This sonnet could easily be spoken by Antony about Cleopatra and their ‘age in love.’ It doesn’t take long for ‘simple truth’ not only to be suppressed, but changed into a web of lies. The poet pretends to believe his ‘love’ in the hope that she might think him younger than he is.The volta asks why should these lies continue and then offers the view that even love itself is at its best only a ‘seeming trust’, like a theatrical performance. And then their mutual ‘lies’ become ‘lie with’, as the poet alludes to their sexual lives, flattering and flattening.
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust,
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
Click on the post below to hear Sonnet 138 read by Dr Paul Prescott of University of Warwick.
You might like to visit a similar Shakespeare for Advent project led by students at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.