Shakespeares sonnets Sonnet 152 In loving thee thou knowst I am forsworn William

Shakespeare (1599) Sonnet 152 is the last of what critics commonly call William Shakespeare's Dark Lady poems. Throughout the sequence (127-152), the speaker has praised and condemned his mistress. He has also questioned his own foolishness and wondered about his overpowering sexual attraction to a woman whom he knows to be deceitful and promiscuous. Sonnet 152 contains a rather comprehensive discussion of many issues addressed throughout the Dark Lady sonnets, including his unsettling sexual attraction to a promiscuous woman whose very promiscuity is what excites his lustful feelings. Here he finally realizes his own culpability in the inevitable failure of such a relationship. More importantly, he admits that the sincerity of his vows and his oaths of her kindness, love, truth, and constancy (ll. 9-10) have been undermined by their real purpose: "to misuse" her (l. 7).

The speaker is guilty of lust, deception, and betrayal, to be sure, but also of misusing language, a serious artistic transgression for a poet. In order to praise his mistress, he has blinded his eyes, "made them swear against the thing they see" (l. 12) and to "swear against the truth so foul a lie" (l. 14). Also, all of his "honest faith . . . is lost" (l. 8)—faith not only in the mistress, but perhaps also in himself. Importantly, however, his attention has shifted from the mistress to himself. This refocusing of attention will, one might believe, lead to greater self-understanding and a closing of the emotionally (and now artistically) harmful relationship with the Dark Lady. If nothing else, he seems to be seeing things more clearly.

The speaker first admits that he is "forsworn" (l. 1), a statement that can mean that he is unfaithful to his lover or that he has lied or both. He then complains that the mistress is "twice forsworn" (l. 2)—that she is guilty of adultery to her husband ("thy bed-vow broke," l. 3; see also Sonnet 142, ll. 5-8) and of breaking her oath to the speaker, professing hatred when she previously had professed love (ll. 4-5). He further reveals that he has broken "twenty" oaths (l. 6) in deliberately blinding himself to her true nature, stubbornly swearing that she is righteous despite what is clearly evident (ll. 7-12). The first line of the couplet features a line— "For I have sworn thee fair" (l. 13)—also used in Sonnet 147. This line allows for some revealing connections between the passionate sickness the speaker feels in both sonnets. The second half of line 13 contains a pun—"more perjured eye"—that might simultaneously be read as "more perjured I" to indicate not only his deliberate blindness, but also that he is "more" self-deceived here than ever before (and that he is coming to terms with this self-deception). The "fair"/"foul" dichotomy is common in the Dark Lady sonnets, describing his perception of the Dark Lady and her behavior ("fair") and the reality ("foul").

See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

Michael Peterson

Shakespeare's sonnets: Sonnets 153 and 154 ("Cupid lay by his brand and fell asleep" and "The little Love-god, lying once asleep") William Shakespeare (1599) These two sonnets form the bridge between the rest of the sonnet sequence and the narrative poem A Lover's Complaint. Both concern Cupid and Diana, the god of love and the virgin goddess of the hunt. In Sonnet 153, Cupid sets down his torch (replaced in modern times by a bow and arrow), which is snatched up by a virgin nymph after he falls asleep. She attempts to quench it, but only succeeds in turning the water into a boiling fountain. In Sonnet 154, Cupid falls asleep, leaving his torch unguarded, and as a group of nymphs pass by, the most beautiful one takes it. She attempts to extinguish it in a nearby well, with the same results as before. Both sonnets leave the speaker with a message: Water cannot quench love.

These are the only sonnets to use mythological allusions, but they are thematically consistent with the others in their defense of human desire. A number of critics have also noted the use of hot springs as a cure (ineffective) for venereal diseases in the 16th century, lending an additional air of speculation about the speaker's parting from the Dark Lady.

Both sonnets follow the English sonnet form, but Sonnet 153 follows the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet narrative form, while Sonnet 154 matches semantics with form. Bawdy references abound. The torches are clearly phallic symbols, while the well and fountain are vaginal images. Love and disease are also linked. Besides the "inevitability" of venereal disease, love itself is a sickness that overtakes reason and action, forcing humans to act (and react) in curious manners. overall, the universality of love and sexuality are clearly displayed.

See also Shakespeare, William; Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

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