My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sun,
‘Beauty’was introduced and defined in sonnet 127 as any form of sensation,
whether black or fair. Then the status of music as sensation (as a form of
beauty) was considered in sonnet 128, and the ‘evil’ consequences of
suppressing the natural logic of sensations were considered in sonnet 129.
Sonnet 130 now evokes the five major senses of sight, taste, smell, hearing
Coral is far more red, than her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen Roses damasked, red and white,
But no such Roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Than in the breath that from my Mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That Music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My Mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
The Poet, by first considering the logic of beauty or sensations in sonnets
127 to 137, makes the point that sensations are a precursor to the dynamic
of judgment through language. By establishing the logical status of sensations
the Poet is then able to express himself in words with a degree of
veracity unmatched by any other writer. He draws on the natural logic of
the sexual dynamic and the increase argument to define first beauty and then
truth, and so distinguish logically between beauty and truth. The natural
distinction between female and male generates the possibility of the logical
distinction between beauty and truth.
Consistent with his appreciation that beauty is any form of sensation
whether good and bad, beautiful and ugly, best and worst (sonnet 137), the
Poet recalls the various sensations his ‘Mistress’ evokes. He describes her
exactly as she appears, to demonstrate that any particular sensation can only
arbitrarily be considered superior. His natural ‘love’ for the Mistress allows
him to see that she is as rare as ‘any’ other goddess she has shown to be false
(‘belied’, 130.14) by exposing their false ideals of beauty.
So in sonnet 130 the Poet considers the sensory impact of the ‘Mistress’.
He argues that the way a woman looks (130.1), tastes (130.2), smells (130.8),
sounds (130.10), and treads (130.12), can only be compared falsely (130.14)
with idealised standards of ‘beauty’. It is illogical to compare the Poet’s
response to the Mistress with an idealised expectation because beauty of any
type is still just a sensation apprehended in the mind. It is only after the
sensation is experienced in the mind that a judgment is possible through
the process of truth or saying.
When a preferred form of ‘beauty’ is judged ideal, the sensory process
or the dynamic of beauty is confused with the dynamic of truth. If the
sensation of ‘love’ is equated with an idealised male God, then conscious
judgment is illogically prioritised over Nature, the increase dynamic, and
the apprehension of sensations, with all the consequences of prejudice
toward the variety of natural possibilities. Shakespeare’s ability to create
characters in his plays that are true to life, and hence naturally beautiful, is
due to his adherence to the natural logic of life.
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
The meaning of sonnet 131 emerges when it is contextualised in the logic
of the whole set. By remembering that Nature is prior to increase, that
increase is prior to beauty and truth, and that beauty is prior to truth, and
that the first 10 Mistress sonnets consider the logic of beauty, it should not
surprise that sonnet 131 examines the difference between beauty or sensations
and conscious ‘deeds’.
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou know'st to my dear doting heart
Thou art the fairest and most precious Jewel.
Yet in good faith some say that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
To say they err, I dare not be so bold,
Although I swear it to my self alone.
And to be sure that is not false I swear
A thousand groans but thinking on thy face,
One on another's neck do witness bear
Thy black is fairest in my judgments place.
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
And thence this slander as I think proceeds.
The Poet recognises that tyranny (131.1) is not a consequence of sensations
or beauty alone. The Poet’s ‘tyrannous’ Mistress, who is not conventionally
beautiful, is no different from a conventional beauty who uses her
beauty to ‘cruel’ ends (131.2). The Mistress is ‘tyrannous’ towards the Poet
even though he ‘dotes’ on her with his ‘dear heart’ as the ‘fairest and ‘most
precious Jewel’ (131.4). Just as a ‘proud’ beauty can be cruel because she is
universally admired, the Mistress can be cruel because she is not. The effect
of the two types of beauty is the same.
The conventional standard of beauty is no standard. The Poet would
‘dare not be so bold’ (131.7) to accuse those of ‘error’who wonder ‘in good
faith’ how the Poet can ‘groan’ with ‘love’ (131.6). To ‘swear’ on sensations
would be like the Poet talking to ‘my self alone’ (131.8). If the Poet wanted
to make ‘sure’ he was not ‘false’ when swearing ‘a thousand groans but
thinking on thy face’, he would still only be comparing the ‘witness’ of one
‘face’ on a ‘neck’ to another face on a neck (131.10). That is, by using beauty
alone, he can establish no standard of ‘judgment’ between the black and
fairest (131.12). There are no criteria for sensations because it is not possible
to judge or swear on the basis of beauty or sensations alone.
In the couplet, only when the Mistress’ ‘deeds’ are considered will the
Poet admit that she is ‘black’. Only then can her actions or tyrannies be
judged according to her conscious intentions or thoughts. The ‘slander’ or
the effect of the words uttered by others about the Mistress provides the key
to understanding the logical relation between beauty as sensations and
‘judgments’ in language or words (truth). It is in the use of language that
the possibility of ‘slander’, or tyranny, or any form of judgment ‘proceeds’.
Sonnet 131 is very exact in its presentation of the logic of sensations.
Shakespeare understood the dynamic of beauty and truth or aesthetics and
ethics even more clearly than Ludwig Wittgenstein (see Volume 4). The
clarity of his thought has been obscured by the trivialisation of the Sonnets
as autobiography or, at best, as a muddled philosophy. And the tendency to
picture the Mistress as Shakespeare’s lover ignores the profound philosophy
that makes them the greatest love sonnets ever written.
Thine eyes I love, and they as pitying me,
Sonnet 132, like 131, considers the relation of beauty to the dynamic of
swearing truth. By referring back to the use of the image of the eyes in
sonnet 127, which introduced the Mistress sequence, it re-asserts the significance
of the eyes in the Sonnet philosophy. The description in sonnet 127
of the ‘eyes’ as ‘Raven black’ and that ‘they mourners seem’ is echoed
throughout sonnet 132. It also looks back to sonnet 131 for the first use of
the act of swearing. Swearing, as an avowal in words, is used consistently
throughout the Mistress sonnets (right through to sonnet 152 where it occurs
seven times) because it represents the most deliberate form of saying or truth
available in language.
Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain,
Have put on black, and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain,
And truly not the morning Sun of Heaven
Better becomes the gray cheeks of th'East,
Nor that full Star that ushers in the Eaven
Doth half that glory to the sober West
As those two morning eyes become thy face:
O let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.
Then will I swear beauty her self is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.
The Poet systematically develops his presentation of the logic of beauty
from the use of ‘beauty’ six times in sonnet 127 to its final occurrence in
sonnet 137. Then, from sonnet 138, he considers the logic of truth until
its definitive presentation in sonnet 152. There is also a reminder in sonnet
132 of the priority of the female over the male. Rather than a one-dimensional
perception of womanhood as a virginal ideal, the Poet is made aware
of the female’s dual nature because of her immediate relation to Nature. The
Poet feels the pity in the Mistress’ ‘eyes’ as she brings his masculine side into
alignment with the natural logic of life. The Mistress’ ‘eyes’ also refer to her
sexual eye, whose logic generates the dynamic of light and dark in the
Because the female is the basis of both love and death, her eyes have put
on ‘black’ and ‘loving mourners be’ (132.3). Her dual nature cannot be
avoided. She looks with ‘pretty ruth’ on the Poet’s ‘pain’ (132.4). The
oxymoronic ‘loving mourners’ and ‘pretty ruth’ capture the dual qualities
the Mistress derives from Nature. Her eyes are ‘better’ than the ‘morning
Sun of Heaven’ (associating the planetary ‘Sun’ with the son of God) and
more ‘glorious’ than the evening ‘Star’, or the ‘sober’ idea of souls going to
the ‘West’ (132.5-8).
The Mistress’‘morning eyes’ (132.9) are the point of entry to the qualities
of the human heart. Hence the Poet asks that she ‘mourn’ for him because
her ‘pity’ is suited in ‘every part’ to the beauty the Poet sees in her eyes
(132.12). Only then, in the couplet, will the Poet ‘swear’, or state in words,
that ‘beauty her self is black’ and the beauties who lack the extra depth of
the Mistress are ‘they’ who are ‘foul’. In sonnet 129 the Poet advises such
beauties to ‘shun the heaven that leads men to this hell’. Because editors do
not appreciate the significance of the eyes from sonnet 14, many emend
‘morning’ (132.9) to ‘mourning’.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan,
Sonnets 133/134 are a pair joined by the conjunction ‘so’. They echo
sonnets 41 and 42 from the Master Mistress sequence. Sonnets 41 and 42
consider the youth’s relation to the Mistress, and sonnets 133/134 the
Mistress’ relation to the youth. To appreciate the implications of the interpolations,
it should be remembered that the Sonnets incorporate both
external relationships between the Poet, the Mistress and the Master Mistress,
as well as internal relationships between the Poet’s self and his constituent
feminine and masculine personae. If anything, the characters in the four
sonnets are more personae than persons.
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me;
I'st not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be.
Me from my self thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed,
Of him, my self, and thee I am forsaken,
A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed:
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom's ward,
But then my friend's heart let my poor heart bail,
Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard,
Thou canst not then use rigor in my Jail.
And yet thou wilt, for I being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine and all that is in me.
The inability of traditional editors to appreciate the logic of the simultaneous
presentation of both persons and personae in the set has led them
to question the positioning of the four sonnets in Q. Typically such editors
base their interpretation on the speculation that Shakespeare had a
relationship with a young man and a ‘dark lady’ in London. Because of their
overly autobiographical misreading they add sonnet 40 to 41 and 42,
although it makes no mention of a female. Nor do they appreciate the Poet’s
role in reconciling the adolescent male to the Mistress or female.
In sonnet 133 the Poet presents his argument by first assuming the role
of those who do not appreciate natural logic. Only in the couplet does he
revert to his own position. He begins by cursing (‘beshrew’) the ‘heart’ of
the Mistress when she gives ‘my friend and me’ a ‘deep wound’ that makes
‘my heart to groan’ (133.1). He asks, ‘is it not enough to torture me’ without
also making the youth a ‘slave to slavery’ (133.4). The Mistress’ ‘cruel eye’
has seemingly removed the Poet’s ‘me’ from ‘my self ’ (133.6). And she has
‘engrossed’ his ‘next self ’ (the youth) even ‘harder’, so that the Poet seems
‘forsaken’ of all three. His ‘torment’, like that of the ‘crossed’Christ, is ‘thrice
three-fold’ (133.8). ‘Deep wound’, ‘forsaken’, and ‘crossed’, evoke biblical
beliefs that are contrary to natural logic and are redressed in the two sonnets.
By offering his ‘heart’ so that his ‘friend’s heart’ can be freed on ‘bail’
(133.10), the Poet mimics the traditional attempts to remedy the problem.
‘Who ere keeps’ the Poet can ‘guard’ the youth against the Mistress so she
cannot use her ‘rigor in my Jail’ (133.12). Keeping the natural logic of the
Mistress and Nature at bay leads to the ‘thrice three-fold’ torment the Poet
feels when natural logic is ‘crossed’. Then, in the couplet, the Poet acknowledges
the justice of the Mistress’ natural logic. He is ‘pent in’ her because,
after all, he ‘and all that is in me’ is hers, including the adolescent ‘crossed’
youth. Sonnet 134 continues the argument.
So now I have confessed that he is thine,
In sonnet 134, the Poet continues the argument of sonnet 133 with a ‘so’.
He ‘confesses’ that the youth and he are inalienable parts of the Mistress.
She derives from Nature, the basis of all things, and he, as a male, derives
from her. He is ‘mortgaged to (her) will’ (134.2) and forfeits himself to her
(134.3). By doing so the Poet hopes his ‘other mine’, that is himself when
he was a triple ‘crossed’ adolescent, will be ‘restored’ to him for ‘comfort’s’
And I my self am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I'll forfeit, so that other mine,
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind,
He learned but surety-like to write for me,
Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer that put'st forth all to use,
And sue a friend, came debtor for my sake,
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost, thou hast both him and me,
He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.
But, because the Poet is already mature, the Mistress will not ‘restore’
his youthful adolescence (134.4). The adolescent youth ‘will not be free’ in
him because the Mistress demands maturity in her males (134.5). Compared
with the Mistress’ seeming covetousness, the youth’s idealism might seem
‘kind’ (134.6). Yet when the youth ‘wrote’ for the Poet he did so in the hope
he could guarantee or go ‘surety’ for the Poet’s affections with his youthful
‘crossed’ purpose (133.8). But ironically, the bond between the youth and
Poet can only ensure the youth will remain bound ‘fast’ in the Poet’s early
experiences (134.8). While the Poet can recall his youthful days he is unable
to relive them again.
The Mistress’ appreciation of ‘beauty’ is a ‘statute’ based on her understanding
out of Nature and increase. The statute makes her seem like a
‘usurer’ who will ‘use’ anything to succeed. She would ‘sue’ the Poet’s
‘friend’, whose adolescence becomes a ‘debtor for my sake’ (134.10). The
Poet ‘loses’ his relationship to the youth because he needs to disabuse youth’s
over idealised expectations to gain the maturity inherent in the Mistress’
natural logic (134.12).
In the couplet, the Poet acknowledges he has ‘lost’ his youth. The
Mistress now ‘has’ both the youth and the Poet. She gains the youth when
he accepts the need to mature, and she has the Poet because he is mature.
The Poet is no longer full of star ‘crossed’ idealism because his youth has
paid ‘the whole’ and is now mature. While the price youth pays may seem
excessive to those who remain ‘thrice crossed’, the Poet knows he is ‘free’.
Through the argument of the two sonnets the Poet reveals the conditions
that enable him to be free both in life and free to ‘write’ without
‘surety’ or ‘bond’ (134.7-8). The lesson of the two sonnets is exact. They
critique the inadequacies of ‘crossed’ love, and establish the conditions of
natural logic. The Poet knows his freedom comes only when he experiences
the natural logic of life. In sonnets 41 and 42 he recognised the Mistress
and youth as part of himself. Now he acknowledges that the youth and he
have a common destiny in the Mistress and Nature.
Who ever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
The sonnets of the Mistress sequence serve two functions. Primarily they
articulate the logical relation between beauty and truth. Sonnets 127 to 137
present the logic of beauty and 137 to 152 present the logic of truth. Within
the sequence there are also strategically placed sonnets that have a subsidiary
role in the set. Sonnets 135 and 136 stand apart because of their unique style,
sonnet 145 is unique because of its octosyllables, and sonnets 153 and 154
provide a résumé by expressing the sonnet logic allegorically.
The unique style of 135 and 136 and the unique form of 145 suggest
they were written as the Sonnets were assembled for publication. Sonnets
135 and 136, with their constant refrain of ‘Will’ and ‘will’, is dedicated to
the Poet or Shakespeare, and 145 with its pun on ‘hate away’ is dedicated
to the Mistress or Anne Hathaway. Sonnet commentators have vainly sought
other males and females who could have inspired Shakespeare but their
romantic speculation ignores Shakespeare’s recognition of Anne’s influence
on the exceptional maturity of his philosophy. Sonnets 135 and 136 celebrate
the unity of Poet and Mistress in the natural logic of the set.
And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus,
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine,
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine:
The sea all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store,
So thou being rich in Will add to thy Will,
One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill,
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.
In sonnet 135, ‘whoever’ has the ‘wish’ of the Mistress will fulfil her ‘Will
in over-plus, more than enough’ (135.2-3). Because the Mistress is the source
of the Master Mistress, and the cause of her vexation (135.3), his return to
her ‘adds’ what is already provided for. Her ‘will’ that is ‘large and spacious’
is both the womb for the perpetuation of human life and the ‘will’ or
processes of thought in the dynamic of beauty and truth (135.5).
The Poet recognises the unity of the Mistress and asks her to ‘vouchsafe’
or deign ‘to hide my will in thine’ (135.6). If such a ‘will’ is ‘right gracious’
in ‘others’ then his will should find ‘acceptance’. The ‘sea’ even when full,
can ‘add’more ‘rain’ (135.9), so she should accept his ‘one’to make her ‘large
will more’ (135.12). The two sonnets make punning references to the Sonnet
numerology. Words like addition, addeth, and one, play on the numerological
relation of the Poet (145 = 1) and the Mistress (28 = 1). Because the
Poet and Mistress are both unities together they are ‘one’.
Sonnet 135’s erotic imagery expresses Shakespeare’s realisation that,
logically, poetry is not sexual but erotic. The Poet’s verse can only express
in words the natural love that the Mistress has in ‘over-plus’. The conscious
act of writing, or the activity of the ‘will’, is sustained logically by Nature
and human increase. The mention of ‘store’ in line 11 anchors the sonnet
to the increase argument of the first 14 sonnets. The sonnet is a simultaneous
expression, by the Poet who is ‘Will’, of the sexual ‘will’, and the
ethical, or contentious ‘will’.
If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Sonnet 136 continues the playfully erotic theme of sonnet 135. Their witty
by-play sets them apart from other sonnets. They were most likely written
as the structure of the whole set was finalised. Their consummate playfulness,
as with the cryptic Dedication, sonnets 99 and 126, and sonnets 153/154,
celebrates Shakespeare’s insight into the erotic logic of seeing and saying or
beauty and truth.
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will thy soul knows is admitted there,
Thus far for love, my love-suit sweet fulfill.
Will, will fulfill the treasure of thy love,
I fill it full with wills, and my will one,
In things of great receipt with ease we prove,
Among a number one is reckon'd none.
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store's account I one must be,
For nothing hold me so it please thee hold,
That nothing me, a some-thing sweet to thee.
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is Will.
In sonnet 136, the mature Poet is reminded by the Mistress to address
his logical relation to the adolescent male or Master Mistress. If the Mistress’
‘soul’, or imaginary mind, ‘checks’ or cautions her when the Poet ‘come(s)
so near’, he suggests she ‘swear to thy blind soul’, or her womb, that he ‘was
thy will’, or sexual respondent (136.2). Because the male is derived from
the female then her ‘soul’ should recognise his right to be ‘admitted there’.
The Mistress’ female soul ‘checks’ her because she is only too aware of the
failings of idealistic males (sonnets 41/42 and 133/134). When she can
‘swear’by her ‘blind soul’ that the Poet ‘is admitted there’, then she can ‘sweet
fulfill’ his ‘love-suit’ (136.4).
Because the Poet has surmounted the inadequacies of youthful idealism
he can ‘fulfill’ the ‘treasure’ (sonnet 20) of her ‘love’ (136.5). He can ‘fill it
full with wills’ because he is now ‘one’ (145 = 1). Because the Mistress is
numbered 10 (28 = 10 = 1+0 = 1) the Poet can be ‘none’ or 0. So ‘in things
of great receipt’ among a number ‘one is reckoned none’ (136.8-9). But the
0 is cancelled numerologically, restoring him to 1. By being ‘nothing’ to her
‘one’, he becomes a ‘something’ who is ‘sweet to her’ (136.12).
In the couplet the Poet evokes the Mistress’ ‘love’ in the various meanings
of the name ‘Will’. ‘Will’ combines both the conscious act of saying, or
naming, and the sexual basis of all saying. If his ‘name’ is her ‘love’ (if the
possibility of naming arises out of the process of love) and if that love is
enduring, then the Mistress loves him because his ‘name is Will’. In establishing
his logical relation to the Mistress, the Poet identifies the common
basis of love and naming.
In sonnets 135/136 and 145 Shakespeare celebrates the natural logic he
derived from his relationship with Anne Hathaway. Her formative influence
provided the philosophic depth for his plays. Editors misinterpret the basis
of Shakespeare’s philosophy when they replace the ‘I’ of line 6 with an ‘Ay’.
While ‘I’ means ‘Ay’ at places in Shakespeare’s works, in this instance the
change shifts the tone from the profound logic of the set to a simple sentimentality.
Thou blind fool love, what dost thou to mine eyes,
Sonnet 137 is the transitional sonnet between the presentation of beauty in
sonnets 127 to 136 and truth in sonnets 138 to 152. It mentions both beauty
and truth and distinguishes between them. First it defines the Poet’s use of
‘beauty’ as any form of sensation by identifying beauty with the archetypal
sensory process of ‘seeing’ (137.3). The significance of the ‘eyes’ in sonnet
logic is emphasised by the appearance of ‘eyes’five times and ‘see’ or ‘seeing’
four times. Then in line 11 it defines ‘truth’ (137.12) as the ability to ‘say’
this is ‘not’.
That they behold and see not what they see:
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is, take the worst to be:
If eyes corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes' falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot,
Which my heart knows the wide world's common place?
Or mine eyes seeing this, say this is not
To put fair truth upon so foul a face.
In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferred.
The Poet reflects on the type of ‘love’ (137.1) that leads him to misrepresent
the logical relation between ‘beauty’ and ‘truth’. ‘Blind love’ (137.1)
is love in contradiction with the logic of the natural world. It is the idealistic
love the Poet experienced as a youth. In increase sonnets 1 to 8 he
berated youthful ‘self-love’ (3.8) before he expressed the logical consequence
of immature love in the couplet of sonnet 9. Youth that does not appreciate
its logical connection to the natural world commits on ‘himself ’ a
‘murderous shame’ (9.14).
But the Poet’s ‘eyes’ (137.1) can still be ‘blinded’by youth’s ‘foolish love’.
How then, the Poet asks, can his eyes still ‘behold’, yet ‘see not what they
see’ (137.2). Such ‘eyes’ think ‘they know what beauty is’, but they make
the logical mistake of attempting to distinguish the ‘best’ from the ‘worst’
(137.4) on the basis of the idealised sensations of ‘blind’ youth.
The Poet ‘knows’ his ‘eyes’ are ‘anchored in the bay where all men ride’
(137.6) or the sexual logic of the increase sonnets. So how can they be
‘corrupted’by the ‘over-partial looks’ of idealist expectations (137.5)? ‘Why’
does the Mistress (‘thou’) ‘forge hooks’ so that ‘eyes’ falsehood’, or the
inability of eyes to tell ‘best’ from ‘worst’, still affect the ‘judgment’ of the
Poet’s ‘heart’ (137.8)? ‘Why’ does his ‘heart’ suspect a ‘plot’ on the Mistress’
part when he ‘knows’ how things are in the ‘wide world’s common place’
(137.10)? How can his ‘eyes seeing’ usurp the role of ‘truth’ by attempting
to ‘say’ of ‘so foul a face’ that it is a ‘fair truth’ (137.12)?
In the couplet, the Poet acknowledges that, as an immature person, his
‘heart and eyes have erred’ in things he should have understood as ‘right true’.
To correct the logical error he has now ‘transferred’ his attention to the ‘false
plague’ of ‘blind’ love that upsets the logical relation of beauty and truth.
And, once ‘truth’ is identified as ‘saying’, the Poet is no longer in doubt as
to what is ‘true’ and ‘false’. Sonnet 137, as the transitional sonnet between
the beauty and truth groups, identifies the contradictions that ‘plague’
idealised misrepresentations of beauty and truth.
When my love swears that she is made of truth,
Sonnet 127, which mentioned beauty 6 times, introduced the logic of
beauty as any type of sensation whether it is ‘fair’ or ‘black’. Sonnet 138,
which mentions truth twice, considers just as deliberately the logic of truth.
Until sonnet 138, the Mistress does not ‘say’ a word. Because sonnets 127
to 136 consider only ‘beauty’, it has not been appropriate for the Mistress
to speak. When sonnet 138 introduces truth, the Mistress not only says
something, she ‘swears that she is made of truth’ (138.1).
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue,
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed:
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not t'have years told.
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
The Mistress, as the female who is prior to the male, is the source of
truth just as she was the source of beauty. Her prerogative allows her to jest
with the Poet by intimating that he is still an ‘untutored youth, unlearned
in the world’s false subtleties’ (138.4). Like the idealistic young male of
sonnets 1 to 126, the Poet is still liable to ‘unlearned’ thoughts. The Poet,
though, is ‘old’ enough to recognise she ‘lies’ (138.2), even when she ‘swears’
she is made of ‘truth’.
The Poet’s mature appreciation of the female and male dynamic in
Nature gives him an understanding of the logic of beauty and truth. It is
not possible to determine whether a sensation is ‘best’ or ‘worst’ (137.4),
but when the Mistress ‘swears’ or ‘says’ something he can now hear the intentional
falsehood in what she says. Only the mature Poet can readily tell when
the Mistress swears yet means the opposite. He ‘vainly’ accepts she thinks
he is young even though it is obvious his ‘days’ are ‘past the best’ (138.6).
Rather than unnecessarily contradict her, because he knows she is being
cryptic, he simply ‘credits’ her ‘false speaking tongue’.
The important gain is that they have both ‘suppressed’ the greater
delusion of ‘simple truth’ (138.8). In sonnet 66 the Poet criticised ‘simple-
Truth miscalled Simplicity’. The singular truth valued by idealists is logically
a sensation or a form of ‘beauty’. Even though the Mistress ‘lies’ to the Poet,
she knows she is not being ‘unjust’ (138.9). Calling him ‘young’ when he
is ‘old’ does not imply he is young. The possibility of ‘lying’ is part of the
logic of saying. The mature Poet knows that ‘trust’ in ‘love’ is a ‘habit’ that
becomes ‘best’ with maturity or at an ‘age in love’ (138.12). Such ‘trust’ in
love does need to be ‘told’ its age in ‘years’.
In the couplet, when the Poet and the Mistress ‘lie’ together in bed, their
seeming faults can be ‘lies’ by which they, tongue in cheek, ‘flatter’
themselves. The Poet makes the logical connection between lying in bed
and lying to each other. Because he bases his understanding in Nature and
the increase argument, he does not falsely think ‘truth’ is ‘simple’but appreciates
that the logic of truth is grounded in the logic of life.
O call not me to justify the wrong,
In sonnet 139 the Poet continues the examination, begun in sonnet 138,
of the logical derivation of truth from beauty. He begins the first two
quatrains, by asking the Mistress to ‘call’ (139.1) and then ‘tell’ (139.5) what
she means in words. The Poet in return offers to ‘excuse’ (139.9) her when
she uses her ‘pretty looks’ (139.10) to convey ‘unkindness’ (139.2).
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart,
Wound me not with thine eye but with thy tongue,
Use power with power, and slay me not by Art.
Tell me thou lov'st else-where; but in my sight,
Dear heart forbear to glance thine eye aside,
What need'st thou wound with cunning when thy might
Is more than my o'er-pressed defence can bide?
Let me excuse thee ah my love well knows,
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies,
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
That they else-where might dart their injuries:
Yet do not so, but since I am near slain,
Kill me out-right with looks, and rid my pain.
Sonnet 138 characterised truth as the give and take of ideas in language
to the level of the deliberate act of ‘swearing’. In sonnet 139, truth is again
differentiated from the singularity of sensations. With sensations, such as the
look of ‘unkindness’ in the Mistress’ ‘eyes’, the Poet can imagine many
wrongs. The Poet asks that he ‘not’ be called to ‘justify’ the ‘wrong’ that her
accusing look awakens in his ‘heart’. He prefers to be ‘wounded’ not with
‘thine eye’ but with her ‘tongue’ (139.3). Her ‘tongue’ or words would help
define his ‘wrong’.
By talking to the Mistress, the Poet has the ‘power’ to respond to her
‘power’ (139.4). He does not want to be ‘slayed’ with ‘art’ or the singular
beauty she manifests. He could cope if she ‘tells’ him she ‘loves elsewhere’
(139.5). When they are eye to eye, he wants her to ‘glance aside’ (139.6) so
he cannot read ‘injuries’ into her ‘looks’. His ‘o’er-pressed defence’, even as
a matured male, is frequently unable to ‘abide’ feminine insight. He prefers
to excuse her in words because her ‘pretty looks’, or the inability of the mind
to distinguish ‘best’ from ‘worst’ (137.4), have been his ‘enemies’ (139.10).
He wants her to turn her eyes, ‘my foes’, away from his face so that they
‘dart their injuries’ elsewhere (139.12).
In the couplet, the Poet faces the inevitable. To be a mature male he
knows he must confront both beauty and truth, both sensations and
language, in all their natural rigour. The uncompromising sensation he
receives from the Mistress’ ‘eye’ makes him realise with embarrassment that
his immature idealistic beliefs were only sensations. The only way to ‘slay’
the ‘pain’ of his immaturity is for her to ‘kill me out-right with looks’. Truth
or saying is derived from deep sensations. As truth derives logically from
sensation, it requires the unequivocal look of ‘beauty’ or ‘Art’ to make the
process of understanding painless.
In sonnet 139, as throughout the Sonnets, the image of ‘eye’, ‘sight’, or
‘looks’ expresses the unity of the body and mind. The erotic punning on
words such as ‘tongue’, ‘eye’ and ‘cunning’ points to the unifying logic of
the set. By adhering to its logic Shakespeare is able to write a sonnet that
starts by equivocating between the tongue and the eye, but ends by affirming
the logic of beauty and truth out of the female/male dynamic in Nature.
Be wise as thou art cruel, do not press
In sonnets 138 and 139, the Poet explored the implications of truth as saying.
Although the focus of the Mistress sequence is now on truth, he remains
conscious of the logical interrelation between beauty and truth. By
examining the role of truth or ‘saying’ in human intercourse, the Poet
clarifies the role of sensations. Sensations, whether from the sensory organs
such as the eyes or the sensation of ideal beauty generated in the mind, are
more immediate than words but are also less precise.
My tongue tied patience with too much disdain:
Lest sorrow lend me words and words express,
The manner of my pity wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit better it were,
Though not to love, yet love to tell me so,
As testy sick-men when their deaths be near,
No news but health from their Physicians know.
For if I should despair I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee,
Now this ill wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.
The Poet’s awareness of the interrelation between beauty and truth is
evident in the first line of sonnet 140. He asks the Mistress to be as ‘wise’
as she is ‘cruel’ (140.1). Because her eye confronts him with a ‘cruel’
reflection of his youth-based faults, he beseeches her to be ‘wise’ or reconsider
their situation in ‘words’. If she ‘presses’ his ‘tongue tied patience’ with
‘disdain’ (140.2), he fears his ‘sorrow’ will lend him ‘words and words’ to
express unwisely the nature of his ‘pity wanting pain’ (140.4). The Poet
might resort to ‘words’ to ‘better’ (140.5) alleviate the ‘cruel disdain’ he senses
in the Mistress’ eye.
In the couplet of sonnet 139, the Poet admitted he needed the Mistress’
‘cunning looks’ as well as her ‘tongue’ to relieve his ‘pain’. He knows that,
as she is the natural source of beauty and truth, she can appear both wise
and cruel to his inadequate male temperament. Sonnet 140 follows the same
pattern. The Poet wishes at first to dull with ‘words’ the ‘sorrow’ he feels at
her disdain. He offers to teach her ‘wit’ so that the full force of her love
would be reduced to ‘words’ and become merely a thing she would ‘love
to tell’ him about (140.6). He is like ‘testy sick-men’ who only want to hear
good ‘news’ (140.8) on their death beds.
The mature Poet, though, knows the nature of words or truth. If he
(Hamlet like) ‘should despair’ because of the cruel look in the Mistress’ eyes,
he might ‘grow mad’and ‘speak ill of thee’ (140.10). His ‘madness’, though, is
but a symptom of an ‘ill wresting world’, in which ‘mad ears’ believe the ‘mad
slanderers’ (140.12) who belittle the priority of the female in Nature. Such
mad slanderers want to preserve the word-based superiority of the male ideal.
In the couplet, the Poet rejects the ‘madness’ of the supremacy of the
male ideal that ‘belies’ the logic of beauty and truth. Even if the Mistress’
‘proud heart go wide’ of him, because of his madness, she should bear her
‘eyes straight’. He reaffirms the logical relation of truth and beauty based
on the eyes as expressed in sonnet 14. In sonnet 141, the Poet confirms that
his ‘foolish heart’ cannot be ‘dissuaded’ from his ‘faith’ in the Mistress.
In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
At the end of sonnet 140, the Poet encourages the Mistress to ‘bear thine
eyes straight’. If his idealistic tendencies force her ‘proud heart’ away from
him, his ‘despair’ at going ‘mad’ should not deceive her. The Mistress’ ‘eyes’
are logically aligned with the beauty and truth dynamic derived from the
priority of the female over the male in Nature.
For they in thee a thousand errors note,
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits, nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin, awards me pain.
When, in sonnet 141, the Poet says he does not ‘love’ the Mistress with
his ‘eyes’ (141.1) he seeks to clarify the meaning of the ‘eyes’ in the Sonnet
logic. Throughout the Sonnets, the Poet emphasises the difference between
looking at a person, and direct eye-to-eye contact. The logic of the eyes,
as defined in sonnet 14, is not based on mere appearances. If he loved the
Mistress for her external appearance he would see ‘a thousand errors’ (141.2).
Instead, his ‘heart’ loves what his eyes ‘despise’ (141.3). It is not the external
view available to his eyes that determines how he is ‘pleased to dote’, but
the way his ‘heart’ aligns the influence of their eyes.
The Poet’s ‘heart’ is at the logical centre of the relation between the eyes,
as the portals to the mind, and the sexual eye. The ‘heart’ is the focal point
for love in the natural world. Access to the heart is either through the eyes,
into the mind and then to the heart, or through the sexual organs and the
reproductive system to the heart. The eye of the mind and the sexual eye
locate the logic of love in the dynamic between the heart and Nature.
The second quatrain considers the other four senses (the 5 senses were
introduced in sonnet 130). It concludes that the Poet is not primarily
attracted to the Mistress through the external senses (141.5-8). The ‘five
senses’ are not the basis for his love. But, neither (141.9-12) are his ‘five wits’
(141.9), or his ability with words or saying, adequate on their own. Neither
beauty (seeing) nor truth (saying) can dissuade him from loving or ‘serving’
her (141.10). Because traditionally ‘man’ has reduced women to slavery, the
Poet offers himself as her ‘slave and vassal’ (141.12). Shakespeare’s natural
philosophy returns the female to her priority over the male.
In the couplet, the ‘plague’ that afflicts the Poet, when he casts off his
idealistic male vanity, is counted a ‘gain’. If it was once a ‘sin’ to relate to
the Mistress under traditional beliefs, the ‘only plague’ he recognises now is
the offence against the female. The pain he experiences is his award for the
cure of the age-old pretence. The five senses (beauty) and the five wits
(truth) are brought into alignment in the Sonnet logic. Neither alone is the
source of love, as love can only be experienced when the heart and Nature
are one with the eyes and mind.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005