Shakespeare loved puns. But not all of his puns had to be humorous. In this melancholy and desolate sonnet, he endows the word ‘love’ with at least five or six shades of meaning: The Poet’s love for his lover; his lover’s love for him; the two actual different lovers themselves (besides the Poet himself); lust, or the carnal act of love-making; and the generic attribution referring all lovers in the word. For in this sonnet we find a love triangle mixed into the tangle of the emotions and betrayals:


Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes. 

Why on earth would Shakespeare decide to play on one word, weaving it through in all kinds of different confusing ways? Just about everything Shakespeare did was intentional. Any us who’ve ever been in throes of a new love affair, are experiencing trouble in an established relationship or, sadly, are involved in the betrayal of love, roil about with a sense of confusion and despair. Our emotions are very mixed.

In the end the Poet seems to eek out a half-hearted and woefully inadequate solution to this: 

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes. 

Your betrayal is going to ruin me, but let’s still remain friends. 

The image is a photograph of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Anne was Shakespeare’s wife, and evidence shows that Will and Anne were estranged for years. It was very likely an unhappy love.  

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