Midlife Crisis in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 138
William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 138” presents an aging man’s rationalization for deceit in an affair with a younger woman. The speaker of the sonnet realizes his mistress lies to him about being faithful. He in turn, portrays himself as younger than he actually is: “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her though I know she lies, / That she might think me some untutored youth…” (1-3). “Sonnet 138” allows the reader a glimpse into the speaker’s mind, and what one finds is a man suffering from what is commonly known as a midlife crisis. In an effort to reverse “the downslope [sic] of age” (Kermode “Millions”), he takes part in a duplicitous affair with a promiscuous woman possibly “in her early twenties” (Hubler 107). Three main themes permeate the speaker’s “tissue of rationalization” throughout the sonnet (Moore “Shakespeare’s”): dishonesty, aging, and lust.
“Sonnet 138” is written in the first-person voice in iambic pentameter. According to Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding, “iambic pentameter produce[s] sensations of comfort” (45). In this particular sonnet, though the speaker and his mistress lie to each other, they both find comfort, in the form of sexual gratification, from the affair: “Therefore I lie with her and she with me, / And in our faults by lies we flattered be” (13-4). The sonnet has three parts: the first two quatrains, the last quatrain, and the couplet. The first two quatrains express two distinct, yet complementary ideas (Dunton-Downer and Riding 461). In “Sonnet 138,” the two ideas are the speaker and his mistress’ individual deceits and their mutual deceits (1-8). The last quatrain is signaled by the word “But” (9)....
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...ed. Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1999.
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In “Sonnet,” Billy Collins satirizes the classical sonnet’s volume to illustrate love in only “…fourteen lines…” (1). Collins’s poem subsists as a “Sonnet,” though there exists many differences in it countering the customarily conventional structure of a sonnet. Like Collins’s “Sonnet,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” also faces incongruities from the classic sonnet form as he satirizes the concept of ideal beauty that was largely a convention of writings and art during the Elizabethan era. Although these poem venture through different techniques to appear individually different from the classic sonnet, the theme of love makes the poems analogous.
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Steele, Felicia Jean. "Shakespeare's SONNET 130." Explicator 62.3 (2004): 132-137. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
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---. "Sonnet 130." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1. M. H. Abrams, ed. W. W. Norton (New York): 1993.
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Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 15". The Broadview Anthology of British Literture. Volume A. Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2008.
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