SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS – The Dark Lady, Much Loved and Much Hated
By Michael Warren
The final 24 sonnets (out of a total of 154) are very different from the earlier ones which describe Shakespeare’s love and admiration for his patron, the young Earl of Southampton. These latter sonnets are poems of infatuation, desire and lust and finally dislike, about a young woman who has dark hair and a sultry skin. Shakespeare describes her, and at the same time parodies the unreal comparisons that other poets use, in Sonnet 130:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,/ Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;/ If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,/ If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head…
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know/ That music hath a far more pleasing sound;/ I grant I never saw a goddess go,/ My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground./ And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/ As any she belied by false compare.
Here Shakespeare rejects the obvious flattery that was fashionable at the time. He loves her just as she is, with black hair and olive complexion. But this woman, with whom he is madly in love, is also capricious and cruel – as he tells us in the very next sonnet:
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,/ As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;/ For well thou know’st to my dear doting heart/ Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel…
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,/ And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.
Things get even worse – she jilts him (possibly for his patron Southampton) and Shakespeare is in torment. He describes his agony in Sonnet 147:
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth vainly expressed./ For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
So who was the beautiful, capricious and cruel Dark Lady? All will be revealed next month.
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