‘Sonnet 150‘ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is one of several poems in the ‘Dark Lady’ sequence of sonnets. ‘Sonnet 150’ how completely the Dark Lady controls the speaker. He questions her about this, trying to figure out how he came to be in this state of mind. His life is entirely based on her whims.
Explore Sonnet 150
’Sonnet 150’ by William Shakespeare contains several questions the speaker addresses to his mistress, the Dark Lady.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 150,’ the speaker begins by asking the Dark Lady, a woman he’s fallen obsessively in love with, how she’s managed to get so much control over his heart. She convinces him what he thinks is true is untrue and makes him believe his eyes are lying to him. The Dark Lady is nothing but faults, but even her worst parts seem better than other people’s greatest qualities. The speaker also tells the Dark Lady, as the poem comes to a close, that he deserves to be loved by her because it was her “unworthiness” that made him love her in the first place.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of love. The speaker makes it clear that he loves the Dark Lady no matter what she does. She has been cruel to him throughout their whole relationship, but somehow that’s just made him love her more. He is continually chasing after her, sure that another sacrifice will make all the difference on his part. But, the more consumed he becomes with her, the less interested she is in him. His one-sided love has consumed his life, resulting in his alienation from friends and a continual state of depression.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 150’ by William Shakespeare is a Shakespearean sonnet. This means that it contains fourteen lines. These are divided into two quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. They rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Shakespeare popularized this pattern, and it’s common to see later sonnets following the same rhyme scheme. The poem is also written in iambic pentameter.
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 twelfth line is a particularly good example. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 150’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- 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 lines.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “power” and “powerful” in line one and “doth” and “day” in line four.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, line eight reads: “That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?”
O! from what power hast thou this powerful might,
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?
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 150,’ the speaker begins with an exclamation. He is talking to the Dark Lady, his mistress, something he’s been doing since ‘Sonnet 127.’ He asks her how she ever came across the power to control his heart. She has so much sway over him that it’s incredible. She has insufficiencies or inadequacies, and still, she’s able to control him. Furthermore, she’s able to make him “give the lie to [his] true sight” or to disbelieve what his eyes tell him is true. He gives swearing that the day isn’t bright when it is, as an example. This is all related back to the Dark Lady’s ability to do terrible things but continually seem perfect in the speaker’s eyes.
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
He addresses the fact that the Dark Lady always seems attractive to him in the next quatrain. He asks her another question, one that’s spread across all four lines. Here, he wonders how she got the “skill” to make her bad deeds appear better than everyone else’s best. In her worst moments, she still seems better and more appealing than others do. This is a troubling part of their relationship that has allowed the Dark Lady to control the speaker.
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O! 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 third and final quatrain begins with yet another question. This time he asks her “Who” it was who taught her to make him love her even when she only really gives him reasons to hate her. The speaker then brings in an idea from a recent sonnet. He knows that his obsession with her is not helping his chances. He wishes that she wouldn’t join in with other people in hating him just because he loves her.
The final couplet contains the speaker’s assertion that he deserves to be loved by her because it was her “unworthiness” that made him love her in the first place. This reaches all the way back to the first sonnets in the Dark Lady series. He was originally drawn to her because she was different, “dark,” and poorly judged by others.
Some believe that the speaker in all 154 sonnets is William Shakespeare himself, although there is no definitive proof that this is the case. His focus on writing and composing the early Fair Youth sonnets makes it feel likely, though.
The tone is questioning and sorrowful. The speaker is deeply infatuated with the Dark Lady, and he spends the lines of this sonnet, and many others, wishing that she could be his. He asks her several questions in this poem that reveal his desire to be loved by her.
The meaning is that even if you love someone for every part of their personality, the good and the bad, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to love you back. The Dark Lady doesn’t love the speaker for this exact reason.
The volta, or turn, appears between the twelfth and thirteenth lines. Or between the final quatrain and the couplet. This is traditionally where Shakespeare changed ideas, speakers, etc., in his poetry. In this case, it changes from questioning the Dark Lady to asserting what he thinks he deserves from her.
The mood is despairing and concerned. Other readers might find themselves pitying the speaker or judging him for his loss of self-confidence and total surrender to the Dark Lady.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 150’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 147’ – expresses the speaker’s loss of control over his body and mind. The Dark Lady has consumed his life like an illness.
- ‘Sonnet 135’ – is an unusual sonnet within Shakespeare’s oeuvre. It expresses the speaker’s desire to sleep with the Dark Lady and counted among her many lovers.
- ‘Sonnet 145’ – details a woman’s changing regard for the speaker. It’s a simple poem with good examples of figurative language.