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Sonnet 133 Introduction

In A Nutshell

What's that you say? You love reading about gut-wrenching love triangles that leave their victims feeling wounded and tormented? Great. Drop that issue of The National Enquirer, and grab a copy of Will Shakespeare's Sonnet 133. (What? You thought we would ask you to read all 154 of Shakespeare's Sonnets right now? Please. We know you're busy.)

Sonnet 133 is the first one in the sequence where the Speaker confronts his mistress (a.k.a. girlfriend) for hooking up with his BFF. Scandalous.

Actually, "confronts" is a major understatement, because the dude pretty much curses her for torturing him and turning his buddy into her pathetic love slave. Oh, and by the way, Sonnets 134, 144, and 40-42 seem to be all about the same three-way drama.

So, let's talk more about this "cruel" mistress. She's all over Sonnets 127-152. Hey—maybe you've met her or heard of her before? Literary critics like to call her the "Dark Lady" because she has dark hair and skin and, according to our speaker, she's promiscuous and absolutely loves stomping all over the hearts of men.

Who's the "friend" the mistress seduces? It's probably the exact same guy our speaker addresses in Sonnets 1-126. Literary critics like to call this guy the "Fair Youth" because he's 1) young and 2) super-good-looking. FYI: our speaker is just a tiny bit obsessed with him and spends all his time in Sonnets 1-54 trying to convince this guy to run out and have babies.

Over the years, there have been a TON of conspiracy theories about whether or not the sonnets are autobiographical. (Ralph Waldo Emerson we're looking at you.) Now, we're not saying Uncle Shakespeare didn't know a thing or two about painful relationships or freaky love triangles, but, these days, most literary critics (like Harold Bloom) don't think the sonnets should be read as Shakespeare's super steamy and oh-so-secret diary. So, when we talk about the sonnet's speaker, his mistress, and his friend, we treat them like fictional characters in a really juicy drama. (Okay, okay. If you really have your heart set on the idea that Sonnet 133 is about a real life love triangle, go to "Shout-Outs" and we'll tell you about the major candidates.)

By the way, we have no idea if Shakespeare ever planned on sharing these little soap operas (um, we mean sonnets) with the public. They seem to have been written in the 1590s when they were circulated privately among Shakespeare's pals. We know this because, in 1598, a guy named Francis Meres bagged on the poems and called them "Shakespeare's Sugared Sonnets among his private friends." Hmm. We guess old Francis didn't get around to reading Sonnet 133, because it's anything but sweet and sappy.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Sonnets were published together in 1609 (probably without Shakespeare's permission) by a seedy dude named Thomas Thorpe, who had a rep for stealing manuscripts to make money. Here's what the original edition looks like.


Why Should I Care?

If you're looking for something sweet and romantic to cut and paste onto that homemade Valentine's Day card you've whipped up for the love of your life, you have come to the wrong place. Sure, Sonnet 133 is chock full of those clichés about love that are always popping up on cheesy greeting cards.You know the ones we're talking about:

  • Loving you = being wounded by Cupid's arrow. 
  • I'm a prisoner to your love, baby.
  • Hey Girl, I'm your love slave.

The thing is, though, that Shakespeare takes all those clichés and turns them into something really disgusting and painful in this sonnet. Seriously. Hearts don't get nicked by some chubby little god's arrow here—they get seriously wounded and wind up groaning in agony (metaphorically speaking, of course). And that's just what goes down in the first 2 lines.

So, Sonnet 133 is not so much a "love poem" as it is an "I hate your guts because you've ripped out my heart and stomped all over it" poem. Think of it as a cross between Cee Lo Green's "F[orget] You" and Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." It's angry, bitter, and full of nasty accusations.

We're guessing that's why it's so popular, because just about everyone on the planet knows what it feels like to be hurt by someone they love. Oh, hey. We're not accusing you of having been caught up in a steamy love triangle like the speaker of Sonnet 133. But, we're guessing you know a thing or two about heartache and betrayal, and that's what this sonnet is all about.

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