Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;
Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express
The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
Though not to love, yet, love to tell me so;
As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
No news but health from their physicians know;
For, if I should despair, I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee;
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.
The beauty of this sonnet is that it manages to compress so many different emotions and turbulent changes of direction into so few words. The lover both hovers on the edge of frenzy and on the edge of despair, he is loved and disdained, he trusts and does not trust, he speaks from the heart, and yet he hardly dares to speak his mind, he longs for her to love him, but he sees that her heart is proud, he hopes not to be driven to frenzy, but he thinks that he is half way there already.
Although the sonnet, as the previous one, of which it is more or less a continuation, draws on many conventional ideas, it is itself highly unconventional. It threatens to spill the beans on the beloved, and to show that she is neither chaste nor fair. There was often an element of seeking revenge for the beloved's proud aloofness in the sonneteer's plaints. GBE gives an example from John Donne, of a slightly later date. (See below). I have included, in the note to line 1, an extract from a sonnet by William Smith, from his sequence Chloris, or the Complaint of the passionate despised Shepherd, published in 1596. In the context of such extremism, which was widespread in sonnet writers, Shakespeare's outburst seems relatively mild, and he succeeds in bringing the experience of love back to a more human level, where the pains and despairs do not have to be exaggerated to make them real.
Yet let not thy deep bitterness beget
Careless despair in me, for that will whet
My mind to scorn; and Oh, love dulled with pain
Was ne'er so wise nor well armed as disdaine.
Then with new eyes I shall survey thee, and spy
Death in thy cheeks, and darkness in thine eye.
Though hope bred faith and love, thus taught, I shall,
As Nations do from Rome, from thy love fall.
My hate shall outgrow thine, and utterly
I will renounce thy dalliance. Elegy VI.35-44.
The 1609 Quarto Version
BE wiſe as thou art cruell,do not preſſe
My toung-tide patience with too much diſdaine:
Leaſt ſorrow lend me words and words expreſſe,
The manner of my pittie wanting paine.
If I might teach thee witte better it weare,
Though not to loue,yet loue to tell me ſo,
As teſtie ſick-men when their deaths be neere,
No newes but health from their Phiſitions know.
For if I ſhould diſpaire I ſhould grow madde,
And in my madneſſe might ſpeake ill of thee,
Now this ill wreſting world is growne ſo bad,
Madde ſlanderers by madde eares beleeued be.
That I may not be ſo, nor thou be lyde, (wide.
Beare thine eyes ſtraight , though thy proud heart goe