Sonnet Cxxxv

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,'
And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will'
One will of mine, to make thy large 'Will' more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one 'Will.'

by William Shakespeare

Comments (4)

This and the following sonnets ring the changes on the potential bawdy connotations of one word, 'will'. Commentators have identified six or seven relevant meanings (not all of them bawdy) . Any reader of the two sonnets (this and the following one) soon realises that the hidden meanings are of greater importance than the surface meaning. In fact the obvious signification of will as 'volition, desire, intent' is often suppressed entirely, and a straightforward reading of the poem, bypassing or ignoring all the bawdy puns, tends to produce nonsense. One therefore has to be aware of these other meanings to make sense out of apparent nonsense.
It must be said that the poem is not entirely flattering to the woman addressed. One wonders whether or not she was ever shown any of these productions. Probably not, because they are written so entirely from a male perspective that it would be considered appropriate only to circulate them within a coterie of male friends. Women were considered to be deficient in understanding of many topics. Lord Cecil reprimanded an ambassador for discussing a particular subject with Queen Elizabeth because, as he said, 'it was a matter of such weight, being too much for a woman's knowledge'. But here the subject matter is, apart from its indelicacy, of such a nature that any woman seeing it, if she were of an independent mind, would be inclined to dismiss it as being typical male mythology, totally unrelated to the way in which women act and think. For it is based on the viewpoint, common to all male dominated societies, that the female through her sexuality constitutes a threat to established order. Any woman was potentially regarded as a man eater and capable of alluring males to her so that they might be held in bondage for evermore, as in the Homeric myth of Circe. Although not clearly stated, except perhaps in folk literature, the bondage was often that of having to satisfy her enormous sexual appetite. The subject of the Chaucer's Wife of Bath's tale is the attempt to discover 'what women most desire'. The answer finally given is that they most wish for dominion over their husbands, but many counter suggestions are made before this conclusion is reached.
Nevertheless the sonnet is essentially one of despair. It sues to be recognised and pleads for recompense 'more than that tongue that more hath more expressed', but both it and the following one leave the impression that the author is excluded from the charmed circle. Although others seem to be enjoying the dark lady's favours with very little restriction, the same is not true for the poet, and he is left on the outside, his mind inflamed, and his spirit and body cast into the outer darkness.
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