How might one interpret Shakespeare's Sonnet 139, "O! call not me to justify the wrong"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This sonnet is addressed to the beloved of the speaker, and contains his plea that she should not use her beauty and her "arts" to punish and inflict pain upon him. Clearly the poem depicts a relationship where the speaker is suffering as a result of the fickle and capricious favours of his mistress, who almost seems to rejoice in taunting and hurting him. Consider the following quote:

Tell me thou lovest elsewhere, but in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside:
What need'st thou wound with cunning when thy might
Is more than my o'er-press'd defense can bide?

Such words indicate the way in which the speaker is shown to be completely in love with his mistress, and that she is fully aware of this fact and using it to her advantage, cruelly treating the speaker and making him wish that she preserve the illusion of her love for him. Phrases such as "o'er-press'd defense" seem to cast this relationship in terms of a battle, with the speaker fighting on the losing side.

The poem's final rhyming couplet seems to end with a recognition that he is fighting a losing battle and that defeat is certain:

Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.

His plea for clemency seems to at once speak of savouring the condition he is in and deploring it. He desires a quick escape from this relationship that has caused him so much chronic pain.

Read the study guide:
Shakespeare's Sonnets

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