‘Sonnet 142′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is part of the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets. They deal with the speaker and his relationship with his mistress, the Dark Lady. ‘Sonnet 142’ demonstrates how unhealthy the affair has become. It is based entirely on deceit, and the Lady continues to sleep with other men. Depending on one’s interpretation of these sonnets, William Shakespeare may have been the one engaged in the affair.
Explore Sonnet 142
’Sonnet 142’ by William Shakespeare is about the speaker’s relationship with the Dark Lady and how their affair is spiraling.
In the poem’s first lines, the speaker begins by comparing his lust/love for her to the Dark Lady’s disinterest in him. He continues to lust after her despite how cruel she is to him and the way she continually sleeps with other men. He also compares his love for her to her love for the many suitors she entertains. By the end of the poem, despite his distressed emotional state, he continues to love her.
Throughout this piece, Shakespeare engages with numerous themes. The most prominent are love and deceit. This sonnet is one of many that’s based on these themes due to the terrible relationship the Dark Lady and the speaker are maintaining. The speaker loves her (or is at least “in lust” with her), and she has no regard for his emotions. He continues to pine after her, and she continues to sleep with whomever she wants. The two have based their relationship on lies, and its progression reflects that.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 142’ is a traditional Shakespearean sonnet that follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. 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.
Readers should also note the “turn” between lines twelve and thirteen. The final rhyming couplet stands out from the rest of the lines and offers the reader a conclusion to the poem. But not a conclusion to the affair.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 142’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “sin” and “sinful” in line two and “thou” and “thine” in line three.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines six and seven as well as nine and ten.
- Caesura: seen through the use of pauses in the middle of lines. For example, “Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows.”
Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,
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;
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 142,’ the speaker begins by addressing the Dark Lady, his mistress. This woman has been on the speaker’s mind for several sonnets now, as has her bad behavior. He’s continuing to complain about the way she acts towards him and other men. Their relationship is not in a good state.
These lines describe the speaker’s love as a “sin.” (It’s likely he was truly thinking about lust.) His “love” or lust” is unworthy of her, he thinks, so he understands why “hatred” is her best virtue. He can’t help how he feels about her, and it bugs him that he can’t control it. In the next lines, he adds that although his love is truly lust, at least it’s better than her hate.
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.
He considers how strange it is that he might be reprimanded by her lips, those who have “profaned their scarlet ornaments” by giving kisses to undeserving men. She continues to sleep with and flirt with other men, and this reflects poorly on her morals. He goes on, using monetary language with “Robbed,” “revenues,” and “rent” to describe how she’s treated other men and the speaker.
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 dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
By self-example mayst thou be denied.
In the third and final quatrain, the speaker says that he loves her in the same way that she loves her suitors and those she sleeps with. He loves her as artificially as she loves others. It is all based on lust. In the final lines, he says that if she carries on the way she has been and continues to expect pity, she’ll be disappointed. She’s setting a poor example. Despite this, he continues to love her and remains in a tenuous position, ready to be abandoned by her for good.
In this sonnet, Shakespeare engages with themes of deceit and love.
‘Sonnet 142’ is about the speaker’s relationship with his mistress and their love/sin.
Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet is ‘Sonnet 18,’ also known as ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
The most common theme in a sonnet is love, followed closely by death or loss.
A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem. It can use different rhyme schemes and metrical patterns. Usually, there are ten syllables per line.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 142’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 55’ – is about the ravages of time and what outlasts one’s life.
- ‘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.