If a cheater or adulterer should ever have the chutzpah to beg for forgiveness, he or she might do well to quote Sonnet 110. Here we find a very eloquent argument laying out admittance of infidelities, acknowledgement of bad character, and a fervent assurance that the recipient of this Sonnet–the Young Man–is the best love the Poet’s ever known. Please take me back!
Alas, ’tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Most true it is that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely: but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
If the 154 sonnets can be taken as any kind of narrative, and if their numbering is indeed anything close to what Shakespeare intended (their original publication occurred without Shakespeare’s permission), then this plea for forgiveness works for a while: the Young Man does seem to take the Poet back, and things sort of progress to the one of the most stunning of all the sonnets, number 116. But it is late in the Young Man sequence of sonnets, and soon the verses will veer off toward the Dark Lady. The long and short of it this: the plea for forgiveness is more about the Poet than the Young Man.
Truth and proving one’s true intentions are the big question here. The Poet was untruthful, and the idea of truth is raised multiple times as well as a plea to let the Poet prove it:
“Alas, ‘tis true…”
“Most true it is that I have look’d on truth”
“And worse essay proved thee my best of love.”
“I never more will grind / On newer proof…”
My modern advice to all lovers is to stay true to your “most most loving breast.” Leave the agony of fidelity to the Poets. Of course, people don’t, which is another reason why these very old verses still speak to us today.
The image is the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown’s depiction of ‘Romeo and Juliet, c. 1870. It appears that with Shakespeare, whenever love was free of any infidelity, the lover themselves were doomed.