Sonnet 142

Shakespeare Sonnet 142

LOue is my ſinne, and thy deare vertue hate,
Hate of my ſinne, grounded on ſinfull louing,
O but with mine, compare thou thine owne ſtate,
And thou ſhalt finde it merrits not reproouing,
Or if it do, not from thoſe lips of thine,
That haue prophan’d their ſcarlet ornaments,
And ſeald falſe bonds of loue as oft as mine,
Robd others beds reuenues of their rents.
Be it lawfull I loue thee as thou lou’ſt thoſe,
Whome thine eyes wooe as mine importune thee,
Roote pittie in thy heart that when it growes,
Thy pitty may deſerue to pittied bee.
If thou dooſt ſeeke to haue what thou dooſt hide,
By ſelfe example mai’ſt thou be denide.

The poet’s sinful loving of the mistress (“Loue is my sinne”) takes up from the “sinne” that concludes Sonnet 141. (The yoking of love and sin was a sonneteer’s favourite ploy, compare Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 14.14, “Then loue is sin, and let me sinfull bee”). His loving here is different from Sonnet 62’s “Sinne of selfe-loue,” which was “grounded inward in my heart,” because, although it is “grounded on sinfull louing,” it is directed outwardly toward the “selfe example,” by which the mistress will be denied. Shakespeare’s use of “grounded” on each occasion is technically exact: Hooker, for example, writes of a life “which groundeth it selfe vpon the guiltines of sinne.” 1 The mistress on the other hand is possessed of a “deare virtue,” both ‘precious’ and ‘costly,’ which is “Hate of my sinne.” The floating clause, “grounded on sinfull louing,” which completes the opening lines’ chiastic structure, can qualify either “Hate” or “sinne:” if “Hate,” then the mistress’ hate, construed as a “virtue,” is grounded on sinful loving; if “sinne,” then the sin is grounded on the sinful loving of the poet. She is urged to compare her state with that of the poet, and she will then find either that her state (“it”) deserves no censuring (“meritts not reproouing”), because it is one of “vertue,” or that his state (“it”) deserves no censuring, because it is one of love.

If, however, his state were to deserve censure, then no reproof should proceed from her lips for they are false: they “haue prophan’d their scarlet ornaments.” Scarlet was associated with sin through Isa. 1.18: “though though your sinnes be as red as scarlet” (BB; compare H8 3.2.255, “Thou Scarlet sinne”); “ornaments” are the decoration that make her lips beautiful, but they evoke also a temple’s or church’s sacred furnishings, a sense sustained in “prophan’d,” whose etymon was pro + fanum = in front of [or outside] the temple. Her lips, because false, have desecrated themselves; they have also “seald false bonds of loue.” A bond is signed and “sealed” with red wax, but the mistress has sealed her words with a false kiss as often as the poet has so sealed his love. Equally her lips or the poet’s (“Robd” or ‘robbed’ can be attached to either “those lips of thine” or “mine”) have stolen from others’ beds the “rents,” which rightfully belong to them as yield or income (“reuenues,” with a possible sexual pun through its French sense of comings and goings; the line is underpinned by the idea of the mariage bed as a temple, now “prophan’d,” see Donne, The Flea, “this / Our mariage bed, and mariage temple is”).

If it were lawful, which it isn’t since sin is a transgression of the law, the poet would love the mistress in the same way that she loves those whom her eyes solicit (“wooe”), just as his eyes petition (“importune”) her. She must “Roote pittie” in her heart, but only so that, once planted in the ‘ground’ and grown, it might merit pity itself (“deserue to pittied bee”). (In Sonnet 140 his pain was without pity, “pittie wanting paine.”) If she were to need pity, which she keeps hidden from others (“what thou doost hide”), then, the poet wishes, may her example (“selfe example”) be followed by others who will deny pity to her (“mai’st thou be denide”). (The couplet could also be a statement of fact: she may be denied pity.)


142.1. Hooker Politie (1593) 82.