Sonnet 136

Shakespeare Sonnet 136

IF thy ſoule check thee that I come ſo neere,
Sweare to thy blind ſoule that I was thy Will,
And will thy ſoule knowes is admitted there,
Thus farre for loue, my loue-ſute ſweet fullfill.
Will, will fulfill the treaſure of thy loue,
I fill it full with wils, and my will one,
In things of great receit with eaſe we prooue,
Among a number one is reckon’d none.
Then in the number let me paſſe vntold,
Though in thy ſtores account I one muſt be,
For nothing hold me, ſo it pleaſe thee hold,
That nothing me, a ſome-thing ſweet to thee.
Make but my name thy loue, and loue that ſtill,
And then thou loueſt me for my name is Will.

Sonnet 136 opens with a contingent instruction: “If thy soule check thee that I come so neere.” The mistress’ soul is her rational part, being comprised of reason and will. If it were to caution the mistress that the poet is too forward (“come so neere”) either in pressing a suit (an Elizabethan expression), or in approaching too closely, or, obliquely, about to climax sexually (“come”), then she must “Sweare to thy blind soul,” her unknowing or culpably ignorant reason (caecus animi was a Latinism), that the poet was her “Will,” the object of her lust, the penis she possesses, a man named William. Her “soul” knows that “will,” desire, lust, penis, is “admitted there,” as a suit is admitted or received. So, to that extent (“Thus farre,” positioned in the quatrain chiastically against “neere”) and for the sake of love, she must satisfy, as a ‘sweet person’ or ‘sweetly’ (“sweet”), the poet’s love-suit (“my loue-sute sweet fullfill,” anticipating, “full it fill”).

The word-play now verges on the contrived: “Will,” either desire, penis, or William, will satisfy or complete the mistress’ treasure-house of love (“the treasure of thy loue”). “I,” while initially seeming the first person pronoun and evoking both the Roman numeral, I, and an erect phallus, is the 16th century spelling of either ‘Ay’ (yes) or ‘Aye’ (ever). She must fill her “treasure” full of wills and count the poet’s will as “one” of them (with reference to 135.14, “Thinke all but one, and me in that one Will”). In “things of great receit,” in things of great importance, or in things of large capacity, or in things that receive largely (“large and spatious” things), it can be easily shown that, “Among a number one is reckon’d none.” The phrase reflects the standard aphorism that ‘one is no number’ or a nothing, in Culmann, “One man [is] no man,” a rendering of “Unus vir, nullus vir” 1 A “thing” was jargon for both a penis and a vagina (Florio has “Cotale . . a mans or womans priuities. Cotalina, a little pretie thing, or quaint”). A ‘nothing,’ like ‘naught,’ ‘nought,’ and ‘none,’ because of a zero’s shape (a recently introduced mathematical figure), was a bawdy term for a vagina, while ‘O’ and ‘I’ could be vagina and phallus, as in Sidney’s intriguingly numbered Astrophil and Stella 69.1, “I I ô I.” The poet thus argues that, even though the mistress will accommodate largely, if the poet is not numbered among the accommodated but is solitary, he is no man.

The poet asks that he be passed over as “untold,” as uncounted, even though he must be numbered as one item in her stock-taking, her “stores account,” with the standard pun on ‘a-cunt’ (compared Sonnet 20.2, “acquainted” or ‘a-cunted’). If the number is a “none” into which he must “passe,” the sexual becomes even more explicit. She must consider him worthless (“nothing hold me”), but in considering his suit think that worthless nothing (that “nothing me”) a thing of some value to herself (“a some-thing”); or, if it pleases her, she must embrace the organ that is his as a something sweet to her. She must but make his name her love (“Make but”), even her continuous love (“still”), and then she will have loved him because of his name, William.


136.1. Culmann, Sententiae (1612) 19 and Sententiae (1637) 17. Compare Marlowe, Hero and Leander 255-6, “One is no number, mayds are nothing then, / Without the sweet societie of men.