Study Guide

Sonnet 137 Revenge

By William Shakespeare

Revenge

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

The way the speaker spits out his words at the beginning of this sonnet makes his anger at the god of Love clear. This might make you think that he plans to get Revenge on the god of Love. And yet, would this even be possible? Can someone get revenge on a god? We’ll have to keep reading the poem to see what the speaker’s desire for payback amounts to.

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

Uh-oh. It looks like somebody didn’t treat the speaker very well. We can tell this as the speaker starts to pull back the curtain a little bit and reveal what Love has deceived him about: his lover. Even though his eyes make it seem as if she is the "best" in the world, she really is the "worst." Could the speaker actually be trying to get revenge on her?

If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride (5-6)

Oh yeah, now he’s gone and done it. The speaker’s lady-friend certainly isn’t going to like this. The extreme obscenity and disgustingness of the way the speaker portrays the lady’s sex-life definitely makes it look like writing this poem is an act of revenge.

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

The same goes for this quotation as for the last one. The speaker’s hardcore insults against the lady definitely make it seem like writing this poem is an act of revenge.

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

In these lines, the speaker hits the lady up with a slightly more subtle insult, but one likely to sting, nonetheless. Instead of calling the lady’s face "false" (in its old-fashioned meaning of "unfaithful")—the word we would expected as the opposite of "truth" (in its old-fashioned meaning of "loyalty")—he calls her "foul." That’s right, the speaker is saying, "You’re such a jerk, I’m not even going to use symmetrical phrasing to insult you. Booyah!"

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

These lines round off the poem. Do they make it sound like the speaker succeeded in getting his revenge? Well, the insult contained in the phrase "false plague" is definitely a doozy. First of all, the word "plague" might be a reference to the STDs the speaker’s lady-friend has picked up through her "false[ness]," or infidelity. At the same time, critic Helen Vendler suggests that the word "plague" might be playing off the word’s Latin root meaning of plaga, meaning "wound," and suggesting the female genitalia. If you put these two ideas together, you get some sense of the sexual insult the speaker is getting at. That said, the speaker also tells us that his "heart and eyes" are now "transferred" to his mistress. The word "transferred" in this line is being used in a legal sense meaning to "transfer" ownership from one person to another. So, basically, the speaker is saying that his lady "owns" his eyes and heart. This suggests that she still has him in her almost godlike control—meaning his revenge isn’t likely to be successful. (Heck, he might even end up wanting to patch things up with her.) Thus, it looks like neither of the poet’s possible avenues of revenge were successful. He can’t do anything to love, and his mistress still ends up in control of him at the poem’s end.

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