Shakespeare’s Sonnet 110 followed by a survey of ‘blench’ that I started on to satisfy an intuition about the multivalence of its use here – that it is first read as a condensed repetition of ‘I have looked on truth askance and strangely’ (definition 2 of the noun below) but then acquires from the line that follows (‘and worse essays’) a second sense close to definition 1, ‘the deception/trickery of philandering.’ This morphing sense allows the central lines 7-8 to better pivot from start to end focus. I don’t think I really got there – largely for lack of commitment to sifting Shakespeare’s uses of the verb form – but it was a nice autumn stroll and something was learned regardless.
Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new.
Most true it is that I have looked on truth 5
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind 10
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
Blench is a curious word. Shakespeare uses the verb from which it is derived five times but this noun form only here. The OED gives two definitions for the noun – 1)A trick, stratagem (with examples dating from 1250-1400) and 2)A turning of the eyes aside, a side glance (with this passage as the single attestation). More is said of the verb but the paragraph etymology concludes with humility – that ‘little can be done at present except to exhibit the senses actually found in use.’:
Etymology: A word or series of words of very obscure history. Sense 1 is evidently < Old English blęncan to deceive, cheat = Old Norse blekkja ( < blenkja ) to impose upon, which point to a Germanic type *blankjan , assumed to be the causative of a strong *blinkan blink v.; but, as no trace of the latter occurs in early times, the origin of blęncan is thus left uncertain. The northern form was blenk v. The sense-development is involved, from confusion of blenk and blink , of blench and blanch , probably also of the past tense blent with blent , past tense of blend v.1, and other causes: little can be done at present except to exhibit the senses actually found in use.
6 sense are then proposed
1. transitive. To deceive, cheat. Obsolete.
a. intransitive. To start aside, so as to elude anything; to swerve, ‘shy’; to flinch, shrink, give way. a1250—1876
†b. Of a ship: To turn or heel over. Obsolete. a1300—a1300
3. transitive. To elude, avoid, shirk; to flinch from; to blink. a1663—1822
†4. transitive. To turn aside or away (the eyes). Obsolete. c1400—c1400
†5. transitive. To disconcert, foil, put out, turn aside. Cf. blenk v. 4. Obsolete. 1485—a1640
6. intransitive. Of the eyes: To lose firmness of glance, to flinch, quail.
Shakespeares other uses:
Hamlet 2.2 –
For murther, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ, I’ll have these Players
Play something like the murther of my father
Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course.
Measure for Measure 4.5 (cited by the OED for 2a) –
The matter being afoot, keep your instruction,
And hold you ever to our special drift;
Though sometimes you do blench from this to that,
As cause doth minister.
Troilus and Cressida 1.1 –
Pandarus. Ay, to the leavening; but here’s yet in the word
‘hereafter’ the kneading, the making of the cake, the
heating of the oven and the baking; nay, you must
stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips.
Troilus. Patience herself, what goddess e’er she be,
Doth lesser blench at sufferance than I do.
At Priam’s royal table do I sit;
Troilus and Cressida 2.2 –
I take to-day a wife, and my election
Is led on in the conduct of my will;
My will enkindled by mine eyes and ears,
Two traded pilots ‘twixt the dangerous shores
Of will and judgment: how may I avoid,
Although my will distaste what it elected,
The wife I chose? there can be no evasion
To blench from this and to stand firm by honour:
A Winter’s Tale 1.2 –
Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled,
To appoint myself in this vexation, sully
The purity and whiteness of my sheets,
Which to preserve is sleep, which being spotted
Is goads, thorns, nettles, tails of wasps,
Give scandal to the blood o’ the prince my son,
Who I do think is mine and love as mine,
Without ripe moving to’t? Would I do this?
Could man so blench?