I need help with Shakespeare's Sonnet 20. I don't get lines 2, 7, and 12. Could someone explain these lines to me a little better and tell me the basic summary for this sonnet?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this sonnet, Shakespeare compares the beauty of a man he is in love with to the beauty of the women he has known. He says in the first half of the sonnet that the man's eye is brighter than a woman's, and that the man is not as false...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In this sonnet, Shakespeare compares the beauty of a man he is in love with to the beauty of the women he has known. He says in the first half of the sonnet that the man's eye is brighter than a woman's, and that the man is not as false or fickle as a woman. Towards the end of the sonnet, Shakespeare reflects on how "Nature" has made the man for women by giving him a penis, and, therefore, while Shakespeare may love the man, he can't be fully or "naturally" loved, in a sexual sense, by the man.

The first part of line 2 ("Hast thou") continues the observation in line 1 that the man has a woman's face. That the object of Shakespeare's love is a man is indicated in the second part of the line by the word "master," and the phrase "master mistress" points to the confusion between the man's biological sex and his feminine appearance. The phrase "mistress of my passion" suggests that this man has control over Shakespeare's love.

In line 7, Shakespeare acknowledges that the object of his love is "a man in all hue," meaning that he is a man in his shape and biological form, and also that all other men ("all hues") are, like Shakespeare, also "in his control." Shakespeare seems to assume that all other men must be as besotted with this man's feminine beauty as he is.

In line 12, Shakespeare expresses his unhappiness over the fact that "nature" has added one more "thing" to the man he loves, which has meant that his love for him can come to "nothing." This additional thing is most likely the man's penis, as implied by the sexual innuendo of the word "prick'd" in the subsequent line, and his love can, therefore, come to nothing because of the attitudes at the time towards homosexuality.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This sonnet has trigged debate over Shakespeare’s sexual orientation. This poem professes love for a man. However, it would be wrong to presume it is romantic or sexual adoration. The person described in the sonnet is compared to a woman. Line 2 states the person is not fickle, like other women of the times. Line 7 says the person clearly is a man in every shape and manner and controls all men. Nature intended you to be a woman, but was so smitten by your qualities that Nature added manhood (a penis.) Thus, Line 12 notes the two will never be sexually united because this man was created for women’s pleasure. In Line 14, the narrator states women can have the treasure of the man’s body, but the narrator shall have his love. As a student of Shakespeare, you know the Bard wrote on many levels of interpretation. In today's term, the sonnet might be simplified as saying, "You are a stud in the ladies' shifting eyes, but you and I will always be best friends."

Posted on