Midlife Crisis in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 138 Essay
1954 Words8 Pages
Midlife Crisis in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 138
William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 138” presents an aging man’s rationalization for deceit in an affair with a younger woman. The speaker of the sonnet realizes his mistress lies to him about being faithful. He in turn, portrays himself as younger than he actually is: “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her though I know she lies, / That she might think me some untutored youth…” (1-3). “Sonnet 138” allows the reader a glimpse into the speaker’s mind, and what one finds is a man suffering from what is commonly known as a midlife crisis. In an effort to reverse “the downslope [sic] of age” (Kermode “Millions”), he takes part in a duplicitous affair with a…show more content…
In the last quatrain of “Sonnet 138,” the speaker questions why the lies are necessary to perpetuate the affair (9-10), then “makes lame excuses for” the deceptions (Levin “Shakespeare’s”). The couplet concludes the sonnet by the speaker resigning himself to the situation (13-4).
If fear of aging is the underlying cause behind the affair and lust is the motive, dishonesty is the means. The speaker’s issues regarding dishonesty appear in all three parts of the sonnet. In the first two quatrains, he makes it clear that honesty in his affair is utterly unimportant: “When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her though I know she lies…” (1-2). The speaker states matter-of-factly that he knows his mistress is unfaithful to him, yet he chooses to believe her, at least outwardly. Conversely, though, the use of the word “swears” in line one could mean, according to Seamus Cooney, that the speaker questioned his mistress about her fidelity (“Shakespeare”). In lines three through six, as mentioned above, the speaker also feels no qualms about trying to deceive his mistress regarding his age. To prove that honesty is not a virtue in the first two quatrains, the speaker even comments on how his mistress tries to fool him by going along with his deception, and he confesses to pretending not to notice when she tries to fool him! According to Moore, the deceit present “is so cynical [and] self-conscious … that