Shakespeare Sonnet 142: "Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate"

Updated on February 13, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 142

The speaker continues to cajole this woman into treating him with some semblance of kindness. His legal and financial metaphors fit the severity of his tone as well as the dramatic importance of the suffering of his sad heart. He seems to know that a day of reckoning is coming to both of them, as he continues to beg her to abandon her evil ways.

Sonnet 142

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;
Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profan’d their scarlet ornaments
And seal’d false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robb’d others’ beds’ revenues of their rents.
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!

Reading of Sonnet 142

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 142 employs financial and legal metaphors to denounce the sins of the dark lady, as he accounts for his own sins against his soul.

First Quatrain: Sad State of Affairs

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 sonnet 142, addressing the mistress, the speaker is again complaining about the sad state of their affair. He chortles that his sin is love, a term he uses as a euphemism for lust. Yet as bad as his sin is, the sin of the mistress is worse because she is guilty of just plain "hate," which he also euphemizes by qualifying the phrase with a sarcastic "dear virtue."

Then the speaker exclaims, "O!," and commands her to compare the sins, which he calls their "state," and insists that the comparison will reveal his state superior to hers. At least he can euphemize his lust and call it "love"; she cannot convert hate into love, regardless of her disingenuousness.

Second Quatrain: Accusations

Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profan’d their scarlet ornaments
And seal’d false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robb’d others’ beds’ revenues of their rents.

The speaker then suggests an alternative that if she concludes the comparison and still prevaricates with "those lips of thine," it is because her lips have "profan’d their scarlet ornaments." Again, he is accusing her of giving herself promiscuously to others: she has "seal’d false bond" with other men, to whom he lies as often as she does with him. (Pun intended.)

The woman has "[r]obb’d others’ beds’ revenues of their rents." This metaphoric drama likely is a thinly veiled accusation of prostitution. This speaker seems to be dragging his heart and mind through the mud for this woman, and she still treats him with disdain, which he undoubtedly realizes he has earned.

Third Quatrain: Breaking Spiritual Laws

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.

The speaker speculates that if what she is doing is legal, then his desire for her is also legal. This conjecture is a pretentious way of stating what the speaker already knows: that their relationship is not "lawful." He is breaking spiritual laws that will keep his soul in bondage, and he knows it.

The clever speaker is sure that she does not know this, because she is bound tightly to worldliness. So he offers his conditional ploy in order to suggest that she should, therefore, take pity on him; after all, there may come a time when she will also long for pity.

The Couplet: The Law of Karma

If thou dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
By self-example mayst thou be denied!

Finally, the speaker asserts that if the woman fails to pity him and remove his pain and suffering in their relationship, she will eventually find herself in the same position he is. She will be denied all pity and comfort as she has denied him. He tells her that her chickens will come home to roost.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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