the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shakespeare sonnet 138

Finding double meaning in Shakespeare's sonnets isn't hard, but finding two alternate interpretation is kind of tricky. In sonnet 138, the first lines of "When my love swears that she is made of truth,/ I do believe her, though I know she lies," show the basic meaning of the sonnet. The two of them are verbally lying to each other, but in actuality lying to themselves.
The lover lies that she is faithful, and the poet lies that he is young. Shakespeare says that she wouldn't tell such an outrageous lie without thinking that her lover was so naive. Then in fact, she was believes that her lover is so young, even when he is not so. The poet admits that he believes her lie, proving to an extent that he is that naive.

This is both flattering to themselves; for the man to think he has a faithful lover and that the lover is attractive enough for a younger man. It is also easier to think better of themselves, that he is younger and that she is a loyal and true. Therefore Shakespeare is using this sonnet to say that white lies and willing guillibility preserve love rather than hinder it.

Then again, Shakespeare isn't as simple to be summed up in one sentence. The alternative interpretation is that Shakespeare is mocking the naivete of the reader for believing everything he writes. He hints that the only contradiction to the faithfulness (or lack thereof) of the lady is only from the poet in lines 9 and 10. Especially, "wherefore say not I that I am old?" The poet merely stresses that he is not some untutored youth, but that could just be his ego clarifying that he is not so silly. The accusations made at both the lovers comes only from one source and therefore, the reader must be more wary of the poet than of the lovers of each other. Line 4 "unlearned in the world's false sublteties" seems to be a direct jibe at us, rather than at the characters in the sonnet, since the lies we tell are more than just the plain opposite of what we say. Then this sonnet isn't about white lies to comfort love, but an accurate perception of reality that isn't always as it seems.


Blogger Daniel Lupton said...

Christina, I think this is an excellent post and I find your second interpretation in particular fascinating. I do wish you'd written one more paragraph that brought these interpretations together, because I think they fit together quite nicely. Perhaps poetry works the same way that love does, i.e. by dazzling the senses on a superficial level without conveying the deeper meaning in the way that we think it does. Great job.

11:19 AM  

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