«‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteem’d,
When not to be receives reproach of being».
The poet receives the same public reproof as the youth did earlier in the sonnets and is forced to consider whether or not his actions are immoral.
‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteem’d,
Maintaining that “‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed / When not to be receives reproach of being,” under no circumstance will he tolerate hypocrisy. He will not defend the indefensible in himself but will admit the truth of his errors: “No, I am that I am; and they that level / At my abuses reckon up their own.” The phrase “I am that I am” is biblical in its affirmation of self-knowledge and humility. The poet will not submit to the judgment of those with “false adulterate eyes” nor let them make evil what he holds to be good — although in the concluding couplet there is a hint of pessimism on the poet’s part.
English audio from YouTube Channel Socratica
Summary from Cliffsnotes.com