Summary and Analysis Sonnet 140


Sinking quickly into despair over the sad state of his relationship with the woman, the poet threatens the woman with public humiliation should she not at least feign love for him. The first warning is in the first quatrain, in which he cautions her not to be too public in her flirtations with other men. In the second quatrain, the poet uses a simile to convey his thoughts of how the woman should treat him. Like a dying man who wants only false reassurances from his doctor about his condition, he wants the woman to falsify her love for the poet. Sadly, the poet’s suggesting this action shows how knowledgeable he is that the relationship’s end is near. The third quatrain contains another threat that the poet will publicly slander the woman’s character: “For if I should despair, I should grow mad, / And in my madness might speak ill of thee.” Lest the woman not heed his first two warnings, he adds a third in the sonnet’s last three lines, overtly forewarning his mistress that “Slanderers by mad ears believed be,” and that she should “Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.” In other words, when they are in public, she must pay attention only to him and not to any other man; if she does not do as he wishes, he will publicly slander her.