Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath steel'd,
Shakespeare's Sonnet 24 treats the commonplace Renaissance conceit connecting heart and eye. Though it relates to other sonnets that explore this theme, Sonnet 24 is considered largely imitative and conventional.
The sonnet may be paraphrased thus:
- Like a painter, my eye has drawn your image on my heart, with my body as the frame. To paint in due proportion is the greatest skill of a painter, and only through this painter (that is, my eye) may you see the image of you that has been created in my heart. Your eyes, indeed, are the windows into my own. Now, consider what mutual benefit our eyes have brought each other. My eyes drew you, and your eyes are windows through which I can see my own heart, windows the sun delights to shine through in order to see you. Yet eyes, unfortunately, can draw only what they see, not the emotions invested in those perceived objects.
Source and analysis
Edward Capell emended quarto "steeld" to "stelled," a word more closely related to the metaphor of the first quatrain. Edward Dowden notes parallels for the opening conceit in Henry Constable's Diana and in Thomas Watson's Tears of Fancy.
The poem has not enjoyed a high reputation. Henry Charles Beeching speculates that it might be a half-serious spoof of a cliched type of poem. George Wyndham is among the few to take it completely seriously, providing a neoplatonic reading.
"Perspective" is the key trope in the second half of the poem, as it introduces the idea of the connection between speaker and beloved. Some editors have assumed that "perspective" was used, as often in the Renaissance, to refer to a specific type of optical illusion; however, Thomas Tyler and others demonstrated that the word was also known in its modern sense during the time.
Sonnet 46 and Sonnet 47 also present the eyes of the speaker as a character in the poem. Note that in Sonnet 24 both the singular eye and the plural eyes are used for the eyes of the speaker, contrary to Sonnet 46 and Sonnet 47 where only the singular is used.
- Alden, Raymond (1916). The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston.
- Baldwin, T. W. (1950). On the Literary Genetics of Shakspeare's Sonnets. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
- Booth, Stephen (1977). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Yale University Press, New Haven.
- Dowden, Edward (1881). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London.
- Evans, G. Blakemore, Anthony Hecht, (1996). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Hubler, Edwin (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
- Schoenfeldt, Michael (2007). The Sonnets: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Tyler, Thomas (1989). Shakespeare’s Sonnets. London D. Nutt.
- Vendler, Helen (1997). The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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