Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Most true it is, that I have looked on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
A continuation of the apologia for his philandering that the poet admits to in the previous sonnet. It also takes up, though perhaps in a less passionate manner, the idolatry theme of sonnet 105. The poet confesses to his swervings from the path of true love, but asserts that he returns refreshed and with a renewed sense of the divinity and wonder of his former love for the youth. Nothing has changed, if anything his love has increased, and he hopes and trusts that he will be welcomed by the beloved, just as he hopes ultimately for Christian redemption and a return to Abraham's bosom.
Commentators have understandably seen in this sonnet and the following one ambiguous references to Shakespeare's career as actor and playwright. The references seem to be rueful and resigned, indicating that he might have wished for better birth and fortune. But it must be admitted that the brief comments that he here makes and in the next one on 'public means that public manners breeds etc.' do not amount to much, and it would be difficult to build a biography on them.
Attitudes to players in the 16th and early 17th centuries were ambiguous. The stage was frequented by many of the wealthy and powerful, and much admired in legal circles, but there was a strong tradition that it fostered and encouraged immorality. The theatres were situated on the South Bank, outside the jurisdiction of the London authorities, in an area renowned for its taverns and brothels. Nevertheless a theatrical career could bring respectability in the end, as Shakespeare's own record testifies, and that of others such as Heminge, Condell, Burbage, Chapman and Jonson. In the end the growth of Puritanism killed off the theatre in England, but not before Shakespeare's death. Puritanism was strong even in Elizabethan times, but not strong enough to overturn the favours bestowed on theatrical companies by Elizabeth and her court. The same could be said of James's time. Nevertheless some of the hostility had an effect, and it is possible that the 'brand' mentioned in the next sonnet was the stigma of belonging to the theatre with all the supposedly dissolute practices and morals that such membership implied.
There are also some not so obvious religious references and echoes which hint at another possible interpretation. This is discussed in the Introductory Notes.
The 1609 Quarto Version
ALas 'tis true,I haue gone here and there,
And made my ſelfe a motley to the view,
Gor'd mine own thoughts, fold cheap what is moſt deare,
Made old offences of affections new.
Moſt true it is,that I haue lookt on truth
Aſconce and ſtrangely: But by all aboue,
Theſe blenches gaue my heart an other youth,
And worfe eſſaies prou'd thee my beſt of loue,
Now all is done,haue what ſhall haue no end,
Mine appetite I neuer more will grin'de
On newer proofe,to trie an older friend,
A god in loue,to whom I am confin'd.
Then giue me welcome,next my heauen the beſt,
Euen to thy pure and moſt moſt louing breſt.