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

Updated on April 20, 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 152

In the first line of sonnet 152, 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
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

Sonnet 152 is the final sonnet that directly addresses the "dark lady"; it is quite fitting that it closes with the same complaint he has long issued against the woman.

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 artistic study of his relationship with the dark lady. He reminds her that she already knows he has sworn to love her, but then he adds a paradoxical, "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, he 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.

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

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 (Traditionally classified as "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.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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