Sonnet 141

Shakespeare Sonnet 141

IN faith I doe not loue thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thouſand errors note,
But ’tis my heart that loves what they diſpiſe,
Who in diſpight of view is pleaſd to dote.
Nor are mine eares with thy toungs tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling to baſe touches prone,
Nor taſte, nor ſmell, deſire to be inuited
To any ſenſuall feaſt with thee alone:
But my fiue wits, nor my fiue ſences can
Diſwade one fooliſh heart from ſeruing thee,
Who leaues vnſwai’d the likeneſſe of a man,
Thy proud hearts ſlaue and vaſſall wretch to be:
Onely my plague thus farre I count my gaine,
That ſhe that makes me ſinne, awards me paine.

A ‘thousand’ was a sonneteer’s standard number for a multitude: Petrarch’s “ben mille offese” (‘a goodly thousand offences’) or “mille piaghe” (‘a thousand plagues’ or ‘a thousand wounds’) were well-known and became clichéd. Sonnet 141’s opening exclamation, “In faith,” introduces a conceit that contrasts what can be seen by the five external and five internal senses, which are not of the rational realm and common to all animals, and what the heart can see. From the middle ages philosophers (and schools) posited four and subsequently five interior senses. Aquinas takes four from Aristotle (the ‘common sense,’ the imagination, the estimation and the ‘sensitive memory’), to which he added one from Avicenna, the fantasy. 1 By Shakespeare’s time the number of internal senses or wits were variably numbered: Richard Huloet, for example, gives only three: “There are three interior or inwarde senses, to wete. Sensus communis, Phantasia, & Memoria. The Common sense or iudgement, fantasie, and memorie.” 2

The poet argues that he doesn’t love the mistress through his sense of sight, since his eyes perceive (“note”) a “thousand” faults in her. Rather his heart loves what his eyes despise and, despite what is seen (“despight of view”), is ready to be infatuated (“pleasd to dote”). Similarly his ears receive no pleasure from the sound (“tune”) her tongue utters, while none of the other three senses, the “tender” sense of touch (compare 138, “tender inward of thy hand”), which is susceptible to less than honourable touching (“to base touches prone”), the sense of “taste,” and the sense of “smell,” desire to be invited to the “sensual feast,” where they might be served by the mistress. The senses’ feasting was a familiar metaphor for the cognitive process, in which the external senses captured an impression, which the “common sense” and intellect process, and which the will finally accepts as knowledge: compare John Davies account in Mirum in modum:

Yet nought that Vnderstanding doth digest,
But first on it the outward Senses feedes:
Both which inuites the Will vnto their feast,
Those Senses being tasters to the rest. 3

Neither the poet’s five external senses nor his five internal (“my fiue wits”) can move his “foolish heart” from “seruing” the mistress. She reduces him, now the mere shadow of a man (“likenesse of a man”), to the level of a servile and menial servant (“slaue and vassal wretch”) in service to her heart; “vnswai’d” moderates either “Who,” the mistress, who is unaffected or hard-hearted, or the poet, who is ungoverned by either set of senses. The solitary thing the poet thinks his gain is his “plague,” which carries its original Latinate meaning of ‘wound’ (echoing Petrarch’s “piaghe” above, which Florio renders as “a wound, a sore, a hurt, a plague;” see Cooper’s Thesaurus, “Plagam . . To plague: to wound”). 4 He can account his hurt a gain only to the extent that (“thus farre”) the mistress, who makes him “sinne,” awards him his “paine,” both his suffering and his punishment (from poena = punishment), a sonneteer’s frequent pun (compare Spenser, Amoretti 10.14).


141.1. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.78.4: “Sensus interiores, secundum Aristotelem, sunt tantum quatuor, secundum quatuor modos operationum, s. sensus communis, imaginativa, aestimativa in aliis animalibus, sive cogitativa in homine, et memoria sensitiva, licent sint quinque, secundum Avicennam, scilicet sensus communis, imaginativa, phantasia, aestimativa et memoria sensitiva.”

(‘According to Aristotle the internal senses number four, corresponding to four modes of operation, that is, the ‘common sense,’ the imagination, the estimation, which is found in other animals or as reflection in humans, and the sensitive memory, although, according to Avicenna there are five, that is, the ‘common sense,’ the imagination, the fantasy, the estimation and the sensitive memory.’)

141.2. Huloet, Dictionarie senses.

141.3. John Davies, Mirum in modum. A Glimpse of Gods Glorie and The Soules Shape (London: William Aspley, 1602) A4r. Davies further expands,

But when we say the Vnderstanding seazeth
On nought but what the Senses first surprizeth,
Its meant of things that pleaseth, or displeaseth,
And to the Senses sensibly ariseth:
Then herevpon the common Sense deuiseth,
And then transferres it to the Intellect,
Which by hir pow’r inherent doth discourse,
By Reasons rule from Causes to th’ effect:
And beeing there, runnes forth with greater force,
Till Iudgement (with strong hand) doth stay her course.

141.4. Cooper, Thesaurus obduco.