‘Sonnet 136′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is part of the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets. They deal with the speaker (who is usually considered to be William Shakespeare himself) and his relationship with his mistress, the Dark Lady. This particular sonnet is noted for its use of the word “Will,” a feature that’s also seen in ‘Sonnet 135.’ Readers might be surprised at how outwardly sexual this sonnet is in comparison to some of the others in the series, especially those about the Fair Youth.
Explore Sonnet 136
This sonnet is one of a few that is particularly sexual in nature. In it, the speaker acknowledges his lust for the Dark Lady and tries different ways to get her into bed with him. He uses his name as a pun to talk about his lust and her own. He’s convinced that she should accept him as a lover because she has so many others.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 136’ by William Shakespeare is a traditional sonnet that follows the pattern Shakespeare popularized. It contains fourteen lines that are divided into two quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. They rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG as the vast majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets do.
In iambic pentameter, each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet. The seventh line is a particularly good example of iambic pentameter.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 136’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “Swear” and “soul” in line two and “love” and “love,” and “far” and “fulfill” in line four.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines seven and eight.
- Pun: throughout the poem, the speaker uses a pun with his name, “Will,” and slang for the male sex organ. It is also used as an allusion to sexual desire, complicating the poem.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet puts a pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil” and “And then thou lov’st me,—for my name is Will.”
If thy soul check thee that I come so near
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, fulfil.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 136,’ the speaker begins by speaking to the Dark Lady, telling her that if her soul pushes him away, then she can still claim it isn’t a conscious thought. She can still swear that the speaker, “I,” is her “Will.” Depending on how one reads these “Will” sonnets, the word “will” may refer to the poet himself, or in different instances, to male and female sexual organs and desire. In this case, he might be thinking about her desire for him or maybe speaking about the poet himself. He belongs to her, and/her he is an integral part of what she sexually desires.
Will will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, 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:
In the following four lines, the speaker uses “Will” a couple more times. It’s used again to refer to the speaker’s name and to the Lady’s desire. He says that he can “fulfil” her desire in every way that word might be interpreted. The speaker also relates this quatrain back to his thoughts from the previous. The Dark Lady has a large number of lovers, something that only bothers the speaker when he can’t count himself among them. He doesn’t understand why this should be the case. The eighth line lists “one” as not a number. It’s a single thing, not a numbered thing. This might be an attempt on the speaker’s part to bring the Lady and himself together as “one,” a singular being.
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy stores’ account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lov’st me,—for my name is Will.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 136,’ the speaker uses “number” in its traditional form as well as a slang term for vagina. He asks that she hold him and let him please her as he can. He tried to woo her in the traditional way, but now he’s trying to charm her into bed. He’ll just be one more to add to her number of lovers, something that shouldn’t really bother her.
In the final couplet, the speaker says that he hopes his name becomes her love. His desire for her and his name is the same, “Will.” He suggests that if she knows him, then she’s going to understand how he feels about her.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 136’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 7’ – addresses the Youth’s beauty and how he should have children to preserve it.
- ‘Sonnet 29‘ –is one of several poems dedicated to the unknown “Fair Youth.” The poet despairs over how the Youth sees him.
- ‘Sonnet 36’ – explores how the speaker and the Fair Youth are no longer going to be able to see one another.
- ‘Sonnet 42‘ – is the final poem in the series of “betrayal sonnets” that dresses the youth’s misdeed, sleeping with the speaker’s mistress.