Study Guide

Sonnet 137 Lies and Deceit

By William Shakespeare

Lies and Deceit

Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold and see not what they see? (1-2)

The first sentence of the poem sets up the theme of lies and deceit. The speaker thinks that his eyes are deceiving him, but the way the speaker says this is somewhat confusing. The first time the word "see" comes up in this line, it means "understand." The second time it has its normal meaning relating to the sense of sight. Thus, what the speaker is saying in line 2 is that his eyes don’t understand what they’re looking at. But, even though it’s his eyes that are deceiving him, the speaker doesn’t blame them. Instead, he accuses the god Love of being the one who has made his eyes go all wacky.

They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be. (3-4)

In these lines, the speaker explains what his eyes are deceiving him about. Apparently, the problem has to do with "beauty." His eyes know what beauty is, they know it when they see it, but for some strange reason, they make him think that the "worst" thing in the world is the "best."

If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes' falsehood hast thou forgèd hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied? (5-8)

In quatrain 2, the speaker finally spills the beans on what all the fuss is about. It seems that his eyes are deceiving him about his lady-love. Even though they know that she is totally cheating on him, they still can’t pull themselves away from her. But that’s not the worst of it—they’ve got his heart involved, too. And who’s behind all this nonsense? Love, that’s who, as the speaker points out in his reference to "thou" in line 7.

Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place? (9-10)

In line 9, however, a shift occurs—one that will continue echoing for the rest of the poem. From now on, the speaker doesn’t say anything about the god of Love being behind the deception. In these lines, he blames his "heart" for the deception.

Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face? (11-12)

Now, he turns the focus back to his "eyes"—the same figures he blamed for deceiving him at the beginning of the poem. This time around, however, in keeping with the changed focus of the second half of the poem, the speaker doesn’t accuse the god of Love of being behind his eyes' deception. Does this mean that he has gotten rid of the self-deception that Love was behind it all? Or is he deceiving himself now by thinking that his heart and his eyes acted alone?

In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferred. (13-14)

The same question from the previous quotation applies here. Now that the speaker is just blaming his "heart and eyes," has he freed himself of the self-deception that Love is behind it all? Or is he deceiving himself now? That is to say, is Love still behind everything, even if the speaker is pretending that he’s not?

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