Sonnets 111–120

Sonnet 111

O! for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me, then, and wish I were renew'd;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink,
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
     Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,
     Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

Sonnet 112
Your love and pity doth the impression fill,
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel'd sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
     You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
     That all the world besides methinks are dead.

Sonnet 113
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth latch:
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud'st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour or deformed'st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night:
The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature.
     Incapable of more, replete with you,
     My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.

Sonnet 114
Or whether doth my mind, being crown'd with you,
Drink up the monarch's plague, this flattery?
Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
And that your love taught it this alchemy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
O! 'tis the first, 'tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is 'greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
     If it be poison'd, 'tis the lesser sin
     That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

Sonnet 115
Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million'd accidents
Creep in 'twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas! why fearing of Time's tyranny,
Might I not then say, 'Now I love you best,'
When I was certain o'er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
     Love is a babe, then might I not say so,
     To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

Sonnet 117
Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchas'd right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise, accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your waken'd hate;
     Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
     The constancy and virtue of your love.

Sonnet 118
Like as, to make our appetite more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As, to prevent our maladies unseen,
We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so, being full of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
To be diseas'd, ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, to anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assur'd,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cur'd;
     But thence I learn and find the lesson true,
     Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.

Sonnet 119
What potions have I drunk of Siren tears,
Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted,
In the distraction of this madding fever!
O benefit of ill! now I find true
That better is, by evil still made better;
And ruin'd love, when it is built anew,
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
     So I return rebuk'd to my content,
     And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent.

Sonnet 120
That you were once unkind befriends me now,
And for that sorrow, which I then did feel,
Needs must I under my transgression bow,
Unless my nerves were brass or hammer'd steel.
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you've pass'd a hell of time;
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffer'd in your crime.
O! that our night of woe might have remember'd
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you, as you to me, then tender'd
The humble salve, which wounded bosoms fits!
     But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
     Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.


  1. Sonnet 120 extends the speaker’s written defense for his conduct. However, unlike the previous sonnet in which he places the blame on himself, the speaker reiterates the fair youth’s misconduct as recompense for his own actions. As the final couplet shows, the speaker brings up the fair youth’s infidelity in order to cancel out his own. The speaker’s “trespass” is balanced out by the fair youth’s “fee,” much in the way debts are repaid. Through parallel structure, the final line of the sonnet demonstrates how the speaker’s transgression “ransoms,” or releases, the fair youth, while the fair youth’s transgression releases his.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Through myriad allusions, the speaker demonstrates the magnitude of his “madding fever” as he tries to defend his infidelity. The allusion to “Siren tears” refers to the mythical Greek creatures, famously mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, who lured sailors to shipwreck with their voices. The Sirens likely shed tears when they were unsuccessful in their endeavor to lure sailors to the rocky shore. In the following line, the word “limbecks” refers to flasks alchemists used to purify liquids. The image of drinking Siren tears distilled in these flasks suggests that the speaker has drunk some sort of pure, potent concoction that has led him to commit his acts of infidelity.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. In the opening lines of Sonnet 115, the speaker admits that all of the previous sonnets have been insufficient portrayals of his true love to the fair youth. His flame, a representation of desirous love, “burn[s] clearer” now than ever before. The sonnet goes on to decry the tyrannical nature of Time, which “creep[s]” in to decay and efface beauty. However, at the volta, the tone of the sonnet shifts as the speaker reins in his fear, asking why he has ever doubted love. Time is irrelevant since love continues to grow indefinitely like a “babe.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. In Sonnet 113, the speaker grappled with his deceptive vision. Here at the volta of Sonnet 114, he learns to accept it. Although his mind might be poisoned with false images, he nonetheless learns that his ability to transform monsters to cherubins through the fair youth’s image is a form of flattery.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The speaker’s eyes deceive him now that he and the fair youth are physically apart. Authentic images of birds and flowers cannot take hold in his mind. Meanwhile, objects both of beauty and deformity—beasts, mountains, seas, day, night, crows, and doves—transform into the image of the fair youth. The speaker is so tortured by the fair youth’s absence that his image begins to permeate and and subsume everything he sees.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. In Sonnet 112, the speaker claims that any of his shame or “vulgar scandals” are overshadowed by the fair youth’s “praises.” Echoing Sonnet 31, in which the speaker states “And thou—all they—hast all the all of me,” the speaker states that the fair youth is his “all-the-world.” This phrase suggests the speaker’s all-encompassing and blind devotion to the fair youth. The second half of the sonet demonstrates the extent of the speaker’s faithfulness and allegiance to the fair youth: all others’ opinions may as well be thrown into an abyss and the rest of the world may as well be dead.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. At the volta, the speaker accepts that his actions were ultimately an ineffective medicine. The speaker has spent so much time ruminating on the potential ills of the relationship that he has now introduced the very “maladies” he was so worried about. The final line also holds a potential double meaning. It can be read as referring to “lovesickness,” such that the speaker has been “poisoned” by his chosen medicine because he was unfaithful to the person he loved. However, it can also indicate that the speaker has grown tired of the youth and has “poisoned” himself with drugs in the attempt to rekindle the lost affection.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. In Elizabethan England, people would take medicines prior to getting sick as a preventative measure. Many of these preventive medicines were designed to induce vomiting in order to “purge” the system of toxins, causing people to feel ill. The speaker uses this extended simile to imply that he sought out new lovers in order to prevent himself from growing sick of the “ne’er cloying” sweetness of the fair youth. Furthermore, despite describing the youth’s sweetness as “ne’er cloying,” his sweetness is what led the speaker to require the “bitter sauces” of new company. In the context of the medical conceit, “bitter sauces” conjures images of unpleasant, but necessary, medicines.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. In a reversal of the situation from sonnets 40, 41, and 42, it is now the speaker who must defend his own infidelity. In those earlier sonnets, the speaker denounces the fair youth for betraying him, accusing him of being “false” before ultimately pardoning him. In Sonnet 117, it appears that those accusations have now been turned on the speaker. He comes to his own defense by saying that his transgressions were designed to test whether the fair youth truly loved him. The speaker calls upon the fair youth to prove his love, and since the speaker excused the youth’s transgressions, he now expects the youth to forgive his.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. For in-depth look at “Sonnet 116,” read our expert analysis on its own page.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. "True minds" refers to fidelity as opposed to authenticity. In Shakespeare's time, the word "true" could mean constant or faithful. The speaker, who is frustrated by his lover's inconstancy, insists that "love is not love" if it extinguishes or alters in the face of change.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. This would be the star's height above the horizon and not its distance from the earth.

    — William Delaney
  13. By referring to Fortune as the “guilty goddess,” the poet suggests that his dire financial state forced him to enter into lower-class work—what he calls “public means.” Indeed, Fortune is not on the speaker’s side; he lives in modesty, instead of the aristocratic life he desires.

    — William Delaney