Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view
Shakespeare's Sonnet 69, like many of those nearby in the sequence, expresses extremes of feelings about the beloved subject, who is presented as at once superlative in every way and treacherous or disloyal.
What the world can see of you is perfect; no one denies you that name of perfection. Everyone admits this without hesitation or limitation. But the same people who so readily praise your beauty reverse that praise when they examine you in other ways. These people, judging your mind and character by your actions, decide that you are as much foul as beautiful. And the reason that your odor does not match your appearance is you have become common (i.e. keep company that befouls your reputation.)
Source and analysis
As Stephen Booth notes, the sonnet is carelessly printed, and its emendation history begins with the 1640 quarto. Edmond Malone altered the quarto's "end" (3) to "due," and this change is now commonly accepted as necessary for rhyme. Quarto's "Their" (5) is just as commonly emended to "Thy" on semantic grounds; the change was first proposed by Edward Capell.
The most significant crux is "solye" (14). Malone suggested "solve" while admitting that he could not find other instances of "solve" as a noun, nor have two centuries of subsequent investigation found one. On no less tenuous grounds, George Steevens proposed "sole" as a noun. More common now is the emendation of "soil" in an archaic meaning "to solve." Instances of the word in this meaning have been found in Nicholas Udall's Erasmus and in Hamlet. It is presumably the preferred reading now.
George Wyndham was unable to explain the capitalization of "Commend," one of only three such failures in his interpretation.
The poem prefigures the flower language of the more-famous Sonnet 94.
- Alden, Raymond. The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1916.
- Baldwin, T. W. On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Sonnets. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1950.
- Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
- Dowden, Edward. Shakespeare's Sonnets. London, 1881.
- Evans, G. Blakemore, and Anthony Hecht, eds. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Hubler, Edwin. The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952.