In the poem “Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame,” Shakespeare provides his vision of one of the most infamous human emotions – lust. Although Shakespeare was not a psychologist, his artistic nature allowed him to understand the emotion of lust and express his understanding in words. The poem is formally structured into one verse but can be internally divided into two parts: the explanation of lust and the conclusion in the form of a rhetoric question.
Shakespeare’s negative attitude to lust can be seen in his choice of adjectives and epithets. In the poem’s name and its first two lines, he directly marks lust as spiritually dangerous – “expense of spirit” and “a waste of shame.” Shakespeare pictures lust as an ambivalent state of feelings that people hate before and after its effect but incredibly enjoy in the process. The hatred and contempt before lust’s effect are shown by the colorful and loud adjectives, such as murderous, bloody, savage, rude, and others. Shakespeare then slows the poem’s tempo, comparing and contrasting these feelings with the joy of the pursuit process; the lines five, six, ten, and eleven show the contradiction. The metaphor of comparing lust with bate that makes anyone who took it mad highlights how overwhelming a feeling of joy could be. Consequently, the sense of frustration that comes after can be considered to have the same extent.
The poem finishes with two exaggerated statements: everyone knows of lust’s detrimental effect, but no one knows how to escape its addictive force. The exaggerations here serve to increase the impact of a dilemma that a reader is left with after he finishes the poem. Overall, the poem follows the established pattern of lust – an emotional outburst at the beginning and a thoughtful frustration in the end. Compared to the emotionally neutral definition that a psychologist could offer to describe lust, Shakespeare’s poem allows readers to experience the feeling, thus achieving its purpose.