Do not wound me with your eye but with your tongue;
Use power with power and slay me not by art.
Use your power to kill me with power, therefore, do not kill me by artifice.
Tell me thou lovest elsewhere, but in my sight,
Tell me you have other lovers, but when you are in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside:
Darling, refrain from looking at them:
What need'st thou wound with cunning when thy might
Why do you need to wound me in this way when your power,
Is more than my o'er-press'd defense can bide?
Is greater than my taxed power of resistance can stand?
Let me excuse thee: ah! my love well knows
But let me plead an excuse for you: my beloved knows
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies,
That her wanton looks have been my enemies,
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
And therefore she turns her eyes away from me,
That they elsewhere might dart their injuries:
That they may inflict injuries on someone else:
Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
Yet do not do this; since I am already nearly slain by your actions,
Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.
Kill me right now and rid me of my mental anguish.
O, call not...my heart (1-2): "The 'wrong' and 'unkindness' (2) refer not to the conventional 'coldness' of a desired mistress but to the unfaithfulness of the poet's mistress in loving 'elsewhere' (5) and in, unblushingly, allowing the poet to witness her roving eye (see lines 5-6). Thus, in terms of the conventionally cold and chaste mistress celebrated by most sonnet writers, her behaviour may be considered 'unkind' (ie. unnatural)" (G. Blakemore Evans, 257).
Wound...tongue (3): i.e., Do not wound me with your eye by refusing to look at me.
Use...art (4): i.e., Because you can physically kill me whenever you wish by using the real force of a crushing blow (or by some other means), you should not hesitate to use that power in an open and direct way, and not try to kill me by indirect means (ie. by cheating on me and throwing it in my face).
o'erpressed (8): overburdened.
Her...enemies (10): Elsewhere in the Sonnets we are told that his mistress is not attractive in the standard sense of the word and so we must take 'pretty looks' here to mean, not her 'pretty features' but her wanton glances at other men.
Twenty-four of the Sonnets are addressed to Shakespeare's mistress, otherwise known as the Dark Lady. Shakespeare never actually refers to her as such, but he tells us that she is "a woman color'd ill" with jet black hair and eyes. She is not beautiful, nor does the poet find his relationship with her rewarding in the same way that he finds his relationship with his other lover, likely the real-life Earl of Southampton, rewarding. His affair with the dark lady is based his desire to satisfy his physical rather than spiritual and intellectual needs. At times we see that his mistress is vicious and unfaithful, as is the case in Sonnet 139. Her sexual appetite is large, and she delights in flaunting her infidelities. In the later Sonnets we discover that she betrays the poet even further by having an affair with his young male lover. And yet, while she shamelessly pursues other men, the poet continues to implore her not to cast him aside. This candid and humiliating plea by the poet reveals a masochistic streak, which no doubt springs from intense vulnerability and lack of self-worth.
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Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Cambridge: UP, 1996.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.
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Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
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How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 139. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/139detail.html >.