Sonnets 121-140

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are some of the most fascinating and influential poems written in English. First published in 1609, in a small quarto edition (roughly the size of a modern paperback), almost nothing is known about the poems’ composition. But the Sonnets have been read, recited, reprinted and written about ever since their first appearance.

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list

Sonnets 121-140

Sonnets 121-140
  • Sonnet 121
    Sonnet 121

    «‘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. Sonnet 121…

  • Sonnet 122
    Sonnet 122

    «Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain Full character’d with lasting memory».  Just as the poet gave a notebook to the youth in Sonnet 77, the youth has given the poet a notebook, which the poet discards. Sonnet 122 Read and listen Thy gift,…

  • Sonnet 123
    Sonnet 123

    «No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change: Thy pyramids built up with newer might».  The poet clearly denies that he is one of time’s fools, or one who acts only for immediate satisfaction: “No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do…

  • Sonnet 124
    Sonnet 124

    «If my dear love were but the child of state, It might for Fortune’s bastard be unfather’d’».  Developing further the theme of constancy from the previous sonnet, the poet argues that love — “that heretic” — is not subject to cancellation or change. Sonnet 124…

  • Sonnet 125
    Sonnet 125

    «Were ‘t aught to me I bore the canopy, With my extern the outward honouring’».  For the poet, love is not a matter of external pride — that is, he is not interested in his rivals’ self-frustrating displays of false love (lines 1–2). Sonnet 125…

  • Sonnet 126
    Sonnet 126

    «O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour».  Sonnet 126 is the last of the poems about the youth, and it sums up the dominant theme: Time destroys both beauty and love. Sonnet 126 Read and…

  • Sonnet 127
    Sonnet 127

    «In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name».  Sonnet 127, which begins the sequence dealing with the poet’s relationship to his mistress, the Dark Lady, defends the poet’s unfashionable taste in brunettes. Sonnet 127 Read…

  • Sonnet 128
    Sonnet 128

    «How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st, Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds».  Sonnet 128 is one of the few sonnets that create a physical scene, although that scene involves only the poet standing beside “that blessed wood” — probably a harpsichord, a…

  • Sonnet 129
    Sonnet 129

    «The expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action; and till action, lust».  The mistress is not mentioned in this sonnet. Instead, the poet pens a violent diatribe against the sin of lust. Sonnet 129 Read and listen The expense of…

  • Sonnet 130
    Sonnet 130

    «My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red».  Sonnet 130 is a parody of the Dark Lady, who falls too obviously short of fashionable beauty to be extolled in print. The poet, openly contemptuous of his…

  • Sonnet 131
    Sonnet 131

    «Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art, As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel».  The poet further discusses his mistress’s unattractive appearance. The first quatrain continues the previous sonnet’s ending thought, that the Dark Lady is “the fairest and most precious jewel.” Sonnet…

  • Sonnet 132
    Sonnet 132

    «Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me, Knowing thy heart torments me with disdain».  Sonnet 132 represents an intensification of the poet’s feelings for the Dark Lady, ironically paralleling his former relationship with the youth in that the poet recognizes that she does…

  • Sonnet 133
    Sonnet 133

    «Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!».  Whereas Sonnet 132 makes the mistress into a chaste beauty, Sonnet 133 maligns her for seducing the poet’s friend, the young man: “Beshrew that heart that…

  • Sonnet 134
    Sonnet 134

    «So, now I have confess’d that he is thine, And I myself am mortgaged to thy will».  The story of the poet’s friend’s seduction unfolds in Sonnet 134. Hoping to gain the woman’s favor, the poet sends the young man to the woman with a…

  • Sonnet 135
    Sonnet 135

    «Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy ‘Will,’ And ‘Will’ to boot, and ‘Will’ in overplus».  The punning on the word “will” continues from the previous sonnet. The poet wants to continue his sexual relationship with his mistress, but she is already bursting with lovers:…

  • Sonnet 136
    Sonnet 136

    «If thy soul cheque thee that I come so near, Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy ‘Will,’».  Sonnet 136 continues to play on the word “will,” and the result is still more damaging to the woman’s character. The lady has other lovers…

  • Sonnet 137
    Sonnet 137

    «Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes, That they behold, and see not what they see?».  The dichotomy between the impulses of the eye and the heart is developed further in this sonnet. After the preceding two sexually comic sonnets, Sonnet 137…

  • Sonnet 138
    Sonnet 138

    «When my love swears that she is made of truth I do believe her, though I know she lies».  Sonnet 138 presents a candid psychological study of the mistress that reveals many of her hypocrisies. Certainly she is still very much the poet’s mistress, but…

  • Sonnet 139
    Sonnet 139

    «O, call not me to justify the wrong That thy unkindness lays upon my heart».  Regressing to his former melodramatic verse, the poet begs the woman to be honest with him and confess her infidelity. Sonnet 139 Read and listen O, call not me to…

  • Sonnet 140
    Sonnet 140

    «Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain».   Sinking quickly into despair over the sad state of his relationship with the woman, the poet threatens the woman with public humiliation should she not at least feign love…

»»» Sonnets introduction

They have inspired many creative works, including music and dance pieces as well as other poems. And they continue to intrigue those of us who watch, read and study Shakespeare’s plays, for the insight they might offer into the mind of the man who wrote our most beloved dramatic works. This piece will explore why the Sonnets are so important to the history of English poetry and why they continue to be enjoyed – and imitated – today.

Part of the reason Shakespeare’s Sonnets speak to us so directly is that they are written with their own afterlife in mind. These are poems designed to commemorate the poet’s beloved for all eternity. In the famous lines of Sonnet 18 Shakespeare suggests that his poem confers immortality: ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee’ (ll. 11.13–14). Long after his lover’s death, Shakespeare’s poem will continue to keep his lover alive. The Sonnets look to their own future, imagining the readers who will come to them hundreds of years after Shakespeare’s death. We continue to read the poems partly because of this sense of contact with Shakespeare as he reaches out into the future, a sense of presence as well as a reminder of his absence (a theme that will return later in this piece).

But we need to be careful about reading the poems autobiographically, or seeing them as a key to the themes of love, jealousy, anger and lust that pervade Shakespeare’s plays. The poetic persona who speaks through the sequence is not Shakespeare himself. While many readers of the poems have traced a love triangle between the ‘poet’ and two figures often called the ‘Young Man’ and the ‘Dark Lady’, the Sonnets themselves resist straightforward narrative. The poems seem to play with the reader in this regard, tempting us with hints of the kind of love story that underpinned other popular poetic sequences of the time, or the plot of a Shakespearean comedy. At the same time, the poems constantly frustrate our attempts to trace the exact moment at which the poet loses – or gains – the affection of his lovers, or to map the precise relationship between the two enigmatic figures that so preoccupy his attentions. It is also significant that one of the lovers is male; Shakespeare’s Sonnets do not give us a predictably heterosexual romance but rather a complex and intricate exploration of gender and sexuality that encourages ambiguity rather than resolution.


1 – 20 21 – 40 41 – 60
61 – 80 81 – 100 101 – 120
121 – 140
141 – 154

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list