poetic Techniques in Sonnet 36 

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 36’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and sibilance. The first occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “two” and “twain” in the first line and “blots” and “borne” in lines three and four. 

Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For instance, “separable spite” and “steal sweet” in lines two and four. 

Enjambment occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three and four.

 

Analysis of Sonnet 36 

Lines 1-4 

Let me confess that we two must be twain,

Although our undivided loves are one.

So shall those blots that do with me remain

Without thy help by me be borne alone.

In the first quatrain of ‘Sonnet 36,’ the speaker continues on themes that are present in the previous three sonnets. He is addressing the Fair Youth as he has throughout these sonnets but rather than expressing forgiveness for something the youth did, he tells the young man that they can no longer be together. 

He says that they “must be twain,” or must part, even though they are united in their love for one another. It is something that the speaker doesn’t necessarily want but it doesn’t appear that they have any choice. Since they are parting, the speaker is able to take on all the “blots” or disgraces that the Fair Youth helped to create. He can carry them alone. 

 

Lines 5-8 

In our two loves there is but one respect,

Though in our lives a separable spite,

Which, though it alter not love’s sole effect,

Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.

In the second quatrain, the speaker goes on to say that they are united, in a way, by their love. This unity will remain even though they cannot be together. It robs them of “sweet hours” they might’ve spent in “love’s delight”. 

 

Lines 9-14 

I may not evermore acknowledge thee,

Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame;

Nor thou with public kindness honor me,

Unless thou take that honor from thy name.

But do not so; I love thee in such sort,

As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

In the final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 36,’ the speaker says that in the future he will be unable to greet the youth publicly. In the open, he can’t acknowledge the youth because his “guilt should do thee shame”. His guilt would bring shame upon the youth. This is an interesting line and can perhaps be related back to ‘Sonnet 35’ where the speaker felt as though he was betraying himself by forgiving the youth. 

Just as the speaker can’t greet the youth, the youth can’t “honor” the speaker in public without doing damage to his own name. In the last lines, he tells the youth not to attempt to greet him or bring dishonour on himself. The speaker has too much love for him and values the youth’s reputation just as he values his own. 

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