William Shakespeare – Sonnet 135

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;
More than enough am I that vexed thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.
   Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
   Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

This and the following sonnets ring the changes on the potential bawdy connotations of one word, ‘will’. Commentators have identified six or seven relevant meanings (not all of them bawdy). Any reader of the two sonnets (this and the following one) soon realises that the hidden meanings are of greater importance than the surface meaning. In fact the obvious signification of will as ‘volition, desire, intent’ is often suppressed entirely, and a straightforward reading of the poem, bypassing or ignoring all the bawdy puns, tends to produce nonsense. One therefore has to be aware of these other meanings to make sense out of apparent nonsense. (The different meanings of ‘will’ are given below left, and, where appropriate, in the main commentary).

It must be said that the poem is not entirely flattering to the woman addressed. One wonders whether or not she was ever shown any of these productions. Probably not, because they are written so entirely from a male perspective that it would be considered appropriate only to circulate them within a coterie of male friends. Women were considered to be deficient in understanding of many topics. Lord Cecil reprimanded an ambassador for discussing a particular subject with Queen Elizabeth because, as he said, ‘it was a matter of such weight, being too much for a woman’s knowledge’. But here the subject matter is, apart from its indelicacy, of such a nature that any woman seeing it, if she were of an independent mind, would be inclined to dismiss it as being typical male mythology, totally unrelated to the way in which women act and think. For it is based on the viewpoint, common to all male dominated societies, that the female through her sexuality constitutes a threat to established order. Any woman was potentially regarded as a man eater and capable of alluring males to her so that they might be held in bondage for evermore, as in the Homeric myth of Circe. Although not clearly stated, except perhaps in folk literature, the bondage was often that of having to satisfy her enormous sexual appetite. The subject of the Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s tale is the attempt to discover ‘what women most desire’. The answer finally given is that they most wish for dominion over their husbands, but many counter suggestions are made before this conclusion is reached. GBE (p.253) cites a poem by Nicholas Breton, published in Melancholicke Humours 1600.

Childrens Ahs and Womens Ohs
Doe a wondrous griefe disclose;
Where a dugge the one will still,
And the t’other but a will…

Let the child then sucke his fill,
Let the woman have her will,
All will hush was heard before,
Ah and Oh will cry no more.

dugge = breast, nipple. The theme is the usual one that all will be well provided the woman’s libido is satisfied and she receives a good rogering. The sonnet, working on a similar theme, is about as direct as it could be, and it implies that the woman has a capacious vagina, that she takes all comers, and that she cannot get enough of them. Not exactly the sort of flattering poem one would wish to address to the mistress of one’s heart.

 Nevertheless the sonnet is essentially one of despair. It sues to be recognised and pleads for recompense ‘more than that tongue that more hath more expressed’, but both it and the following one leave the impression that the author is excluded from the charmed circle. Although others seem to be enjoying the dark lady’s favours with very little restriction, the same is not true for the poet, and he is left on the outside, his mind inflamed, and his spirit and body cast into the outer darkness.

The most interesting precursor of this sonnet is The Ballad of Will which is uncertainly attributed to Thomas Wyatt. I give the text of it below in the additional notes.  

The meanings of will which recur throughout the poem are as follows.
1. Wish, desire; thing desired.
2. Carnal desire, lust, sexual longing.
3. The auxiliary verb denoting a future tense, as in ‘it will be so, thou wilt vouchsafe’.
4. Willfulness, obstinacy, determination.
5. A slang term for the male sex organ. As in – this night he fleshes his will in the spoil of her honour. AW.IV.iii.14.
6. A slang term for the female sex organ.
7. The name ‘William’. 

The italicisation of some of the ‘will’s in the Q text implies an effort to distinguish them in meaning from those presented in ordinary script. The difficulty with following the typescript rigidly is that the Q text is generally very arbitrary in such matters, in some sonnets italicising a word while in others, where the use seems to be exactly comparable, a plain typeface is used. In this sonnet the italicised Wills could relate to its uses where the predominant meaning is the name ‘William’. However even that explanation is doubtful for its occurrences in lines 2, 11 and 12 only obliquely fits that meaning. I have compromised by omitting the italicisation and retaining the capital letters for those instances of ‘Will’ in which it is found. Readers in any case have to bear in mind the large numbers of meanings which the word carries, and allow in each case the relevant suggestions to filter into their minds.

The 1609 Quarto Version

WHo euer hath her wiſh, thou haſt thy Will,
And Will too boote,and Will in ouer-plus,
More then enough am I that vexe thee ſtill,
To thy ſweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou whoſe will is large and ſpatious,
Not once vouchſafe to hide my will in thine,
Shall will in others ſeeme right gracious,
And in my will no faire acceptance ſhine:
The ſea all water,yet receiues raine ſtill,
And in aboundance addeth to his ſtore,
So thou beeing rich in Will adde to thy Will,
One will of mine to make thy large Will more.
    Let no vnkinde,no faire beſeechers kill,
    Thinke all but one,and me in that one Will.


1. Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,‘No matter what or who other women have to satisfy their desires, you have your own Will(iam)’, or ‘you have your own insatiable vagina (Will)’, or ‘you have a compliant male whose penis (Will) satisfies you’. The line echoes proverbial and folk wisdom about women’s desires, and their ability to have their way by fair means or foul. As for example ‘Women will have their wills’ and ‘Will will have will though will woe win’, which last presumably means ‘Desire will have what it wants, even though it brings sorrow’, applicable to both males and females. The predominant meaning of ‘Will’ here is possibly ‘William’, which could apply to a) the poet; b) the poet’s friend; c) the woman’s husband. There is general agreement about a), but no one knows if b) and c) are relevant. None of the other lines of the poem confirm unequivocally that there is more than one William, although it seems quite clear that there is more than one lover. If the poet’s friend’s name is Will then it narrows the field of candidates of known names who might be the ‘lovely boy’ of the sonnets. But the evidence is far from clear and may be interpreted either way, for Will or not for Will.2. And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;to boot = in addition, over and above what you need, have, want.
in over-plus = in excessive surplus. Will here probably puns on the meanings William, sexual craving, penis.3. More than enough am I that vexed thee still,

This and the following line are of uncertain import. This one probably includes the quirky hidden allusion to Will am I = William.
, as elsewhere, means ‘continually, without ceasing’.
Perhaps one could paraphrase the line as ‘Surely I, Will, who troubled you so often with my pleas of love, am more than enough to satisfy your desires’. JK suggests that vex could have sexual connotations, in its sense of ‘to agitate, to stir’. Shakespeare uses the word fairly frequently, but not elsewhere with sexual innuendo. In The Tempest there also occurs the conjunction of the two words ‘vexed’ and ‘still’:

in the deep nook, where once
Thou call’dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still-vexed Bermoothes, 
Tem.I.2.227-9.4. To thy sweet will making addition thus.The difficulty with these two lines (3 and 4) is that they are out of harmony with the rest of the poem. They imply that the poet’s love pleas have been successful, and that he is allowed to have sex with her. But if that is so, then the subsequent begging for admittance is not necessary. He is already receiving what he claims to be so desirous of. Perhaps one could solve the problem by putting a question mark at the end of this line, causing the am I of the previous line to be an interrogative rather than a direct statement of fact.
thy sweet will
 = your amorous desires, your sweet cunt.
making addition
 = adding something to, putting something in.
 = in this way i.e. by vexing you continually; by having intercourse with you.5. Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,Wilt thou = will you? Are you (not) willing to?
whose will is large and spacious
 = who has such large and insatiable sexual desires, who are so willing to accommodate all lovers, who has such a large and roomy vagina.6. Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?vouchsafe = grant, permit, allow. A word much in use in the bible and prayer books generally. Phrases such as ‘Vouchsafe O Lord unto thy servant‘ are common. The liturgical vocabulary of words such as vouchsafe, gracious, will, brings this sonnet to the edge of an abyss of blasphemy. It is almost as if the poet, in his agony, wishes to be arraigned for his idolatrous infatuation. The echo of not my will but thine be done from Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which comes close to identifying the poet with Christ and the dark lady with God the Father, perhaps does no more than confirm that Shakespeare was imbued with readings from Christian literature. But it is difficult to believe that he was unaware of these echoes. Possibly he decided to allow them not because he wished to drag in the sacred name of the Godhead to a sordid affair of sexual mistrust, but to point the moral that all love is equally mysterious and can never find the appropriate or adequate words to transmit or explain itself.
to hide my will in thine 
= to merge our desires as one, to have intercourse.7. Shall will in others seem right gracious,will in others = others’ penises; others who have the name William, other’s sexual desires.
right gracious
 = truly adorable, acceptable, enjoyable etc. Possibly with a hint of class snobbery. An earl’s dick might be more acceptable than that of a peasant or a mere player. An earl was addressed as ‘Your grace’.8. And in my will no fair acceptance shine?in my will = for my penis; for my sexual desires.
no fair acceptance shine
 = there is no corresponding shining welcome.9. The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,The poet now turns to a more grandiose metaphor from nature. Surely if the sea can continue to receive moisture from all sources then his beloved can follow such an example and take all those who desire her. The same metaphor is used in Twelfth Night. JK thinks that it is ‘less seamy’ than here, i.e. less grossly sexual. In fact it is not so, since the Twelfth Night episode finishes with an image of male detumescence, and quite possibly the whole speech was accompanied with obscene gestures on the stage. O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: 
TN.I.1.9-13. The ‘validity’ and ‘pitch’ in the above quotation probably refers also to the strength of the male erection, and the final line to the inadequacy of male love-making, which is over in a minute. The date of Twelfth Night is c.1601-2.10. And in abundance addeth to his store;in abundance = abundantly, with great largess, bounteously.
 = adds.
his store
 = its (the sea’s) reserves, quantities of water.11. So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy WillJust as the sea, being rich in water, adds still more, so you, being rich in Will (in its various senses), may add yet more to your desires and Wills.12. One will of mine, to make thy large will will of mine = a desire of mine (to have intercourse with you, to be with you); one penis, which is mine. See the next sonnet, line 12.
to make thy large will more
 = to increase your rapacious sexual pleasure, to swell out your large cunt, to make your store of Williams increase.13. Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;A difficult line, with no agreement as to its meaning. Some editors prefer to take the second ‘No’ as the utterance of a refusal by the woman. ‘Let no unkind ‘No!’ of yours kill those who plead their love for you’. Lovers’ refusals were, in lovers’ parlance, said to be so wounding as to kill the suitor. The fair beseechers are the lovers of the fair damsel. Alternatively unkind may be taken as a noun signifying cruelty. ‘Let no cruelty kill off your admirers, me being one of them’. kill might also have a sexual reference to ‘dying’, a slang term for having an orgasm.14. Think all but one, and me in that one Will.all but one = all wills are alike; all penises are alike; taking one is like taking another. A reference also to the phrase ‘all’s one’, meaning ‘it’s of no great consequence’, as in the following examples from the plays: DES. All’s one. Good faith, how foolish are our minds! OTH.IV.3.22. Up with my tent there! here will I lie tonight;
But where to-morrow? Well, all’s one for that.
Who hath descried the number of the foe?
 R3.V.3.7-8. me in that one Will = that I am the William you desire; that whatever one is in you, it is me; that whatever that one pleasure is that you desire, I will give it to you. The meanings of this line are deliberately laden with ambiguities and innuendo.

Additional notes


I will and yet I may not,
The more it is my pain.
What thing I will, I shall not.
Wherefore my will is vain.

Will willing is in vain,
This may I right well see.
Although my will would fain,
My will it may not be.

Because I will and may not,
My will is not my own.
For lack of will I cannot,
The cause whereof I moan.

Foy! that I will and cannot
Yet still do I sustain!
Between I will and shall not
My love cannot obtain.

Thus wishers wants their will
And that they will do crave.
But they that will not will
Their will the soonest have.

Since that I will and shall not,
My will I will refrain.
Thus, for to will and will not,
Will willing is but vain.

This poem is found in a manuscript (BM Harleian 78) containing other Wyatt poems. It is not however in Foxwell’s edition which I have transcribed for the Wyatt pages on this website. Muir gives it as a doubtful Wyatt poem. However its authorship is not here a matter of great import, since its interest lies mainly in the way it rings the changes on the single word ‘will’. It is doubtful that it has the same bawdy connotations as Shakespeare’s two sonnets, 135 and 136. Nevertheless it is quite clearly a poem about sexual desire, and the reader is free to interpret it as liberally or as innocently as he or she wishes, which was no doubt the writer’s intent. If it is a genuine Wyatt poem, or contemporary with him, it predates this sonnet by at least fifty years.


Social media scholar. Troublemaker. Twitter specialist. Unapologetic web evangelist. Explorer. Writer. Organizer.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button