‘Sonnet 42,’ also known as ‘That thou hast her it is not all my grief,’ number forty-two of one hundred fifty-four that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence of sonnets (numbers one through one hundred twenty-six). In this particular poem, the speaker discusses the Fair Youth’s betrayal of him. The youth greatly disappointed the speaker by sleeping with his mistress. This is something that he has been discussing in the previous stanzas and which he recently decided to forgive the youth for.
The speaker goes through the first twelve lines of this poem debating what is going to happen to the love in his life. He’s no longer mad at the youth, but he is acknowledging the fact that he has been hurt. If the mistress loves the youth then he’s lost that love, but is the youth loves the mistress back then he has lost everything. In the final two lines of ‘Sonnet 42,’ the speaker decides that neither of these things need to be true. Instead, since he and the youth are really the same people, in heart and mind, the mistress never cheated and the speaker has lost nothing.
‘Sonnet 42’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this case, the turn is quite obvious. In it, the speaker shifts his perspective on the situation entirely.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 42’. These include but are not limited to alliteration and sibilance. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “loss” and “love” in line four and “friend” and “flatt’ry” in lines thirteen and fourteen.
Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For example, “sake,” “Suff’ring” and “sake” in lines seven and eight
That thou hast her it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 42,’ the speaker begins by addressing the fact that the youth now has his mistress. The youth “hast her” but this isn’t the only reason that the speaker is hurt. It is not all of his grief. He makes sure the youth is aware in the second line that he did love his mistress dearly.
The thing that really bothers the speaker now is that the mistress has the youth. This is a true loss of love that the speaker is suffering. It touches him “more nearly” or more deeply than the initial betrayal.
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her because thou knowst I love her;
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suff’ring my friend for my sake to approve her.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 41,’ the speaker refers to the youth and the mistress as “Loving offenders”. He is not furious at them, as others might be. Instead, he’s readily acknowledging the love that the two might share, as well as that which he has lost. They are criminals in love with one another or at least sharing loving moments.
The speaker asserts that the youth loves the mistress because the speaker does. There is a similarity in their passions that is coinciding with this one woman. He also believes that she loves the youth because she knows that the youth is the speaker’s friends.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross.
But here’s the joy; my friend and I are one;
Sweet flatt’ry! Then she loves but me alone.
In the final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 42,’ the speaker adds that if he loses the youth, his friend, then its a win for “her”. But, if he loses her then the youth will have gained something. There is love going on beyond his control. He knows they might both find each other and then he loses everyone he loves. Both sides of this equation cause him pain.
Shakespeare uses the final two lines of the poem, known as a couplet, to change up the speaker’s tone and his opinion. This often happens in Shakespearean poems and is known as the “turn” or volta, in Italian. The turn brings with it a shift in how the speaker is considering the situation. Rather than mount what he has lost, he returns to a prior way of thinking. He considers himself and the youth to be one. Of one mind and one body. Therefore, even if he loses his mistress to the youth he isn’t really losing anything. She actually still loves him.