‘Sonnet 66,’ also known as ‘Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,’ is number sixty-six of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the Bard’s famous Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which last from number one all the way through one hundred twenty-six. These sonnets are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day. There has been a great deal of speculation about who this young man could possibly be, but no single identity has ever been decided upon.
There are some who believe that Shakespeare only wrote these poems on commission, some that he was adopting a persona while writing, and others who believe that he is the “speaker” in the poems and truly had a relationship, whether platonic or romantic with the Fair Youth.
Throughout the fourteen lines of this poem, the speaker takes the reader through the numerous things that he is tired of in his life. He’s fed up seeing weak people taken advantage of by the poor and the deserving losing out on opportunities. He doesn’t want to see good women become prostitutes any longer, nor does he want to experience the “authority,” or government controlling art. It is only because of his love, the Fair Youth, is still alive that he remains in this life.
‘Sonnet 66’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza, in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet (sometimes also known as the Elizabethan) is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter 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.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines (known as a couplet) are a rhyming pair. They often bring with them a turn or “volta” (in Italian) in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 66’. These include but are not limited to alliteration and anaphora. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “beggar born” and “needy nothing” in lines two and three.
Shakespeare also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. This is one of the most obvious techniques at work in ‘Sonnet 65’. It can be seen through the use of “And” at the start of ten of the fourteen lines.
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
In the first four lines of ‘Sonnet 66,’ the speaker begins by announcing that he’s “Tired with all these”. The things that he’s referring to are numerous and follow in the next quatrains. The world has truly gotten to him, exhausting his heart and making him long for the peace of death. It is there that he’s finally going to find rest.
It’s at this point that the speaker turns to list out all of his grievances. This is a very unusual structure for Shakespeare to engage in, especially as the “answer” to all these problems doesn’t come until the fourteenth line of the poem. He starts by explaining that he’s fed up with good people who are fated to live as beggars when they don’t deserve that destiny. He is angry about the opposite side of the spectrum as well, rich people who get to dress up in “jollity” but don’t deserve it. The last statement of this quatrain refers to people who break vows that should be sacred.
And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disablèd,
In lines, five through eight of ‘Sonnet 66,’ the literary device known as anaphora is quite obvious through the repetition of “And” at the beginning of all four lines (as well as the next four). He describes how there are too many people who receive donors that are “shamefully misplaced”. He also speaks on the “maiden” who has lost her virtue and becomes a “strumpet” or a prostitute/whore.
The last two situations that he expresses his exhaustion over are examples of good people “disgraced” through wrong language or slander. Then, he adds on, those who are “disablèd” by the weak governmental organizations or authority figures of some kind.
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill.
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone.
The same authority that unjustly controls the strong and good also controls the “art” or artist. They are “tongue-tied” or silenced by figures who should have no control over them whatsoever. This same power misbalance is described again in the next line as the speaker suggests that doctors control the sick just like fools control the wise. There is an interesting juxtaposition here between the “fool” and the “skilled” in society and which is to be respected and where the power should reside.
The eleventh line states that the “simple truth” in the world is too often “miscalled simplicity” or simplemindedness. The last statement in this quatrain is that the speaker is tired of the “captive good attending captain ill”. This is a complicated way of saying that the “good” is captive, or in the control of the “ill,” or evil.
Usually, in a Shakespearean sonnet, the final two lines conclude the poem with a solution. In this case, the solution/answer/alternative perspective does not come until the fourteenth line. The line tells the reader that although death is appealing the speaker isn’t going to enter into it yet because that would mean leaving his “love alone”. This is the first time that the Fair Youth is mentioned in this sonnet.