Sonnet 140: Be Wise As Thou Art Cruel; Do Not Press

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain,
Lest sorrow lend me words and words express
The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so,
As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
No news but health from their physicians know.
For if I should despair, I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee,
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believèd be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.

by William Shakespeare

Comments (3)

The beauty of this sonnet is that it manages to compress so many different emotions and turbulent changes of direction into so few words. The lover both hovers on the edge of frenzy and on the edge of despair, he is loved and disdained, he trusts and does not trust, he speaks from the heart, and yet he hardly dares to speak his mind, he longs for her to love him, but he sees that her heart is proud, he hopes not to be driven to frenzy, but he thinks that he is half way there already. Although the sonnet, as the previous one, of which it is more or less a continuation, draws on many conventional ideas, it is itself highly unconventional. It threatens to spill the beans on the beloved, and to show that she is neither chaste nor fair. There was often an element of seeking revenge for the beloved's proud aloofness in the sonneteer's plaints.
In sonnet 139, the poet makes a candid and humiliating plea to his cheating mistress, begging her to refrain from looking at other men when she is with him. The theme continues in sonnet 140, although the poet's tone is less docile.
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