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Shakespeare Sonnet 152: "In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 152: "In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn"

In the first line of sonnet 152 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker commits the grammatical sin of a dangling participle: "In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn"—the prepositional modifying phrase "in loving thee" requires that element modified be "thou." Of course, that makes no sense. The speaker is not saying that the addressee, the dark lady, is loving herself.

The proper modified element is, of course, "I" which appears in the clause "I am forsworn." The grammatical constructions of this poet are nearly pristine in their correct usage. He, no doubt, is relying on the second line to clear up the misunderstanding that his dangling participle causes.

Sonnet 152: "In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn"

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjur’d most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjur’d I,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!

Reading of Sonnet 152

Commentary

The speaker concludes his "dark lady" subsequence by issuing the same complaint with which he began the sequence. While the two final sonnets—153 and 154—remain technically part of the "Dark Lady" thematic group, they function differently, and sonnet 152 is actually the final sonnet to address the lady directly.

First Quatrain: Legalese and Love

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.

As he has done many times before, the speaker resorts to legal terminology as he continues winding up his dramatic study of his tumultuous relationship with the dark lady. He reminds her that she already knows he has sworn to love her, but then he adds a paradoxical statement, "But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing." She broke her vow to be sexually faithful by bedding other men, and then she broke her vow to love him by telling him she hates him.

Second Quatrain: Lost Faith

But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjur’d most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:

The speaker then poses the question, why should I blame you for breaking two vows when I break twenty? He claims that he is "perjur’d most" or that he has told more lies than she has. He claims that on the one hand, he makes his vows only to "misuse thee." Yet on the other, all the faith he has in her "is lost."

Third Quatrain: Bestowing Unmerited Qualities

For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;

It turns out that the speaker’s "oaths" held the noble purpose of giving the woman all those qualities that she lacks: love, truth, constancy. He has attempted repeatedly to elicit from her "deep kindness" all of these noble qualities. By showing her how to trust, he had hoped she would become trustworthy.

In addition, the disheartened speaker had hoped to enlighten her by opening her eyes to more decent ways of behaving, but he ultimately found himself lying to himself, trying to convince his own eyes that what they saw was false, that he pretended for the sake of his misplaced affection for this woman.

The Couplet: Swearing and Lying

For I have sworn thee fair; more perjur’d I,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!

The speaker has many times declared that the woman was "fair," and he now admits that such swearing made him a liar. He committed perjury against truth by swearing to "so foul a lie." The conclusion of the relationship is achieved through the implied finality of the legalese that denounces for the last time the source of falsehood and treachery.

Katherine Chiljan – Origins of the Pen Name, "William Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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