How does sonnet 138 compare with sonnet 61? How do they contrast? 

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's sonnet 61 and sonnet 138 both offer interesting glimpses into the complicated nature of romantic relationships. Both pieces have similarities and differences, and so it helps to carefully weigh them by comparing and contrasting the two poems.

First, let's compare the similarities. Both poems deal with two romantic partners engaged in some kind of deception, or at least some kind of perceived deception. In sonnet 61, the speaker sits up in bed, worrying about where his love might be, as is evidenced by the lines, "Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat/ To play the watchman ever for thy sake" (11-12). This suggests that the speaker is kept up at night jealously worrying about his partner. He goes on to say, "For thee I watch, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,/ From me far off, with others all too near" (13-14). These lines suggest that the speaker does not trust his partner, and that he suspects she is sleeping with someone else in another bed. Thus, it's clear that there is at least some element of perceived deception at work in this relationship. Likewise, in sonnet 138, the speaker suspects his partner of lying to him, saying, "When my love swears that she is made of truth,/ I do believe her, though I know she lies" (1-2). As in sonnet 61, the speaker is aware of his partner's deceptive ways. As such, both sonnets depict romantic relationships riddled with lies and deception.

There, however, a few differences at work. The main contrast is that, in sonnet 138, it seems as though the narrator is also a lier (8), and his relationship with his partner seems to work. He says, "in our faults by lies we flattered be" (14), and this closing statement suggests that speaker is at peace and accepts a relationship based on mutual deception. In contrast, the speaker in sonnet 61 appears supremely distressed at his partner's deception. He describes his partner's imaging as mocking (4), and says his partner's "image should keep open/ My heavy eyelids to the weary night" (1-2). Thus, unlike the speaker in sonnet 138, the narrator in sonnet 61 seems upset and stressed by his partner's deception. As such, though both poems focus on relationships based on lies, they offer two contrasting ways of dealing with said lies. In sonnet 138, the deception appears to hold the relationship together, while the deception appears to be tearing the relationship apart in sonnet 61.