Sonnet 149

One of the many amazing things about Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 sonnets is that taken together and in the order numbered (a numbering Shakespeare never publically contested after they were published without his permission) is the sense of narrative. These sonnets tell a tale. Near the end, things come to a head. In the 149th sonnet, the Poet complains with a kind of emotional madness against the Dark Lady:

149

Canst thou, O cruel! say I love thee not,
When I against myself with thee partake?
Do I not think on thee, when I forgot
Am of myself, all tyrant, for thy sake?
Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
On whom frown’st thou that I do fawn upon?
Nay, if thou lour’st on me, do I not spend
Revenge upon myself with present moan?
What merit do I in myself respect,
That is so proud thy service to despise,
When all my best doth worship thy defect,
Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?
But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind;
Those that can see thou lovest, and I am blind.

This sonnet is basically a take-down of everything that’s wrong with the Poet and Dark Lady’s relationship; it’s so dysfunctional it could be a popular movie today:

  • You are so cruel – ‘O cruel!’
  • You claim I don’t love you even though I take sides against myself – ‘When I against myself with thee partake?’
  • I think of you and never of myself – ‘Do I not think on thee, when I forgot / Am of myself’
  • Anyone who hates you is no friend of mine – ‘Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?’
  • If you scowl at me, I punish myself – ‘if thou lour’st on me, do I not spend / Revenge upon myself with present moan?’
  • The best in me worships the worst in you – ‘all my best doth worship thy defect’
  • Go ahead and keep hating me, because you love people who can see, and I’m blind:

But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind;
Those that can see thou lovest, and I am blind.

There’s no grand metaphor here, and this is actually one of the more conventional sonnets of Shakespeare’s radical collection. What makes this one so different from the typical Petrarchan romantic sonnet is there’s no final ‘turn’ to reconciliation at the end, merely a confirmation of how ugly and deplorable this whole mess has become.  

The image is of Romeo and Juliet kissing is from the 1996 film. Romantic, right? Judging from Shakespeare’s Sonnets, including the one above, and what he did to the happies couples in (a clue: they were farcical, doomed or evil), Shakespeare doesn’t seem to much believe in the idea of Romantic love.

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