W William Shakespeare

Sonnet 140 by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 140,’ also known as ‘Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press,’ contains the speaker’s threats towards the Dark Lady. He says he will expose her affairs and flirtatious behavior if she doesn’t change her ways.

Sonnet 140′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is part of the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets. They deal with the speaker, usually considered to be the Bard himself, and his relationship with his mistress, the Dark Lady. This particular sonnet marks an important decline in their relationship. The speaker even compares himself to a dying man at one point.

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
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.

Sonnet 140 by William Shakespeare
Sonnet 140 by William Shakespeare


Summary

’Sonnet 140’ by William Shakespeare contains the speaker’s threats towards the Dark Lady if she doesn’t change her behavior.

He issues several threats throughout the fourteen lines of this poem. He tells her that it’s time she starts treating him better or he is going to have to tell everyone about her behavior. She flirts with men everywhere and is far from chaste. He knows that they’ll believe him and that any reputation she has left will be ruined. It’s his desire that she stop looking at other men when they’re out together and reserve her eyes for him. 

Themes 

Throughout this poem, Shakespeare engages with themes of deceit and love. The poet’s speaker, who is likely the poet himself, is in a difficult position. He fell for a woman whose incredibly beautiful but is flawed. She has no qualms about flirting with as many different men as possible. She has many lovers, among whom the speaker is only one. This is something that bothers him at this point. He wants to be the only one but since they’re both continually lying to one another it’s hard for them to build any kind of real relationship.

Structure and Form 

‘Sonnet 140’ is a traditional Shakespearean sonnet that follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Readers will likely take note of the imperfect rhymes at the ends of lines five and seven. This is something that occurs in other Shakespearean sonnets. Depending on how these lines are pronounced, the rhyme varies. Shakespeare also uses iambic pentameter in this piece. This means that the lines conform to a metrical pattern in which they vary between unstressed and stressed beats. There are five pairs per line.

Literary Devices 

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 140’. These include but are not limited to examples of: 

  • Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “pity” and “pain” in line four and “No news” in line eight.
  • 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 three and four.
  • Simile: in the second quatrain the poet’s speaker compares himself to a dying man and the Dark Lady to a doctor who gives him good news despite his illness.
  • Metaphor: in the final lines, he compares her straying eye to a “proud heart” that goes “wide” when they are out in public. She usually looks at and flirts with other men. 


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-4

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press

My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;

Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express

The manner of my pity-wanting pain.

In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 140,’ the speaker begins by alluding the to the worsening state of his relationship with the Dark Lady. As the previous sonnets explained, she’s cruel to him, they continually lie to one another, and she has many other lovers. The latter is something that the speaker has gone back and forth about. Sometimes it bothers him while other times he is happy to be counted among their number. 

The speaker tells the Dark Lady that he’s going to publicly humiliate her unless she at least attempts to love him, even if its a facade. He cautions her not to flirt publicly with other men, something she’s always done. She shouldn’t press his “patience with too much disdain.” There’s only so much he can take. If she does, he might have to speak out about his pain. 

Lines 5-8 

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;

In the next four lines, the speaker goes on to say he’d rather she tell him she loves him (even if she doesn’t). This will at least make him feel better about their situation. He compares her to a doctor who tells a man near death that he’s healthy when there’s nothing he can do for him. The doctor is bringing the dying man some peace in his final moments. He feels that he’s in a similar situation. It appears that their relationship is nearing its end. 

Lines 9-14

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.

In the third and final quatrain, the speaker issues another threat to the Dark Lady. He tells her that he will slander her character. His “madness might speak ill of thee,” if she doesn’t treat him better. She should rethink how she’s been treating him, get on a better path, and have eyes only for him. Otherwise, his words will spread and everyone is going to believe him. When they’re together, he’s the only one she should pay any attention to even if her “proud heart” goes “wide.” 

FAQs

What are the themes of ‘Sonnet 140?’ 

In this sonnet, Shakespeare engages with themes of deceit and love. 

What is ‘Sonnet 140’ about? 

‘Sonnet 140’ is about the decline of the relationship between the Dark Lady and the speaker. He threatens to slander her if she doesn’t remain faithful to him.

What rhyme scheme did Shakespeare use in ‘Sonnet 140?’ 

In ‘Sonnet 140’ Shakespeare used a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

What metrical pattern did Shakespeare use in ‘Sonnet 140?’ 

Shakespeare used iambic pentameter in ‘Sonnet 140.’

What is Shakespeare’s most popular sonnet?

His most popular sonnet is ‘Sonnet 18,’ also known as ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’

 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 140’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

  • Sonnet 103’ – describes how useless and feeble words are to describe his love for the Fair Youth.
  • Sonnet 92’ – discusses the fact that the speaker is going to live and die happily because of his relationship with the Fair Youth.
  • Sonnet 76– is an upbeat poem that discusses the speaker’s love for the Youth and explores the poet’s writing.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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