Shakespeare's sonnets are designed to seem written by a poet and spoken by a lover. This conspicuous ambidexterity, compounded by our declining tolerance for such deftness, has made them infamously problematic. They simultaneously flaunt and flout the correspondence between the lover's pen and his heart, between the artifice of his “rhetoric,” characteristic of much Tudor literature, and the rhetoric of his sincerity, characteristic of the Romantic poetics that has proven their sternest judge. The sonnets thus pose internally the very problem that informs their extensive interpretive history. But they also propose its solution: their sustained balance of verba and res, of verbally erotic and hermeneutically chaste designs, exalts the conflict of these designs, displaying its poetic power. And this paradoxical resolution of the poet's dilemma solves the critic's as well: it suggests a way of making a richly correspondent and yet reasoned sense of the sonnets and, indeed, of any literary text.