Lies Upon Lies: A thematic explication of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 138

Essay by amittlpHigh School, 10th gradeA+, March 2004

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In Shakespeare's sonnet 138, the narrator depicts his relationship and its entanglement in lies. Although the narrator's lover is unfaithful, both pretend to be oblivious to the situation. Through punning and connotation, Shakespeare manifests the same equivocations the narrator and his lover have expressed to each other. Wordplay, creating double meanings and fallacies, allows the reader to experience the many underlying deceits fabricated to preserve their relationship.

Throughout the sonnet, the connotations of the word "truth" manipulate the perceptions of the relationship. In the first quatrain, the narrator's love "swears that she is made of truth"(1). Immediately, the audience speculates upon the meaning of truth. It could mean the narrator's love swears she is honest with him. However, because the narrator's "love" is speaking, truth also seems to connote fidelity. Truth becomes more than honesty; it becomes the fulfilled obligations of the relationship. Through the second quatrain, the narrator embellishes upon "truth" (fidelity) in the relationship through two other connotations of the word truth.

The narrator suggests that the woman's amorous affairs external to the relationship are truths, and the narrator's hidden knowledge of this fact is another truth. Through the three truths, a paradox is created: "simple truth"(8) is "suppressed"(8) to preserve the truth of fidelity. In the third quatrain, the narrator further solidifies the paradox by describing their relationship as "seeming trust"(11). The word "seeming" implies that while the couple pretends to trust each other, the trust is in fact, a mask to hide the reality of the relationship: fidelity is not preserved. It just "seems" like it is.

Punning upon the word "lie" also manipulates the audience by presenting two different events within the same text through the word's double meaning. The narrator claims, "I know she lies"(2). "Lie" not only expresses her dishonesty, but it is...