|Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
||Be as wise as you are cruel; do not test
|My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;
||My patient silence with too much disrespect;
|Lest sorrow lend me words and words express
||In case sorrow forces me to speak and the words express
|The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
||How my pain grew out of your lack of pity.
|If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
||If I can give you some advice - it would be better,
|Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so;
||To tell me you love me, even though you do not,
|As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
||(I am like) those fretful sick men, nearing death,
|No news but health from their physicians know;
||Who want to hear only about their recovery from their physicians.
|For if I should despair, I should grow mad,
||For if I start to despair, I will go mad,
|And in my madness might speak ill of thee:
||And in my madness I might speak ill of you;
|Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
||Now that this world, which sees only negative things, has become so evil,
|Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be,
||Evil slanderers are believed by evil people.
|That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
||So that I may not become such a slanderer, nor you be so slandered,
|Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.
||You must look straight ahead with your eyes, even though your heart may stray.
In sonnet 139, the poet makes a candid and humiliating plea to his cheating mistress, begging her to refrain from looking at other men when she is with him. The theme continues in sonnet 140, although the poet's tone is less docile. He is now afraid that the "tongue-tied" patience he has practiced thus far will give way to his baser feelings of contempt, disgust, and hurt (in the final couplet of sonnet 147 the poet can no longer contain these feelings) and he will lash out at the dark lady. Longing to be unaware of her infidelities, the poet implores his mistress to hide any evidence of her promiscuity, whether it be physical proof or emotional. She must not speak of other men, nor look at them as they pass by. He wants her to pretend that she loves only him. He is placing the mistress in charge of his reactions. Notice the stress Shakespeare places on the word "be" to enhance his desire for the dark lady to control the relationship: "Be wise" (1), believed, (12), belied (13), Bear (14). She will be completely responsible for his behaviour. Denial is a theme that permeates the twenty-four sonnets dealing with the dark lady, and, in the last few sonnets addressed to his mistress, the poet finally realizes that he must accept the futility of their affair.
Love as a sickness is also a primary theme in sonnet 140, as it is in many of the dark lady sonnets. Notice Shakespeare's word choices: pain (4), sick, death (7), health, physicians (8), and ill (10). In sonnet 147, Shakespeare develops the idea that "reason" is "the physician to [his] love", i.e. the poet's reason acts as his doctor, advising him on the proper course of action.
How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 140. Shakespeare Online. 2000. http://www.shakespeare-online.com (day/month/year).
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