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Sonnet 147

Sonnet 147

Analysis: Speaker

Paging Dr. Shakespeare! We've got a lovesick patient on our hands, Shmoopers. Actually, lustsick is probably a better way to describe the speaker of Sonnet 147. The guy spends 12 out of 14 lines of the poem comparing his passion and desire to a burning "fever" (1) that's not getting any better.

If you're thinking "Gee, that sounds kind of hot," think again. This sonnet is all about the destructiveness of sexual desire and the speaker's inability to get out of an unhealthy relationship with someone who's been playing him like a chump. (And possibly giving him an STD.)

What's interesting about this sonnet is that our feverish speaker's symptoms get worse and worse as the sonnet progresses. Eventually, he says he's lost his mind: "My thoughts and my discourse are as madmen's are, / At random from the truth vainly expressed;" (11-12). Wow. He sounds a little out of breath and disoriented here, just like someone who's delirious from fever and can't think straight.

But do we really believe him when he says his lust has made him lose his mind? He certainly wants us to think so but, it's hard to say because the guy sounds pretty coherent in the sonnet's final couplet. That's where he stops ranting and raving like a madman and directly addresses his lover. Check out what he says:

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
(13-14)

Um, yikes. Supposedly, this is the proof that the speaker has been talking and acting like a "madman." He's basically saying that, like a crazy person, he once thought his mistress was beautiful, honest, and good, but the truth is that she's ugly and morally corrupt.

By the way, you're welcome to disagree with us but we think he's talking to the same mistress that shows up all over the place in Sonnets 127-152. Literary critics call her the "Dark Lady" because she's often described in the sequence as having dark physical features and lousy morals.

That's a pretty nasty thing to say, right? Why's he so ticked off? Like we said, it seems like our speaker is accusing his mistress of cheating on him. Also, it's totally possible she's literally made him "ill" by giving him an STD, especially since he goes on and on about "disease" (2), "ill[ness]" (3), and his "sickly appetite" (4). Oh, did we mention he thinks "desire is death" (8)? Head on over to "Themes: Sex" if you want to know more about what he might mean by that.

So our speaker feels like a chump who's been deceived by his mistress and himself. But how are we supposed to react to his ugly attitude toward this woman? Do you think his insulting remarks are justified? If not, are we supposed to excuse the speaker's behavior and write it off as the ranting and raving of a madman? Does the speaker get a free pass because he's so lovesick and has lost his mind?

Plenty of people have made that argument. On the other hand, some readers just aren't buying his whole madman routine and think it's just an excuse to hurl some ugly insults at his mistress. Hmm. Now, who does that remind us of? Oh, we know. Hamlet does the same thing to Ophelia.

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