“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The famous opening line of Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet still resounds in today’s educational setting. Little do many students know that William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets; all of them in the same format. Going through many of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a recurring theme of forbidden and secret love appeared.
In his Sonnet 152, Shakespeare desperately pleads with an unknown love about their hidden love and how it affects their surroundings. Often Shakespeare was accused of making fun of other poets and authors of his time period, however this sonnet may have had a correlation with his complicated love life at the time.
There is little known about Shakespeare’s love life, but the little known is quite scandalous. When Shakespeare was about seventeen or eighteen he courted and impregnated a woman named Anne Hathaway; she was eight years older than him and at the time they were not married. The age of consent to be married at that time was twenty-one and everyone was married through the Church since there weren’t any Registry Office marriages at the time.
This required Shakespeare to receive permission from his father (as he was under the age of consent), Anne’s family, and the Bishop to marry a pregnant woman. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, there were two documents concerning the marriage. According to http://www.william-shakespeare.org.uk/, there are two different entries mentioned in the Episcopal Register at Worcester, one on November 27, 1582 and November 28, 1582.
The entry on November 27th refers to the marriage of “Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton” while the entry on November 28th refers to the marriage of “William Shagspeare and Anne Hathwey.” Many historians and analysts question whether or not this was a misprint or if Shakespeare really was involved with two different women.
Various spellings were also used at the time; there were at least sixteen different spellings of Shakespeare including Shakspere, Shakespere, Shakkespere, Shaxpere, Shakstaff, Sakspere, Shagspere, Shakeshafte and even Chacsper. Shakespeare always signed himself as “Shakspere.” In both entries Shakespeare does not sign his name as he normally would.
This scandalous mystery still remains unsolved, but Shakespeare’s sonnets, specifically Sonnet 152 point to some kind of struggle with an unknown ambiguous woman. If Shakespeare’s history is taken into consideration, this Sonnet could have possibly been written in response to his love for a woman that wasn’t his wife. Shakespeare states “In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn” meaning that he knows he is breaking a promise by loving her. The sonnet continues, but never does it say what promise he is breaking.
In this line Shakespeare could be referring to a number of things including his promise of love broken to his wife. However, how could one blame Shakespeare for this attraction towards another woman? A moment of young lust was the only thing that kept his wife and him together. This sonnet definitely raises questions about Shakespeare’s love life and to whom this sonnet was addressed.
Sonnet 152 resumes by pointing out specific promises his lover has broken: “In act thy bed-vow broke…In vowing new hate after new love bearing.” Shakespeare’s lover has broken her vows with her husband by sleeping with another man, probably Shakespeare, but has vowed to hate her new lover. Why?
The woman presumably feels guilty about cheating on her husband so has now tried her best to block this new lover, Shakespeare, out of her life. Shakespeare continues by telling this woman, “why…do I accuse thee, when I break twenty (vows)?” Shakespeare knows that he has no room to judge this woman because he himself knows that he has done many wrongs by sleeping with a married woman and possibly cheating on his own wife.
This sonnet might have been a farewell to his secret relationship. In previous sonnets Shakespeare desperately struggles with the guilt of loving this unknown woman, but in the two sonnets after this sonnet, Shakespeare talks of how he has fallen back in love with his mistress. In this sonnet Shakespeare tells this woman, “all my honest faith in thee is lost,” meaning that he no longer is true to her.
He then begins to tell of how much he praised and how he had “sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness…thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,” though he knew all along that she was not these things as he states later in the sonnet. Shakespeare knows that he blinded himself in order to place this woman on a pedestal of fabricated perfection.
Shakespeare’s feelings are extremely common upon today’s society. This universal sonnet displays how a man or woman feels, or should feel, after breaking a promise of marriage or love to another. Shakespeare’s guilt coincides with the sorrow he feels for himself after realizing that this woman is not perfect – he had only made her perfect in his mind. But isn’t that the case with most adulterers?
The only reason they cheat on their wives or husbands is because they let the feeling of lust overcome their heart and good judgment. Once this has occurred, the adulterer attempts to make amends with themselves by saying that the actions they are taking are necessary because their spouse doesn’t make them happy and that this new lover does – fabricated perfection in its fullness.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 152 at first glance seems to be a wretched man wallowing in his adulterous sorrows. However, as one takes a closer look, themes of judgment and universal adultery can be applied to society today.