Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is the theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 138?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)


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write7,245 answers

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I believe that the main theme of this particular sonnet is that, sometimes, it is best to lie. The speaker's lover lies to him and says that she believes him to be young, and though he knows she is lying, he kind of appreciates the effort. Though she knows his life is "past the best" part, his youth gone, she flatters him in a pleasing way by refusing to admit this fact. In return, he does not call her out or point out her lie. Instead, he continues to pretend that he believes and trusts her completely. Thus, he says, he lies to her and she lies to him, and "in our faults by lies we flattered be" (line 14). Their relationship is actually made better by these small lies, and so it seems best to keep them up in this situation.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write35,413 answers

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To me, the theme of Sonnet 138 is the idea that love, or at least lust, is pretty tolerant.  Or perhaps it fools itself -- maybe these are the same things...  This is especially true as one grows older and has fewer opportunities to satisfy one's lust.

In the poem, the speaker "believes" his love, even though he knows she lies.  He tolerates the fact that she is unfaithful.  He knows that he is getting old, but he pretends that she thinks he is young and sexy.

Through the whole poem, it is clear that both lovers are sort of fooling themselves because they just want to keep sleeping together.

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