Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,
In sonnet 142, the Poet calls his ‘love’, ‘my sin’ and calls the Mistress’ ‘hate’,
‘thy dear virtue’ (142.1) He inverts the idealised meaning of ‘sin’ and ‘virtue’,
because the accepted use is contrary to the logic of beauty and truth in
nature. Contradictions arise when a word is associated with over-idealised
dogmas. Sonnets 142, 144 and 145 examine how words such as love/hate,
saint/devil, and good/evil are used contrary to natural logic.
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving,
O but with mine, compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving,
Or if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments,
And sealed false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robbed others’ beds revenues of their rents.
Be it lawful I love thee as thou lov’st those,
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee,
Root pity in thy heart that when it grows,
Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.
If thou do’st seek to have what thou do’st hide,
By self example mayst thou be denied.
Sonnet 145, which brings to a pitch sonnet 142’s focus on ‘love’ and
‘hate’, indirectly identifies the source of Shakespeare’s natural logic by
punning on Anne Hathaway’s name as ‘hate away’. Young Shakespeare’s
relation to the more mature Hathaway was the defining experience of his
life. She made him aware of the nature of love and the source of truth and
beauty. Once Shakespeare accepted the priority of the female over the male,
he could reconcile his feminine and masculine personae and remove his
psychological dependency on male-based ideals.
The Poet says ‘love is my sin’ (142.1) because, when he loves the Mistress
naturally (Shakespeare and Hathaway were pregnant before they were
married), traditional dogma says he ‘sins’. The Mistress’ ‘dear virtue’ is called
‘hate’ to preempt the logical consequence of excessive virtue, which is
uncontrollable hate. (Shakespeare witnessed such hate in the bloodletting
between the Christian sects of his day.) The Mistress ‘grounds’ or bases her
‘hate’ of the Poet’s ‘sin’ in an acceptance of ‘sinful loving’ (142.2). She rejects
love based on idealised self-regard. In the Master Mistress sonnets (1 to 126),
the Poet countered selfish male-based ideals with the greater realism and
logical integrity of female-based love.
The Poet asks the Mistress to ‘compare’ her ‘own state’ (142.3) with his
to ‘find’ that his state ‘merits not reproving’ (142.4). ‘Or if it do’, then not
from ‘those lips of thine’ that have ‘profaned their scarlet ornaments, and
sealed false bonds of love as oft as mine’ (142.6-7). If the Poet’s masculine
side can be guilty of excessive idealism, then the Mistress can be guilty of
robbing ‘others’ beds revenues of their rents’ (142.8). It is as ‘lawful’ for Poet
to ‘importune’ (142.10) the Mistress, as it is for her to ‘woo’ others with her
‘eyes’. If she ‘roots pity’ in her ‘heart’ then, when it ‘grows’, her ‘pity’ may
also ‘deserve’ pity from others (142.12).
In the couplet, if the Mistress ‘seeks’ pity but ‘hides’ her pity from the
Poet, then ‘by self-example’ she may be ‘denied’ pity. The mature Poet is as
free to question the Mistress’ deeds, as she is to question his. The Poet derives
his capacity for ‘love’ and ‘virtue’ from the Mistress, and she derives her
understanding of beauty and truth directly from nature.
Lo as a careful housewife runs to catch,
The commentary on sonnet 142 referred to the pun on Anne Hathaway’s
name in sonnet 145. The allusion to Anne Hathaway acknowledges the
woman who changed Shakespeare from an idealistic adolescent into a mature
male. As she is the only woman referred to in the set, she is the most likely
model for the Mistress. If Shakespeare was inspired by his relationship with
Anne, then the imagery of sonnet 143 could well be based in their Stratford
setting. The image of a ‘housewife’ chasing a ‘feathered creature’ after she
‘sets down her babe’ is at odds with the romantic idea of a London-based
Mistress promoted in literature and films.
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay:
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent,
To follow that which flies before her face:
Not prizing her poor infant's discontent;
So run'st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I thy babe chase thee a far behind,
But if thou catch thy hope turn back to me:
And play the mother's part kiss me, be kind.
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.
The household imagery of sonnet 143 is unique in the Mistress sequence.
Shakespeare seems to affirm the ‘common sense’ inspiration of his
philosophy, just as in Love’s Labour’s Lost Berowne affirms common sense
and dismisses ‘angel’ or ‘god-like’ inspiration (LLL.1.1.63).
The Poet begins by picturing his relationship to the Mistress as that of
a ‘babe’ (143.3) to its mother. The Mistress’ direct relation to Nature (the
sovereign mistress) makes her the mother of all possibilities. In the first 126
sonnets, the Poet argued for the Master Mistress or youth to accept his logical
relation to the Mistress. For humankind to persist the young male must
logically return to the female for increase. So the Poet, who has accepted
the priority of the female, is ‘set down’ by the Mistress while she persists in
her role of recovering the logical allegiance of other ‘feathered creatures’
(143.2) or flighty males.
But, as in the previous sonnets, the Poet as male seeks the sexual attention
of the Mistress. When he is ‘neglected’ he feels his ‘discontent’ is not ‘prized’
(143.8). ‘So’ while the Mistress ‘runs’ after other males who ‘fly’ (143.9) from
her, the Poet chases her ‘far behind’. When the Mistress ‘catches her hope’
or the prospect of persistence, she can then ‘play the mother’s part’ and ‘kiss’
the Poet (143.12). For the Poet, the Mistress can be lover or mother.
In the couplet, the Poet’s ‘prays’ that when she ‘turns back’ from the chase
he will again be able to make available his ‘Will’ or sexual interest. By
‘praying’ for his sexual rights, the Poet parodies the usual aim of prayer. By
proffering his ‘Will’ or penis he unites the logic of truth and beauty with
the ‘Will’ he offered without reservation and with good humour in sonnets
135 and 136. The identification of ‘Will’ with William Shakespeare in 135
and 136 supports the identification of the ‘housewife’ in 143 with Anne
Hathaway from Stratford. The personal allusions ground his philosophy in
the common sense of natural logic.
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Sonnet 144 can only be understood if is read as one of the Mistress sonnets
that focus on the dynamic of truth. By considering the opposition of
‘comfort’ and ‘despair’, ‘fair’ and ‘ill’, ‘better’ and ‘worser’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’,
‘angel’ and ‘devil’, ‘know’ and ‘doubt’, it demonstrates the consistency of
natural logic over traditional systems of belief. Shakespeare’s natural
philosophy was written in an age when belief in a deified absolute good
was frequently used to justify the worst imaginable evils. It led him to see
that everyday good and evil in nature was benign compared with the evil
done in the name of an imaginary God.
Which like two spirits do suggest me still,
The better angel is a man right fair:
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my sight,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil:
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend,
Suspect I may yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I guess one angel in an other's hell.
Yet this shall I ne'er know but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
Sonnet 144 considers the logical relation of good and evil. It brings
together the two ‘loves’ of the Poet, that of ‘comfort’ and ‘despair’ (144.1). As
in other sonnets, it is important to see the two loves both as persons in the
world and personae of the mind. As line 11 says, they are ‘both from me’ in
the double sense of persons being physically apart and personae being
conceptually within. To consider the relation of his ‘two loves’, Shakespeare
likens them to ‘two spirits’ (144.2). He ‘still’ uses the word ‘spirits’ because the
literal belief in ‘spirits’ is responsible for the misrepresentation of beauty and
truth. The first person/persona he considers is ‘a better angel’ who is ‘a man
right fair’, and the second is a ‘worser spirit a woman coloured ill’ (144.4).
Even in biblical mythology there is evidence that the male gradually
usurped priority from the female to become associated with ‘good’, while
the female became associated with ‘evil’. As Shakespeare revived his natural
logic, his so-called ‘female evil’ (144.5) soon ‘tempted’ him toward ‘hell’,
corrupting his ‘better saint’ to be an evil ‘fiend’ (144.7). The saint’s malebased
‘purity’ is wooed (144.8) by the female, whose natural propensities
are mis-called ‘foul pride’. Because such ‘good’ is derived from illogical
dogmas, the Poet cannot ‘directly tell’ if his ‘angel’ has been turned into a
‘fiend’ (144.9). As good and evil are personae in his mind, he can only ‘guess’
that his good and bad ‘angels’ are ‘in’ the same ‘hell’ (144.12).
In the couplet, the ‘doubt’ or hell that results from the traditional belief
in the priority of the male can only be resolved when the ‘bad angel’ fires
the ‘good one’ out. The recovery of the priority of the female over the male
enables the recovery of the natural logic of beauty and truth. In the
social/political arena, it enables policies based on logical insights into the
nature of good and evil. (It would seem Shakespeare changed the word ‘side’,
from a 1599 version of the sonnet, to ‘sight’ (144.6) to align it with the
logical dynamic of the ‘eyes’ out of sonnet 14.)
Those lips that Love's own hand did make,
Sonnet 145, with its octosyllables, is unique in the set. Because of its unusual
form, and its singular content, it has traditionally been derided as a juvenile
or inferior poem. When viewed as part of the Sonnet philosophy, though,
it is one of the structural sonnets written or revised close to publication in
1609. Its position, two thirds the way through the Mistress sequence,
counterpoints the Will sonnet 136 that occurs at the one-third point.
Breathed forth the sound that said I hate,
To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet,
Was used in giving gentle doom:
And taught it thus anew to greet:
I hate she altered with an end,
That followed it as gentle day,
Doth follow night who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
I hate, from hate away she threw,
And saved my life saying not you.
The critics’ difficulty is due in part to the pun on Anne Hathaway’s name
(‘hate away’ 145.13). It is the only allusion to a specific woman in the set.
The allusion is at odds with speculation about Shakespeare consorting in
London with a boy or a ‘dark lady’. The sonnet number 145 and the
reference to Hathaway connect it to the Poet’s numbering of 145. And its
octosyllables make it the generative sonnet for the set’s music structure.
Sonnet 145 follows both sonnet 143 with its tale of a housewife who
leaves her ‘babe’ behind, and sonnet 144 that considers the understanding
necessary to recover the priority of the female over the male. It recounts the
experience of the adolescent Shakespeare as he reconciled his male pride to
the priority of the female. The ‘lips that Love’s own hand did make’ (145.1)
relates the lips of the head to the sexual dynamic of the body, on which they
are logically dependent. When the Mistress ‘breathed forth…hate’(145.2) the
young Poet felt the hate from both head and body. As long as the Poet
‘languished’ like a ‘babe’ (143.3), he deserved her ‘hate’.
But, when the Mistress sees the Poet’s ‘woeful state’ (145.4), the ‘mercy’
or the ‘pity’ the Poet earns in sonnet 142, enters her ‘heart’. His willingness
to accept the priority of the Mistress leads her to ‘chide her tongue’, which
is usually ‘sweet’, but could also be ‘used in giving gentle doom’ (145.7).
‘Doom’, as was argued in sonnet 14, is the logical consequence of denying
the significance of increase for human posterity. The Mistress, no longer
hostile to the Poet’s male pride, teaches her ‘tongue’ to greet him ‘anew’
(145.8). So the Mistress alters ‘I hate’ (145.9) with the ‘end’ of allowing ‘day’
to follow ‘night’. For the Poet it is as if a ‘fiend’ had ‘flown away’ from
‘heaven to hell’ (145.12). The ‘fiend’ is the male pride generated in ‘heaven’,
where its hellish nature was exposed in Satan.
In the couplet, the Mistress throws ‘I hate’ away from ‘hate’. She throws
‘I hate’, rather than ‘hate’, as hate has a role in the truth and beauty dynamic.
‘I hate’ is the hate generated by the Poet’s ‘languishing’ idealism. The Mistress
(read Anne Hathaway) saved the Poet’s ‘life’by ‘saying not you’. By accepting
the priority of the female over the male, the Poet eliminates the most debilitating
form of ‘hate’.
Poor soul the centre of my sinful earth,
The Mistress’ acceptance of the Poet in sonnet 145, where her ‘I love’
replaces the ‘I hate’ generated by the Poet’s youthful idealism, leads him to
reflect in sonnet 146 on the nature of the ‘soul’. In the Sonnets, the soul is
part of the human dynamic within nature. It is the imaginary faculty of
the mind that needs to be regulated by constant appraisal in natural logic.
Sonnet 146 addresses the ‘large cost’ of over-idealising the ‘soul’.
My sinful earth these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross:
Within be fed, without be rich no more,
So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.
The opening line identifies the ‘soul’ of traditional belief as the ‘poor
soul’, or pitiable soul, because its idealistic pride lies at the heart or the
‘centre’ of ‘sin’ on ‘earth’ (146.1). It is the centre of ‘my sinful earth’ from
which, contrary to nature, the ‘rebel powers’ are ‘arrayed’ (146.2). Once
associated with eternity, it now pines ‘within’ and suffers ‘dearth’ (146.3).
It atrophies through contradiction because it is inconsistent with the natural
logic of life. The ‘cost’ (146.4) of sustaining its credibility has been the excess
of ‘painting thy outward walls so costly gay’ (146.4). (Sonnet 20 questions
the idealistic youth about his ‘painted’ looks.)
The ‘large cost’ is disproportionate for lives of so short a span or ‘lease’
(146.5). (The ‘large cost’ recalls the ‘dear (or costly) religious love’ lamented
in sonnet 31.) The ‘fading mansions’ (146.6) of the body cannot sustain
expectations of everlasting life when, ironically, ‘worms’ are the final ‘inheritors’
of the excessive attention to appearances (146.7). They will ‘eat up
thy charge’ (146.8) or the body’s potential. Does the hope for life in posterity
need to fade with the ‘body’s end?’
If idealism selfishly allows the body’s capacity for ‘store’ or increase to
‘aggravate’ or worsen, it will ‘pine’ (146.10). It is not possible to ‘buy terms
divine’ by ‘selling hours of dross’ once the body, and the soul, are dead. The
answer is to increase and ‘be fed within’, rather than be ‘rich without’ by
feigning looks ‘divine’ (146.12). In the couplet the Poet asks, shall the poor
soul ‘feed on death’ as death ‘feeds on men’. Sonnet 11 stated that, if there
were no increase in ‘threescore’ years, there would be no humans left alive.
Once all humans are ‘dead’ there is no second chance at increase, because
there will be ‘no more dying then’.
The argument of sonnet 146 reinforces the increase argument from
sonnets 1 to 14. The Poet (once an idealistic youth) has learnt the logical
distinction between ‘I love’ and ‘I hate’. Contrary to the natural philosophy
of the Sonnets, traditional interpretation attempts to convert 146 into homage
to the eternal ‘soul’, just as it converts sonnets 116 and 129 into idealistic
statements of love and hate. In its discomfort with sonnet 146, it variously
emends the repetition of ‘my sinful earth’ (146.2).
My love is as a fever longing still,
After sonnets 145 and 146, which focus more particularly on the relation
between saying ‘love’ and ‘hate’, and the nature of the ‘soul’, sonnet 147
continues the examination of ‘truth’ (147.12) as the dynamic of ‘reason’
involving ‘thoughts’ and ‘discourse’, (147.9,11). Again the Poet derives the
logic of ‘truth’ from the logic of beauty from sonnets 127 to 137.
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please:
My reason the Physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve,
Desire is death, which Physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic mad with ever-more unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as mad men's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed.
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
Shakespeare’s approach differs from that of philosophers such as Plato and
Descartes who wish to separate ‘Reason’ (147.9) from its connections to the
world. Such philosophers are driven by a belief that the mind originates in
a state beyond this world. The consequence of their pious hope is an inconsistent
understanding of sensations (beauty) and ideas (truth). By contrast,
Shakespeare presents a consistent dynamic based in a more complete presentation
of the logic of nature.
Sonnet 147, which associates the word ‘truth’ with ‘thoughts’ and
‘discourse’ and ‘Reason past cure’ with ‘madness’, addresses the traditional
difficulties. The Poet, having recovered his sense of natural logic, is now
immersed in the dynamic of life with its good and evil and his relation to
the Mistress with its hate and love. But as his ‘love’ still tends towards the
‘disease’ of idealised truth, which was his previous ‘fever’ (147.1-2), it ‘feeds
on that’ which perpetuates the ‘ill’ by ‘preserving’ an ‘uncertain sickly
appetite to please’ (147.4).
The Poet’s nature-based ‘reason’ (147.5, lower case r), which is the
‘Physician’ to his ‘love’ (147.4), is ‘angry’ he does not follow its ‘prescriptions.
When ‘reason’ leaves him, like the unworldly idealist he desperately
approves (147.7) that ‘desire is death’, which the ‘Physic’ of natural reason
‘excepts’ (147.8) or overrules. But, as the Poet is ‘past cure’, the traditional
use of ‘Reason’ (147.9, capital R) is beyond reasoned ‘care’. The Poet at
first experiences ‘frantic mad…unrest’ (147.10) in which his ‘thoughts’ and
‘discourse’ appear like those of ‘mad’ men, because they are ‘at random from
the truth’ when it is ‘vainly expressed’ (147.12).
In the couplet, the Poet’s newfound sanity within madness is reassured
by the Mistress’ natural logic. He has ‘sworn’ the Mistress ‘fair’, and ‘thought’
her ‘bright’ though she seems ‘black as hell’ and ‘dark as night’. Shakespeare
does not accept the traditional cure of dissociating evil from good, because
it invariably leads from ‘I love’ to ‘I hate’. Instead, he articulates (as he does
in all the plays) an understanding of love and hate, and good and evil,
consistent with the dynamic of life. This has the benefit of controlling the
mind-based evil of over-idealised belief, which has led to the greatest evils
visited by humankind on humankind, and on nature.
O me! what eyes hath love put in my head,
The complete set of 154 sonnets records the Poet’s recovery of the priority
of nature and the female after millennia of male-based beliefs and apologetic
thought. Sonnet 147 identified the ‘thoughts’ and ‘discourse’ of mad
men as ‘truth vainly expressed’. It addressed the illogical type of ‘Reason’
based on an inconsistent understanding of ‘truth’ that brings ‘ill’ to everyday
affairs. Sonnet 148 takes up the issue by questioning illogical ‘judgment’
that ‘censures falsely’ what the ‘eyes’ see ‘aright’. It argues that judgment
flees when male-based ideas (‘all men’s’) replaces judgment based on the
Which have no correspondence with true sight,
Or if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote,
Love's eye is not so true as all men's: no,
How can it? O how can love's eye be true,
That is so vexed with watching and with tears?
No marvel then though I mistake my view,
The sun it self sees not, till heaven clears.
O cunning love, with tears thou keepst me blind,
Lest eyes well seeing thy foul faults should find.
When, in sonnet 148, the Poet exclaims ‘O me! what eyes’, he invokes
the image of the ‘eyes’ as he assesses the logical implications for his
‘judgment’. The eyes have been a pivotal image since sonnet 14 identified
‘thine eyes’ as the source of truth and beauty. When the Poet asks, ‘what
eyes hath love put in my head’ (148.1), he recognises the logical relation
between the physical eye of ‘love’ and the eyes of the ‘head’. But the logic
of the ‘eyes’ has ‘no correspondence’ to what is traditionally called ‘true sight’
(148.2). ‘Or’, if they do relate to the old views, then ‘where’ does the Poet’s
‘judgment’ flee (148.3) when his judgment ‘censures falsely’, preventing his
eyes from seeing ‘aright’ (148.4).
If what the Poet’s ‘eyes’ have ‘doted on’ is naturally ‘fair’ or beautiful but
has been censured as ‘false’, what ‘means the world’ when it says that natural
beauty ‘is not so’ (148.6). The ‘false eyes’ of the Poet’s male-based past says
his love is ‘false’ and not ‘fair’. They claim that the Mistress’ ‘love’s eye’ cannot
be ‘so true as all men’s’ (148.8). But either the logic based on ‘all men’ is
true, or the logic based on the Mistress’ ‘eye’ is true.
With an ironic ‘no, how can it?’ the Poet mocks the first option. How
can ‘love’s eye’ be ‘true’ when ‘all men’ find it ‘so vexed with watching and
with tears?’ (148.10) Because the Poet needs to reconcile the mind’s eye
(‘watching’) and the sensual eye (‘tears’, see 34.13) it is ‘no marvel’ that he
can ‘mistake my view’. He muses that the sun ‘sees not’ until the clouds
of heaven ‘clear’, or until the illusion of ‘heaven’ evaporates.
The ‘O cunning love’ in the couplet invokes the sensual eye whose ‘tears’
keep the Poet ‘blind’ lest his ‘eyes well seeing’, (the over censorial eyes based
in the mind) should ‘find’ the Mistress’ ‘foul faults’. The Mistress’ ‘cunning
love’ ensures the survival of humankind despite the tendency to see her
‘faults’ as ‘foul’. In an age dominated by the divisions wrought by the ‘jealous’
male God of the biblical Commandments, Shakespeare argued for the sanity
of nature-based thought and deed.
Canst thou O cruel, say I love thee not,
In the Mistress sonnets, Shakespeare considers the full range of emotions
(beauty) and ideas (truth) from foul to fair and from good to evil. By being
inclusive he avoids the illogicalities of an idealistic divide that categorises
things as the most or least beautiful or truthful. The immediate effect is a
consistent understanding not prey to the extremes of love and hate. The
Sonnet philosophy addresses the terror that occurs when what is promised
as the greatest good produces the greatest evil.
When I against my self with thee partake:
Do I not think on thee when I forgot
Am of my self, all tyrant for thy sake?
Who hateth thee that I do call my friend,
On whom frown'st thou that I do fawn upon,
Nay if thou lour'st on me do I not spend
Revenge upon myself with present moan?
What merit do I in my self respect,
That is so proud thy service to despise,
When all my best doth worship thy defect,
Commanded by the motion of thine eyes.
But love hate on for now I know thy mind,
Those that can see thou lov'st, and I am blind.
In sonnet 149, the Poet’s experience of the Mistress or female, who more
than the Master Mistress or male manifests the full complexity of nature,
is one of ‘love hate’ (149.13). Like nature, from which she logically derives,
the Mistress can appear ‘cruel’ (149.1), even after the Poet reforms his malebased
inclination toward idealistic prejudice to ‘partake’ of her deeper sensibility.
To think of her and forget ‘my self ’makes him a ‘tyrant for (her) sake’
(149.4). The Mistress ‘hateth’ the idealistic youth who the Poet calls ‘my
friend’ (149.5). She ‘frownst’ on him and ‘lourst’ on the Poet who does ‘fawn’
on him. But, the Poet asks, ‘do I not spend revenge upon myself ’ (149.8)
by acknowledging his own adolescent idealistic prejudices.
The Poet’s proud ‘self respect’ or selfish pride has no ‘merit’ if it causes
him to despise the ‘service’ (149.9) of the Mistress. After all, ‘commanded
by the motion of thine eyes’ (149.12) he does ‘all my best’ to ‘worship’ the
natural priority of the female that traditional beliefs condemn as a ‘defect’.
The motion of the Mistress’ eyes in the eye-to-eye relation between the
mind’s eye and the sexual eye, or her body and mind, ‘commands’ a realistic
In the couplet, the Poet accepts that the Mistress will ‘love hate on’
despite him. The Mistress gives her ‘love’ to those who can ‘see’ or respond
to the motion of her ‘eyes’. Even though the Poet has ‘now’ matured sufficiently
to ‘know’ the logic of truth and beauty evident in her ‘mind’, he
still feels ‘blind’ before her complete harmony with nature.
Because Shakespeare’s Sonnets are based in a consistent understanding of
human life that respects the priority of nature and the priority of the female
over the male, his understanding of truth and beauty is complex but never
contradictory. He is able to combine the two words love and hate as ‘love
hate’ because their logical relationship is not predetermined by an idealist
expectation for each word, but is based on the complete dynamic of human
understanding and human relationships in nature. Once the correct
relationship of female and male in nature is restored, and the logical significance
of increase is appreciated, truth and beauty follow consistently.
Oh from what power hast thou this powerful might,
In sonnet 150, before the Poet presents his definitive statement of the logic
of truth in sonnet 152, he asks the Mistress what ‘power’ (150.1) she uses
with ‘powerful might’ to correct his illogical idealised male-based expectations.
The question is rhetorical as the answer lies in the logical structure
of the set. Her power comes from nature, with its priority of female over
male and the priority of increase over truth and beauty.
With insufficiency my heart to sway,
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds,
There is such strength and warranty of skill,
That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate,
Oh though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state.
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.
The Poet further acknowledges the priority or ‘power’ of the female over
the male when he articulates the logic of beauty and truth in the Mistress
sequence. He then uses the logic of truth and beauty to criticise the
adolescent Master Mistress who religiously idealises truth and beauty. The
Poet acknowledges the depth and complexity of the Mistress’ insights
compared with the limitations of male-based expectations.
So, in sonnet 150, the Poet asks ‘from what power’ the Mistress gains
her ‘might’ to ‘sway his heart’ with ‘insufficiency’, (or with the ‘cruelty’ and
‘hate’ of sonnet 149). What in her use of contrary powers forces him to
realise the inadequacy of his dependence on ‘true sight’ (150.3) or the sight
based on overwrought ideals? How is it that he is now more willing to
‘swear’ that ‘brightness’ does not ‘grace the day’ (150.4)? The Mistress’ ‘insufficiency’
has taught him that the sun, a symbol of the ideal, blinds those who
focus on it alone.
The logic of truth, or saying, is the dynamic for reconciling contradictory
expectations. So, when the Poet ‘swears’ in line 4, he uses the most deliberate
form of saying. He asks how has the Mistress made him ‘swear’ away
his immature idealism by ‘this becoming of things ill’ (150.5). Ironically, it
is in the very ‘refuse’ of the Mistress’ ‘deeds’ that the Poet finds ‘such strength
and warranty of skill’ (150.7). The apparent contradiction is that ‘in my mind
thy worst all best exceeds’ (150.8). The beneficial effect of judiciously being
‘cruel’ and avowing hate ‘exceeds’ the evil consequences of always desiring
the ‘best’ or the unattainable ideal.
The Poet asks ‘who taught thee how to make me love thee more’ (150.9).
How can he ‘hear and see’ just cause of ‘hate’, when he now ‘loves’ what
idealists ‘abhor’ (150.11)? The Poet reforms his understanding of truth and
beauty to conform to natural logic so that the Mistress ‘shouldst not abhor’
his immature ‘state’ (150.12). In the couplet, the Mistress, considered
‘unworthy’by male-based idealists, has ‘raised’ the level of ‘love’ in the Poet.
This makes him ‘more worthy’ of being ‘beloved’ of her. In sonnet 145,
Shakespeare alluded to Anne Hathaway’s use of love and hate when she
matured his adolescent indulgence in the ideal.
Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Sonnet 151, one sonnet before the definitive presentation of ‘truth’ in sonnet
152, recalls the argument of the set. Following sonnet 150, where the Poet
identified the Mistress with the ‘power’ of nature, sonnet 151 begins with
the increase argument. It relates ‘love’ and ‘conscience’ according to the logic
established in sonnet 9, where the youth was advised not to commit
‘murdrous shame’ on himself. Logically, increase is the dynamic from which
conscience or the truth dynamic is ‘born’.
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love,
Then gentle cheater urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
For thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason,
My soul doth tell my body that he may,
Triumph in love, flesh stays no further reason.
But rising at thy name doth point out thee,
As his triumphant prize, proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call,
Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall.
So, when the Poet says ‘love is too young to know what conscience is’
(151.1), he reiterates the logic of the first 14 sonnets. ‘Love’ or beauty is
logically prior to ‘conscience’ or the dynamic of truth because ‘conscience
is born of love’ (150.2). The Poet urges the Mistress, who gently cheated
(151.3) him from his adolescent innocence, not to let her love for him now
blunt her conscience, or reduce her judgment to that of a love-struck youth.
The Mistress, by ‘betraying’ the Poet’s youthful idealism, enables him to
‘betray’ his supposed ‘nobler part’ (151.6). Only by accepting his ‘gross body’s
treason’ can he restore his natural logic. Because ‘flesh’ or love is prior to
the dictates of ‘reason’ or the mind, his ‘soul’ (151.7), or the idealising imagination,
can now ‘tell his body’ that it ‘may triumph in love’. The Poet’s flesh,
‘rising at thy name’ (151.9) or responding sexually to the Mistress, ‘point(s)
out thee’ as the ‘triumphant prize’ (151.10). He can be ‘proud’ of ‘this pride’
because it respects natural logic, whereas the ‘nobler’ soul of idealism inverts
it. The Poet is ‘contented’ to accept the priority of the Mistress, or be her
‘poor drudge’ (151.11), knowing he will, in ‘conscience’ and ‘pride’, ‘stand
in thy affairs’ and ‘fall by thy side’ (151.12).
In the couplet, the Poet, who has recovered the logical priority of
increase over truth and beauty, has ‘no want of conscience’ when he calls
the Mistress his ‘love’. For her ‘dear love’ (her ‘dear’ love has cost him his
costly idealism) he now ‘rises and falls’. The metaphor captures the logical
relation between the female and the male in the sexual dynamic, which in
turn generates the dynamic of beauty and truth, or love and conscience.
In sonnet 151, the Poet argues that ‘Love’, ‘conscience’, ‘soul’, and ‘flesh’
are part of his life, enabling the ‘love’ and ‘hate’ or the ‘true’ and ‘false’ of
the previous sonnets to be resolved naturally. The Poet has reconciled his
‘flesh’ and his ‘soul’ to the logical relation of female, male, increase and truth
and beauty. There is no inconsistency now between his sexual activity and
his mental processes. Together they rise and fall in the dynamic of nature.
In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn,
Sonnet 152 is the last of the Mistress sequence to specifically consider the
logic of truth or ‘saying’. Because the act of swearing or taking vows and
oaths is the most deliberate form of saying, the sonnet employs a cascade of
words associated with the logic of swearing. Forsworn occurs three times,
swear four times, oath four times, vow three times, perjury twice and truth
twice. And consistent with the derivation of the truth and beauty dynamic
from the ‘eyes’ in sonnet 14, in the last few lines the logic of truth is aligned
with the pivotal role of the ‘eyes’.
But thou art twice forsworn to me love swearing,
In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing:
But why of two oaths breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty: I am perjured most,
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee:
And all my honest faith in thee is lost.
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness:
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,
And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see.
For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie.
Sonnet 152 acknowledges the Poet’s advance from the selfish idealism
of the Master Mistress to a loving regard for the Mistress. To love the Mistress
he has had to ‘forswear’ (152.1) or break the vows of his idealistic faith. But
as he notes, the Mistress must have ‘twice forsworn’ herself to swear her love
for him. She breaks her ‘bed vow’ by forswearing her virginity, and ‘tears’
her ‘new faith’ with ‘new hate after new love bearing’ (152.4). The young
Poet expected undying love without hate, but she continues to ‘hate’ the
illogicality of male-based idealism.
But, the Poet admits, if the Mistress breaks two oaths, then he breaks
twenty. He is ‘perjured most’ (152.6) because he has forsworn the oaths of
an idealistic faith. He breaks its ‘vows’ against nature, against the priority
of the female, and against the logic of truth and beauty. With adolescent
‘blindness’ he had forsworn against her ‘deep kindness’, her ‘love’, her ‘truth’
and her ‘constancy’ (152.10). He cannot have an ‘honest faith’ (152.9) if he
‘misuses’ her. In the hope of ‘enlightening’ the Mistress, he had given his
eyes to ‘blindness’ (152.11), distorting truth and beauty by denying the significance
of the sexual dynamic in nature. He ‘made them swear’ against the
‘thing they see’ (152.12) or against the natural logic of the world.
In the couplet, the Poet admits he had ‘sworn’ the Mistress ‘fair’. He
wanted her to be incapable of hate, or wrong. His idealistic vows had
‘perjured’ the ‘eye’, or the logical relation between the sexual dynamic and
truth and beauty. By ‘swearing’ against the ‘truth’ so foul a ‘lie’, he ‘perjured’
his understanding of the natural logic of life.
Sonnet 152, with its focus on truth and swearing, is the culmination of
the presentation of the beauty and truth dynamic. The Poet’s appreciation
of beauty and truth, which enables him to write mythic poetry based in
natural logic, derives from his realisation that the Mistress is the logical source
of beauty (127 to 137) and truth (137 to 152).
Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep,
The final two sonnets of the Mistress sequence, and the last two of the set,
differ from the other sonnets. They convert a Greek/Roman epigram, about
Cupid’s encounter with a maid of Goddess Diana, into expressions of the
Sonnet philosophy. In Shakespeare’s day, classical epigrams often appeared
after a sequence of sonnets and, as in Q, they were followed by a complaint
or similar poem. Shakespeare took an original epigram and adapted it to
the Sonnet logic. Sonnets 153 and 154 show succinctly what A Lover’s
Complaint does more fully. Together they provide examples of the use of
Shakespeare’s philosophy, and coincidentally show how Shakespeare transforms
the literary and historical sources for his plays and poems into an
expression of his philosophy.
A maid of Diane's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground:
Which borrowed from this holy fire of love,
A dateless lively heat still to endure,
And grew a seething bath which men yet prove,
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure:
But at my mistress' eye love's brand new fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast,
I sick withal the help of bath desired,
And thither hied a sad distempered guest.
But found no cure, the bath for my help lies,
Where Cupid got new fire; my mistress' eye.
Shakespeare, though, breaks with tradition by including his two epigrammatic
sonnets within the set. They provide a final curtain to the set, which
would otherwise have ended with the conclusion of the beauty and truth
dynamic of sonnets 127 to 152. They act both as a pivot that leads back to
the increase sonnets at the beginning of the set, and as a springboard for the
natural philosophy that forms the basis of his other works.
In sonnet 153, when Cupid falls asleep with his brand by his side (153.1)
a ‘maid of Diane’s’ takes advantage of his ‘love kindling fire’ and ‘steeps’ it
in her ‘cold valley fountain’ (153.4). She ‘borrows’ from the ‘holy fire’ of
love a ‘dateless lively heat still to endure’ (153.6) or increase. The maid ‘grew
a seething bath’, which ‘men’ could use to cure their ‘strange maladies’ or
estrangement from the ‘sovereign’ female (153.8).
‘But’, when the ‘Mistress’ eye’ first ‘fired’ the Poet’s boyish (126.1) or
youthful ‘brand’, he would ‘trial’ it by touching his Poet’s ‘breast’. Even
though the young Poet was ‘sick’ and needed or ‘desired’ the help of the
Mistress’ ‘bath’, he followed his youthful inclination like a ‘sad distempered
guest’. The couplet reveals that the Poet found ‘no cure’ in the idealistic selflove
of youth. Instead, his ‘help lies’ in the ‘bath’ where Cupid ‘got new
fire:’ in ‘my Mistress’ eye’. Editors change the ‘eye’ to ‘eyes’, ignoring the
precedent of the single ‘eye’ in line 9.
The eroticism of sonnets 153 and 154 is consistent with the mythic logic
of the Sonnets. In the Sonnets, Shakespeare argues that the erotic derives from
the sexual and not vice versa. The allusiveness of the imagery, which does
not describe the sexual act but evokes it poetically, demonstrates
Shakespeare’s awareness of the erotic logic of human expression. From the
erotic logic inherent in all mythologies, he derives the logical conditions
for mythic writing consistent with the priority of nature.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005