The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad. . . .

"Sonnet 129," 1–8

The speaker of this sonnet anatomizes lust into its "before" and "after" states, and concludes that it's a "heaven that leads men to hell" (line 14). "Lust in action"—that is, lust as it is realized in actions—is characterized as the expenditure ("expense") of precious energy ("spirit") on shameful desolation ("a waste of shame"). The passage from overheated pursuit to empty loathing is a kind of energy drain. Specialists on Shakespeare's naughty puns point out that "spirit" could also connote seminal fluid—thought, by the way, to be discharged by both men and women. Here, however, the speaker seems concerned only with the male point of view.

Themes: sex and sexuality