William Shakespeare – Sonnet 152

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing:
But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjured most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
   For I have sworn thee fair; more perjured eye,
   To swear against the truth so foul a lie!
�This concluding sonnet in the sequence to the dark lady fills the reader with a sense of unease. This is probably because, knowing that it is the last one, we expect a resolution in some way, a farewell sonnet, or a renunciation of bondage, or a hope that the love he has found, for all its imperfections, will live on forever, growing and maturing as the two grow older, or more infatuated, or more knowing. But no such denouement is to be found. We are left with the uncertainty of unknowing, and a resolution that is solved only by irresolution.

The language of this sonnet, more than any other, leans heavily on the language of the law courts – ‘Do you solemnly swear that the evidence you will give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’.
(for)sworn is used 4 times; swear(ing) 3 times; oaths 4 times; vow(s) twice; perjured twice; truth twice; faith twice; and honest and constancy are also to be found. It seems as if the writer is setting up for trial, in the court of posterity, the justification for his love, a justification which he undermines at every turn. He cannot find the words or reasons that will sanction this love, yet he will not abandon it, and if it is a lie against the truth, then so be it, for love must sometimes break the mould of the predictable world around us and enrich our lives with the tawdry and imperfect, rather than provide us with the ideal and cold beauty which is the subject of our endless and futile searching.

The 1609 Quarto Version

IN louing thee thou know’ſt I am forſworne,
But thou art twice forſworne to me loue ſwearing,
In act thy bed-vow broake and new faith torne,
In vowing new hate after new loue bearing :
But why of two othes breach doe I accuſe thee,
When I breake twenty:I am periur’d moſt,
For all my vowes are othes but to miſuſe thee:
And all my honeſt faith in thee is loſt.
For I haue ſworne deepe o hes of thy deepe                                                                                  kindneſſe:
Othes of thy loue,thy truth,thy conſtancie,
And to inlighten thee gaue eyes to blindneſſe,
Or made them ſwere againſt the thing they ſee.
   For I haue ſworne thee faire:more periurde eye,
   To ſwere againſt the truth ſo foule a lie.


1. In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,In loving thee = by loving you, through the mere fact of loving you, when I make love to you.
forsworn = perjured, guilty of breaking a promise. One automatically asks how she is to know that he is forsworn by loving her. Is it because a.) she knows he is married; b.) she knows he loves other women; c.) she knows he has pledged his heart to the fair youth; d.) she knows he does not love her; e.) she knows he lies to her, as sonnet 138 indicates (therefore I lie with her and she with me etc.)? Presumably she counts him forsworn for any one or more of these reasons. In line 6 he confesses to breaking 20 vows, probably only a wild number plucked from the air, but it still remains uncertain in what particular she is to know that he is forsworn. (See the note to line 6). An attentive reader of the sonnets would no doubt pick out reasons d and e above from the sonnets which precede, but would not be expected to know that the writer was married. Nor would it necessarily follow that the woman would know that the poet’s heart was committed to the fair youth, nor that he did not love her, for in fact it seems that he does, and the poem starts by asserting the fact (In loving thee). This really only leaves a.) and e.) as possibilities, namely that she knows him to be married, therefore not entirely committed to her, and she knows also that he is not telling the truth. But there may be additional unspecified reasons for his being forsworn.2. But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;

twice forsworn = the two instances are given in lines 3-4, although they are not easy to isolate. (See the note). forsworn is frequently used in the context of lovers’ vows, as in sonnet 88:
Upon thy side against myself I’ll fight,
And prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworn
. 88
Its most frequent use in Shakespeare is in Love’s Labours Lost, 17 times, compared with four in the sonnets. It does have a general application in connection with any promise breaking, and can be used to describe cases of political treachery or treason; since treason involves breach of promise to the monarch.

to me love swearing = by swearing your love to me. I.e. the act of swearing love to me involved you in breaking two oaths, details of which are given in what follows.3. In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,In act = by your action; by the act of sex; in the enactment of your bed vow (you broke it), i.e. you broke it even while making it. The syntax is awkward, for one expects either You, by your act, broke your bed vow, or By your act your bed vow is broken. And similarly one expects, your new faith is torn, or, you tore up your new (bond of) faith. The compression of the line suggests both these meanings, which amount to more or less the same thing. For act as referring to the sexual act there are several instances in the plays. E.g.
I cannot say ‘whore:’
It does abhor me now I speak the word;
To do the act that might the addition earn
Not the world’s mass of vanity could make me.
See also the note to line 9.

bed-vow = marriage vow; promise made in bed. One assumes a vow of eternal fidelity, but it might be a vow of less import, for example to tell no one else of the relationship. The speaker may be suggesting that sleeping together implies fidelity and trust, a vow sanctioned by the act of love.
new faith torn
 = your new faith is torn up and destroyed, as one tears up a written bond. It seems that this is the second instance of forswearing, the particularities amplified in the following line. The beloved broke her bed-vow (perhaps to her husband) and, in addition, she betrayed the new lover, (the speaker), by vowing to hate him almost as soon as she had gratified him with her love.4. In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

In vowing = by taking a vow.
new hate
 = hate which replaces the old love. A fresh onset of hatred. Note that hate in the beloved can range from anything to indifference, a refusal to satisfy one’s lover, criticism of his insistence, a frown or cold word. In this instance it seems to imply a turning away to a new lover. But hatred in the context of the sonneteer and his beloved does not imply anything that a normal person would consider to be excessively virulent.
new love bearing
 = taking a new lover; finding a new love; taking the weight of a new lover in bed. The twofold breach of faith seems to be breaking a marriage vow (or a lover’s vow) by making a vow to one’s illicit lover; and then breaking the vow to that lover by taking on yet another, and neglecting the one to whom the vow has already been made. Or it could simply be a breach of faith to the husband, by taking on a lover shortly after marriage, and thereby implying hatred of the husband she professed to love.
5. But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,two oaths’ breach = the breaking of two vows. See note to the previous line.6. When I break twenty? I am perjured most;When I break twenty – the exact number is not important, and presumably twenty is used in the same vague way as ‘score’ might be, as for example in the Tempest:
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it, fair play.
Compare also Venus and Adonis:
Ay me!’ she cries, and twenty times ‘Woe, woe!’
And twenty echoes twenty times cry so.
‘Twenty’ is used 160 times in Shakespeare, far more than the necessity of reporting precise numbers ever requires. Nevertheless, in the context of numbered sonnets, one suspects that the use of the number does have some cryptic significance. It may be worth pointing out that this sonnet, like sonnet 20, has a preponderance of feminine rhymes, and perhaps we are being invited to make a comparison between the two loves. This one alternates masculine and feminine rhymes, perhaps in reference to the act of love, whereas 20 is the only sonnet with exclusively feminine rhymes.7. For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,but to = only to, merely to.
misuse = misreport, slander, demean. Abuse you sexually. The first meanings seem more probable because of lines 10 and 13. It is not clear in what circumstances an oath to misuse his mistress might be taken. The confusion is no doubt deliberate, and indicates that he does not know what he swears to, but discovers subsequently that the oaths he has sworn he does not believe in or adhere to.8. And all my honest faith in thee is lost:All my natural integrity is destroyed because of you. I.e. I have given myself up as lost, because I have committed myself to you, even though I know it is an unworthy love. Seeing the truth, and yet unable to act according to it, has destroyed my faith in myself as a reasonable, honest and trusting person.9. For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,deep oaths = oaths of great import; solemn oaths.
deep kindness = the repetition of deep suggests mimicry and undermines the solemnity of the reported oaths. There may also be a bawdy innuendo, equivalent to ‘deep vagina’, in that her kindness is that of woman kind, she is like a woman and her sexuality is that of a woman, and she does the deed of kind. Compare for example:
.…………………….the ewes, being rank,
In the end of autumn turned to the rams,
And, when the work of generation was
Between these woolly breeders in the act,
The skilful shepherd peel’d me certain wands,
And, in the doing of the deed of kind,
He stuck them up before the fulsome ewes,
Who then conceiving did in eaning time
Fall parti-colour’d lambs, and those were Jacob’s.
The passage, with its use of ‘in the act’, also reflects line 3 ‘in act thy bed vow broke‘.10. Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;

Oaths of thy love = vows that I believe your love, truth etc.? The word oaths is used four times in this sonnet, and not at all in any of the others. The language of the law courts is perhaps being summoned to play its part, with oaths, swearing, vows, and perjury being continually brought into the foreground. It appears that the poet is putting on trial, in the court of his own conscience, his love for this woman, and he finds that all his best efforts to reach a fair verdict are hampered by his willingness to swear false oaths and to corrupt the truth. Oaths also are being cited because of the repetition of the O sound, ‘the O of thy love’ having a sexual meaning. (See note to sonnets 148 line 9 and 150 line 11).11. And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,to enlighten thee = to make you appear bright.
gave eyes to blindness = made myself blind (by giving my eyes over to blindness). Or, made my eyes, which were blinded with love, see with love’s false sight and distorted vision.12. Or made them swear against the thing they see;them = my eyes. Compare sonnets 141 & 148, where the eyes both see and do not see.
swear against = deny that they had seen (what they had in reality seen).13. For I have sworn thee fair; more perjured eye,

This is a repetition of the opening of the final couplet of sonnet 147
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

The conclusion here is not much different, although GBE, for example, sees a change of emphasis, with the poet here noting his own moral culpabitility, rather than that of his mistress. HV also finds the sonnet more self-accusatory than the preceding ones.
more perjured
 = more forsworn than you are; more untruthful than if I had simply sworn my love for you (and admitted that you were not fair).
– since Malone this has usually been emended to I, but editors of modern editions think that the emendation is unnecessary. The word puns on I and ay and probably also includes the innuendo of female genitalia, as in sonnet 148.14. To swear against the truth so foul a lie!Foul and fair have been the themes of most of the sonnets addressed to the dark lady. To bring the sequence to a conclusion with these two words seems appropriate. Note also the three uses of swear, sworn, swear in these last three lines. Presumably they are some of the examples of being forsworn with which the sonnet opened. Swearing against the truth is the ultimate sin, a denial of the truth of the Holy Spirit, a crime for which, in Christain theology, there is no redemption. The sonnet ends with the witness perjuring himself again in the witness box. 


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