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An Analysis of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 151

William Shakespeare is widely acknowledged as Britain's greatest playwright and poet. His 154 sonnets were meticulously crafted, and Sonnet 151 emphasizes this.

Profound and Erotic

Shakespeare displays his wisdom all the way through this very profound sonnet. But there's also an erotic element to it as well. This poem examines the complexity of love, and sometimes the hypocrisy. The woman accuses the man of being sinful, but the man responds by accusing her of sleeping with another.

The man, the speaker in the poem, is guilty about his own lack of self control, and realizes he can't fight his desires for the woman. He admonishes himself and does so in very powerful terms, "I do betray / My nobler part to my gross body's treason". There is also the knowledge of the speaker that, deep down, he knows that he is deluding himself about this relationship being driven by love. It is more about lust, and both parties are as lustful as each other, though both try and claim the moral high ground.

A Woman Men Can't Resist

Sonnet 151 is one of the related sonnets that refer to the "black beauty", who is a dark-haired woman who first appears in Sonnet 127. This woman is obviously seen as alluring by men, and, in Sonnet 151, a male who has barely reached manhood is one of her conquests. Though disapproving, the speaker in the poem knows that he will still be unable to resist this lady's charms. Despite her propensity to be driven be her own desires and, consequently, to be unfaithful, the speaker still finds her irresistible.

With three quatrains, and ending with a rhyming couplet, this is a sonnet that is constructed in the traditional English form. The rhyme scheme is traditional, too, consisting of abab in the first verse, cdcd in the second, efef in the third, and ending with gg for the couplet.

How Shakespeare Still Relates to Us

There is a refreshing honesty about Sonnet 151. Indeed, the way that the speaker analyzes his own actions and faults gives the sonnet a modern feel. We think of self-analysis as something that emerged fairly recently, whereas Shakespeare proves otherwise. The genius of Shakespeare is not just in how beautifully he writes, but in how he understands and articulates human feelings. Times change, but basic human emotions don't, and in Sonnet 151 this is only too clear.

Copyright © Paul Rance/

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