W. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 vs ‘Sonnet’ by E.B. Browning

The sample essay on Sonnet 138 deals with a framework of research-based facts, approaches and arguments concerning this theme. To see the essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, read on.

William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 138’ is about a couple that have a very cynical relationship. The poet is saying he knows that he is old and no longer beautiful, and that she doesn’t love him as much because of this, but he doesn’t tell her this.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnet’ is a contrast to Sonnet 138 because this relationship is completely honest and open.

The poet is writing about how important her lover is to her, even more important than God.

‘Sonnet 138’ written by William Shakespeare in the late 1590s, but was not published until 1609. The poem is about a man who is in a relationship with a much younger lady. Their relationship is very cynical and they are very untruthful to each other. The man knows his helper is lying to him and he thinks she doesn’t realise this.

The man is just as bad though, because he is also being deceitful to her. But he is happy leaving it that way.

William Shakespeare Sonnet 138 Analysis

The sonnet is a Shakespearian sonnet, and is divided into 3 quatrains and a rhyming couplet.

The first line of the poem gives us a faint idea of what the poem could be about, he says ‘When my love swears that she is made of truth’ We know from this it is a lover telling us that his partner is promising she is truthful to him.

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It could also mean that the partner promises that she is virginal and pure. The writer soon makes a contradiction, because he does ‘believe her, though I know she lies.’ He says that he believes her even though he knows she is lying, he could also be trying to fool himself into believing something that isn’t true, so that he feels better. She might think that he is na�ve and will believe anything she tells him, ‘she might think me some untutor’d youth,’ She thinks this because she thinks he doesn’t know about the truth, ‘Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties’ backs this idea up.

The next quatrain starts with the writer saying because of her lies and deception he is ‘vainly thinking that she thinks me young,’ he is hoping that she really does think him young, he tries to make himself believe this, but it is hard for him since he knows that he is rather old, and ‘she knows my days are past the best.’ He knows that it is obvious to her. It seems as if the man may have gave up thinking in vain as we can see from ‘Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue’ he respects her for lying to make him feel better about himself, and because she lies so well. However he cannot be angry at her for lying to him, because ‘On both sides thus is simple truth supprest.’ They are both lying to each other, and it would not be fair for him to blame it all on her.

In the last quatrain he is wondering why she doesn’t tell him that he is too old, ‘But wherefore say not that I am old?’ He probably would not mind if she just went ahead and told him, but she might be afraid of the consequences. He doesn’t mind the lying, he thinks ‘love’s best habit is in seeming trust,’ he seems to think that lying is a normal part of love and he says it is the best part of it. He could be trying to make himself believe that it is all a normal part of love so he does not feel bad. He then goes on to, in a way, disagree with himself, because he thinks ‘age in love loves not to have years told’ he is saying love does not like to hear about the age difference.

The rhyming couplet at the end sums up the poem, ‘Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,’ can mean two things. The man lying to his wife and her lying to him, and the two still lying in bed together as a result of them not being truthful to each other and not breaking up. The last line, ‘And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be’ means that he is happy with the fact that they are both lying to each other, because it still makes him feel happy.

‘Sonnet’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning Analysis

‘Sonnet’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is very different to Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 138’ in the way that it is about a relationship based on pure everlasting love and trust, rather than dishonesty and lying to each other. Her love for her husband is so great that she compares it with her love for God, or maybe she sees him as God. She says that she loves him as much as possible, and her love for him will last forever. This is very unlike Sonnet 138 because in that it is about false love and deceptions.

The poet was handicapped as a child, due to a horse riding accident; this made people think that she would be a failure, therefore being able to achieve nothing special in her life. This may have affected her, so maybe she wanted to prove them wrong. She may have started writing because of this. Then in 1845 she met and fell deeply in love with. Robert Browning, who she later married and ran away to Italy with. Meeting Robert Browning may have been another factor that affected her writing (definitely in this poem), and moving to Italy, seeing all the changes in relationships she would have seen.

This is a petrarchan sonnet, divided into an octave and a sestet.

The first line of the poem gives us a big clue on what the rest of the poem is about; she asks how does she ‘love thee?’ then says let her ‘count the ways.’ This shows she is going to list the many ways that she loves her husband, whereas in Sonnet 138 the poet is listing the faults in his relationship and the ways his partner lies to him. It also tells us there might be a lot of ways, because she has to ‘count’ them. She loves him ‘to the depth and breadth and height’ her ‘soul can reach,’ she is saying that her love for him is so immense that it would fill up the whole universe if it were possible. Her use of all three dimensions emphasizes the feeling of everlasting, making the reader think of an infinite amount of space. The poem is given a spiritual feeling from her ‘soul,’ giving a clue that the poem may be about spiritual, religious love as well.

She loves him ‘to the level of every day’s most quiet need,’ this could mean that during every little thing that she does everyday, she is thinking of him persistently ‘by sun and candlelight.’ ‘Sun and candlelight’ means during day and night, suggesting that she may stay awake at night think about him or dream about him. ‘Candlelight’ also brings up the idea of spirituality again, because a candle is a strong Christian religious symbol. Her love for him is free and unleashed; she compares this freedom of love with men who ‘strive for Right.’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning was strongly against the slave trade, and this could represent the slaves fighting with a passion for freedom. She says she loves him ‘purely,’ and she compares this purity with the innocence of the slaves when they praise their gods for release.

She uses all her love in her heart to love her husband and it is put to good use. Her love is pure and simple, she loves him with her ‘childhood’s faith.’ Children are supposed to have pure, innocent, simple minds, and she is saying that her love for him is simple, yet full of passion. The childhood aspect appears in Sonnet 138 as well, but instead meaning a child’s gullibility, showing a negative feeling rather than the positive one shown in this poem. This could also mean with all the ‘breath, smiles, tears’ she has lost in the past she has lost all her ‘old griefs’, which makes her love him more. She ends it with saying that she will ‘love thee better after death.’ This shows the religious love again, she obviously believes in heaven, therefore God. She might also see her husband as a god.

This poem is a big contrast to Sonnet 138 because the poet is exploring the idea of the lovers being in an honest relationship and their love is true and everlasting. Whereas in Sonnet 138 the poet has explored the idea of a relationship being based on lies and the lovers are not really sure if their love is true love.


From analyzing and comparing these two poems, contrasts and similarities can be made. The main similarity is that the two poems are about love within a relationship. The main contrast is that Sonnet is about positive feelings towards the partner and Sonnet 138 is about negative feelings towards the partner. Sonnet uses positive language like ‘purely,’ ‘freely,’ and ‘passion’ which show feelings and emotions of pure love, and religious imagery is used, like ‘soul,’ ‘Grace,’ ‘candlelight,’ and ‘praise’ which emphasizes the feeling of love by comparing it with her love for her religion and God. Sonnet 138 on the other hand uses language that shows negative feelings, like ‘lies,’ ‘false,’ ‘unjust,’ and ‘untutor’d.’ All these words show negative feelings, giving the whole poem a dark feeling to it. To summarize, Sonnet is a positive poem focusing on the positive side of love, and Sonnet 138 is a negative poem focusing on the negative side of love.

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W. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 vs ‘Sonnet’ by E.B. Browning. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/w-shakespeares-sonnet-138-vs-sonnet-by-e-b-browning/

W. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 vs ‘Sonnet’ by E.B. Browning
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