Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How might one interpret Shakespeare's Sonnet 145, "Those lips that Love's own hand did make"?

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"Sonnet 145" falls within the "Dark Lady" cycle of Shakespeare's sonnets, and describes the moment of panic experienced by the speaker when he hears "the lips that Love's own hand did make" form the words "I hate." The beloved, clearly, has a good understanding of her lover, who "languish'd for her sake;" noticing the "woeful state" in which he languishes, "straight in her heart did mercy come."

The scene is vividly drawn: the beloved begins her sentence, "I hate," and then becomes immediately aware of the anguish on her lover's face, correctly interpreting this as a fear that her sentence will end, "you." Instead, the beloved "chides" her "ever sweet" tongue, such that instead of dispensing the feared "gentle doom," it is "taught thus anew to greet."

The reader feels the relief at the same time as the poet when he explains, "'I hate' she alter'd with an end / That follow'd it as gentle day / Doth follow night." The sentence becomes something quite different in meaning from what the speaker has feared; indeed, his concern "like a fiend from heaven to hell is flown away." Instead of breathing, "I hate you,"

"I hate" from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying—"not you."

The final couplet brings the tension of the poem, and the speaker's anxiety, to an end. The speaker is so enamoured with his beloved that he feels he would die if his Love had declared hatred for him. One thing we cannot infer with any certainty from the poem, however, is whether the Love actually needed to "chide" her tongue—the speaker seems to suggest that she had been about to declare her hatred for him, but had then relented at the sight of his face. Whether this is true, or simply a manifestation of his anxiety, we cannot say for certain, but it seems very possible that she had intended all along to speak the sentence that ultimately issued from her lips: "I hate not you."

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This sonnet by Shakespeare talks of one incident that occurred between the speaker and his mistress where she said to him two words that destroyed his life. The words "I hate" were so strong and so powerful that they immediately resulted in the speaker entering a "woeful state." That the speaker is completly fixated on his beloved is indicated by the way that in spite of the words that she is saying, she still has lips that "Love's own hand did make." However, in spite of this unpromising start to what she has to say, she sees how her words have wounded the speaker so badly that her tongue, so used to giving "gentle doom," changes to have a very different ending.

Just as beautiful morning follows the fearsome night, so the mistress completes her sentence by saying "not you," therefore saving the life of the speaker, as he puts it. The sonnet clearly describes a relationship where the speaker is hopelessly in love with his beloved and unable to think rationally. He is therefore in a very vulnerable position, open to the whims of his mistress and able to be wounded as she wills and desires.

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