Sonnet 41

Shakespeare Sonnet 41

THoſe pretty wrongs that liberty commits,
When I am ſome-time abſent from thy heart,
Thy beautie, and thy yeares full well befits,
For ſtill temptation followes where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be wonne,
Beautious thou art, therefore to be aſſailed.
And when a woman woes, what womans ſonne,
Will ſourely leaue her till he haue preuailed.
Aye me, but yet thou mighſt my ſeate forbeare,
And chide thy beauty, and thy ſtraying youth,
Who lead thee in their ryot euen there
Where thou art forſt to break a two-fold truth:
Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine by thy beautie beeing falſe to me.

As foreshadowed in Sonnet 40, Sonnet 41 identifies the youth’s love as that of a woman; its admission, “Gentle thou art,” recalls Sonnet 40’s epithet, “gentle theife.” The pettiness of the wrongs he inflicts (“Those pretty wrongs”) is undermined as the sonnet progresses: “pretty” wrongs are ‘little’ wrongs, an ironic usage, which to the youth may be little but which require allowance and forgiveness from the poet. They are also the wrongs of a libertine (“liberty” gives licence), which occur when the youth forgets the poet: “When I am some-time absent from thy heart.” Yet, the poet concedes, they are the natural consequence of (“full well befits”) and must be considered against the youth’s “beautie” and “yeares.” Third person singular verbs (“befits”) for plural subjects (“wrongs”) were common. Temptation continues to pursue him even till now (“still,” the hunt metaphor will be extended later in “ryot”) or ‘silent’ (“still”) temptation stalks him wherever he is.

The second quatrain adapts a paradox which Shakespeare uses elsewhere: “She’s beautifull; and therefore to be Wooed: / She is a Woman; therefore to be Wonne” (IH6 5.3.78-79), and, “Shee is a woman, therefore may be woo’d, / Shee is a woman, therfore may be wonne” (Tit. 2.1.83-84). The youth’s “Gentle” nature, both ‘kind’ and ‘well-born,’ exists only “to be wonne,” his beauty exists only “to be assailed;” “assailed,” ‘attacked’ or ‘set upon,’ introduces the petrarchist trope of a body under siege, but also plays on its root, ‘ad + salire,’ to ‘leap upon’ or ‘mount’ (compare TN 1.3.60, “Accost, is front her, boord her, woe her, assayle her,” where the sexual suggestion is strongly present). It is a woman’s nature to woo (“woes”) and what young man (“womans sonne”) would, without proving victorious, depart from her bitterly (“sourely” hints at a hunting trail gone ‘sour’)?

The sestet begins with “Aye me,” a hackneyed sigh of sonneteers meaning ‘alas,’ which introduces the poet’s hope that the youth “might my seate forbeare.” A “seate” is a place that is the property of someone, a chair or ancestral home. But, as in Othello, “I do suspect the lustie Moore / Hath leap’d into my Seate” (2.1.289; “leap’d,” recalling the earlier “assailed”), it has an implied sexual sense. The poet wishes that the youth might forgo (“forbeare”) the woman’s “seate,” the possession of the poet, or rebuke (“chide”) his “beauty” and his youthful years, which have lead him astray (“straying youth”) and into a dissolute life: “lead thee in their ryot” (“ryot,” in the context of a hunt is the leading astray of the hounds through a false scent). 1 The result is a double falsity, where the youth is seen to “breake a two-fold truth” and which anticipates the mistress’ double falsity in Sonnet 152, “thou art twice forsworne to me loue swearing,” with its “bed-vow broake” and “two othes breach.” Here, firstly, the “truth” (‘troth’ or ‘totality’) of the woman is broken through the tempting which arises from the youth’s beauty. Secondly, the youth’s truth is broken, since he has betrayed the poet because of his beauty. The twofold injury is taken up in Sonnet 42.


41.1. OED riot 3a.