Sonnet 138 by William Shakespeare


The poetry of the world-renowned 16th-century playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, are thick with imagery and often unstable symbolism. Often his works shimmer from the multiplicity of meanings plausible, especially from one reading to the next. Sonnet 138 dives into a complicated relationship where both the speaker and his beloved constantly lie to each other. The speaker knows his beloved lies, yet he believes her to make her think he is an untutored youth. The sonnet explores themes of truth, lies, and love, and presents a paradoxical situation where the lovers find comfort in each other’s lies. 

When my love swears that she is made of truth, 
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties. 
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
    Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the theme of truth and deception play out in this poem?
  2. What does the sonnet suggest about the nature of love and relationships?
  3. How does Shakespeare’s use of irony contribute to the overall message of the sonnet?
  4. What emotions or thoughts does the paradoxical situation of finding comfort in lies evoke in you as a reader?

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