“Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan/For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!”

Shakespeare Sonnet #133


Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!
Is’t not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engross’d:
Of him, myself, and thee, I am forsaken;
A torment thrice threefold thus to be cross’d.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigor in my gaol:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.


Critics generally agree that Sonnet 133 addresses the complex relationship between the speaker and an unidentified woman. Josephine Roberts interprets the sonnet in that the poet expresses a “fractured sense of self”  as a result of his toxic relationship with the dark lady. Her interpretation of the relationship as “toxic” is evident in the emotional plea that resounds throughout the sonnet. The sonnets prior to this address a young man referred to as a close friend of the speaker who is thus addressed as well in sonnet 133. According to critic A.L. Rowse, this sonnet gives the speaker’s view of both his relation of the young man as his friend and the mistress. Rowse’s interpretation is supported by how the sonnet clearly describes the pain the unknown woman has inflicted upon both the young man and the speaker, “For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!”

The Dark Lady and the “Friend”

Because sonnet 133 is the first to directly refer to the “friend”, there is some controversy concerning the subject of that word. Joel Fineman argues that in this sonnet, the poet feels trapped by the Dark Lady, who represents the constraints of a heteronormative society. She has taken the “friend,” or the poet’s homosexual side, from him, preventing the poet from living in his self-created utopia of homosexuality with the Young Man. Unlike the young man sequence, in which the poet “defines his own identity [. . .] as poet and lover,” in the Dark Lady sequence, particularly sonnet 133, “the poet-lover of the [D]ark [L]ady will discover both himself and his poetry in the loss produced by the fracture of [his ideal identification as homosexual]”. Other critics argue that the Dark Lady has enslaved a literal friend, the Young Man, creating a love triangle between the poet, the Young Man and the Dark Lady. “The suggestion is that the friend had gone to woo the lady for the poet and, according to friendship convention [. . .] the lady fell in love with the messenger”. Leishman also calls her a “bad angel who has tempted away that good angel his friend”.

Sonnet Formation/Rhyme Scheme

Sonnet 133 follows the traditional English sonnet formation: fourteen lines consisting of three quatrains and ending in a rhyming couplet. In addition, it follows iambic pentameter (abab cdcd efef gg).

Examining each of the three quatrains and the couplet that create the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet allows for further analysis. Helen Vendler describes the stages of the sonnet in that it begins with a listing of the conflict in Quatrain One then proceeds in Quatrain Two to show the effects and complications. Specifically the problem of this sonnet is the torture the dark lady has caused the two men to suffer. The effects and complications of this situation are pronounced throughout Quatrain Two indicating that the speaker may recover but the young man is reduced to her slave under her influence. In Quatrain Three, Vendler says that the “intolerable complication of effect” forces a request for relief and intelligibility which end in a helpless giving up reflected in the couplet.

Analyzing specific words within the sonnets gives further evidence of the Quatrain transition. It begins with the first line in which the speaker declares that he is separate from her by saying “that heart (of hers) makes my heart groan”.Although he declares himself separate from her, her cruel eye has taken the speaker from himself and not only this, but she has taken his “next self”, which refers to his friend as addressed earlier in the sonnets. Stephen Booth further explains this point arguing that the implied logic of lines 3 and 4 suggest that if the Dark Lady possesses the friend then she should release the speaker. He also addressed the cruel eye of the speaker saying that Sonnet 133 continues the theme of hearts and eyes from Sonnet 132, and Booth notes the shift from the friend’s image of “mourning eyes” to the “cruel eye”(line 5) of the mistress. Booth continues his analysis with lines 10-11 of which he suggests that they, “add one more element to the verbal complexities and confusions by which the complex and confused three-way love affair is both reported and imitated”. Helen Vendler emphasizes his point by explaining that now the friend is enslaved by her as well as the speaker as evidenced in the final line of the couplet, “Perforce am thine, and all that is mine” (Line 14). She says that because he belongs to her he is thus forsaken. Both Booth and Vendler suggest that everything that belongs to the speaker, including his friend’s heart, bears the surrender to the dark lady.

Slave Imagery

Critics note that throughout Sonnet 133, Shakespeare uses slave imagery as a metaphor for the relationship between the speaker and the Dark Lady. The implication of the speaker as subservient to the dark lady is quite prevalent in the themes of traditional courtly love. The relationship is expressed throughout the sonnet with the use of words like “torture”, “slave”, “torment”, “prison”, and “jail.” Critic Stephen Booth holds that the metaphor within this sonnet is “so complete, so urgent, so detailed… that the lovers and their situation, and their behavior becomes grotesque”. Booth proceeds to note that, although the slave imagery is a commonly used metaphor, the wording of the speaker’s metaphors creates a witty and unconventional depiction of the his relationship with the unknown woman. Through phrases such as “pent in thee” found in line 13, the reader is exposed to the image of the speaker imprisoned in the Dark Lady. Furthermore, in line 4 (“But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?”) we see the speaker playing on the hyperbole “by which lovers swore themselves their ladies’ willing slave”. Essentially, Booth points out that although the speaker conforms with the traditional “slave” metaphor, he appears to almost resent his place in a relationship that is ultimately debilitating. Scholarly critic Gertrude Garrigues argues that Shakespeare’s use of slave imagery is simply symbolic of man as a “slave of the senses”. Garrigues counters Booth’s argument in her assertion that the speaker is simply a slave to his own feelings and not a slave to the dark lady. Despite the speaker’s great affliction over his relationship with the dark lady, he has willingly subjected himself to such unbearable torment. In relationship to this argument, it can be argued that the “friend” within Shakespeare’s Sonnet 133 is in fact representative of the speaker’s inner self. This strengthens Garrigues’ argument, most notably in the line 4 where the speaker states, “But slavery to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?” When read in light of Garrigue’s assertions, the reader can see that the speaker is referring to being enslaved by himself, or his senses.

Or another perspective:

In this sonnet the poet introduces a further complication in his entanglement with his mistress, for it appears that his friend, the beloved youth, has also fallen for her, and is totally engrossed by her sexual charms. The poet hopes to ease the situation by pleading that his own heart can stand surety for his friend, and that it is enough for one of them only to be imprisoned by her. But even as he expresses this wish, he realises that it is a vain one, and that his mistress will be as harsh and frivolous with the friend as she is with him. He therefore feels a triple loss, of his mistress, for the friend has taken her, of the friend, for she has taken him, and of himself, for he no longer controls his own feelings. This loss is further increased since each of the participants suffers in a similar way, or exercises destructive power in a threefold relationship.

The situation described is possibly the same as that dealt with in sonnets 40-42, and perhaps also alluded to in 34-5.

The 1609 Quarto Version

BEſhrew that heart that makes my heart to groane
For that deepe wound it giues my friend and me;
I’ſt not ynough to torture me alone,
But ſlaue to ſlauery my ſweet’ſt friend muſt be.
Me from my ſelfe thy cruell eye hath taken,
And my next ſelfe thou harder haſt ingroſſed,
Of him,my ſelfe,and thee I am forſaken,
A torment thrice three-fold thus to be croſſed :
Priſon my heart in thy ſteele boſomes warde,
But then my friends heart let my poore heart bale,
Who ere keepes me,let my heart be his garde,
Thou canſt not then vſe rigor in my Iaile.
And yet thou wilt,for I being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine and all that is in me.


1. Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan

Beshrew = Shame upon, fie upon, damnation upon etc. A mild oath, rather like ‘in good faith’ of 131. Desdemona uses it in Othello:
Beshrew me, if I would do such a wrong
For the whole world.
It is possible that there is some obscure reason for these mild and rather feminine imprecations. See the note to line 5 of Sonnet 131. Possibly the dark lady was prone to oft making use of them.
that heart = that heart of yours.
that makes my heart to groan – that causes me to groan with the pangs of love. See the note to line 6 of Sonnet 131.
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan

2. For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!

that deep wound = the wound caused by Cupid’s darts, the wound that causes the heart to groan. Also the hurt caused by his friend securing a liaison with his mistress and thus betraying him, as described in the following lines.
it – this refers back to his mistress’s heart, which is the ultimate cause of his entanglement, and his friend’s distress.
deep wound – probably an indirect reference to female genitalia, as in the Passionate Pilgrim, when Venus intercepts Adonis (with whom she is hotly in love):
‘Once’ quoth she ‘did I see a fair sweet youth
Here in these brakes deep-wounded with a boar,
Deep in the thigh, a spectacle of ruth!
See in in my thigh,’ quoth she ‘here was the sore.’
She showed hers ; he saw more wounds than one,
And blushing fled, and left her all alone.

3. Is’t not enough to torture me alone,

Surely it is sufficient (for the satisfaction of your sense of triumph, conquest etc.) that you should put me only through the torture of loving you? I.e. why do you have to involve my friend as well?

4. But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?

slave to slavery = most deeply and completely enslaved. Possibly also a suggestion of being enslaved to a slave, a person of base social standing. The main point of the repetition however seems to be to emphasise how much stricken with love his friend is.
my sweetest friend – this is the first mention of the male friend in the dark lady series. It is usually assumed that the friend referred to is the wonderful youth addressed in sonnets 1-126, and that the incidents referred to are the same as those mentioned in 40-42, when the friend steals the poet’s mistress. But as with all other similar conjectures, none of the biographical details in the sonnets, if there are any, may be independently verified.

5. Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,

i.e. I am bereft of all sense by my infatuation with you.
thy cruel eye – the cruel eye of a disdainful mistress was traditional. As for example Stella, Sidney’s idol, who threatens to turn away her eye :
Whatever may ensue, oh let me be
Copartner of the riches of that sight:
Let not mine eyes be hell-driv’n from that light:
Oh look, oh shine, oh let me die and see.
For though I oft myself of them bemoan,
That through my heart their beamy darts be gone,
Whose cureless wounds ev’n now most freshly bleed:
Yet since my death-wound is already got,
Dear killer, spare not thy sweet cruel shot:
A kind of grace it is to kill with speed.
AS & S 48.
Both the look of the mistress, and its absence, could be equally cruel.

6. And my next self thou harder hast engrossed:

my next self = the fair youth, he who is dearest to my heart, my other self.
harder = more seriously, more egregiously.
thou … hast engrossed = you have taken possession of, seized upon, devoured for your own use, swallowed up, monopolised ; you have made (him) more coarse by sexually enslaving him. The word engross is not common in Shakespeare (nine uses including cognates), of which the following are typical.

Percy is but my factor, good my lord,
To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf;
And I will call him to so strict account,
That he shall render every glory up,

For this they have engrossed and piled up
The canker’d heaps of strange-achieved gold;

I have long loved her, and, I protest to you,
bestowed much on her; followed her with a doting
observance; engrossed opportunities to meet her;
fee’d every slight occasion that could but niggardly
give me sight of her;

The predominant meaning is that of swallowing up and devouring something exclusively for one’s own use. But in Richard III the word is used in the sense of ‘to increase in size’. Perhaps there is an element of that here, with sexual suggestiveness, especially in conjunction with the word harder. ‘You have caused him to have a stronger erection than even I have managed’.

7. Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken;

myself – because I have lost my rationality, I am no longer in control of myself, I am deprived of my identity.
forsaken = deprived of, bereft of, abandoned by.

8. A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed.

thrice three-fold = nine times. It is not entirely clear how the poet manages to triplicate his woes, and perhaps impertinent to enquire why it is so. It could be that each participant is three times implicated in the menage à trois, by deceiving themselves and the two other participants. Since there are three of them the pain is thus triplicated. But there may be significance in the fact that this is sonnet 133, and a sort of numerical pun is thus intended. (I am the one who suffers three times three the torment). At any rate, the thrice three-fold suggests a huge increase in the torment that the speaker suffers.

9. Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,

Prison my heart = imprison my heart, me, my feelings, my fate. prison is an imperative verb – please imprison me, I insist that you imprison me.
thy steel bosom’s ward = the guardianship and protectorate of your relentless care. steel is meant to suggest an unyielding and unforgiving quality. The beloved’s heart was often depicted as cold and unyielding as adamant. ward has a number of meanings connected with imprisonment and fortification. It could be the place of imprisonment (OEDn(2)17.a.) or the garrison which kept watch, (OEDn(2)12), or the parts of a lock which ‘ward’ off anything but the correct key (OEDn(2)24.a.). Evidently here the meaning is that of a secure place of protection and imprisonment.

10. But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;

let my poor heart bail = let my heart in its wretchedness at least stand bail for (my friend’s heart). commentators think that an earlier and rarer meaning of bail is here intended, viz, to confine (OED.v(3).1), which gives however only this example and one from 1852. The word may have been more common, and based on the noun of similar meaning, i.e. charge, custody, jurisdiction, power (OED.n(1).1). However of the 15 other uses of the word in Shakespeare, (including one in the sonnets) the meaning of delivery, release or redemptiom, or the action of arranging the same, is always the one implied. I therefore think that the meaning here of these two lines is ‘Let my poor heart, which you hold, be the surety for my friend’s release. It matters not who holds me in custody, as long as I, through his release, can be his warder’.

11. Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;

Whoe’er keeps me = whoever imprisons me, whoever stands guard over me.
let my heart be his guard
= let me be the one who is warder to my friend. his seems to be inevitably referring to the poet’s friend, rather than to ‘whoe’er keeps me’, since, if it were the latter, it would be almost impossible to wrest any coherent meaning from the last four lines. See also the note to the previous line. This phrase is probably not a mere repetition of let my poor heart bail (him).

12. Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:

rigour = harshness, severity, strictness. The thought seems to be that, since I am standing as surety for him, you cannot use unnacustomed severity in your restraint of me, for fear of harming both of us, me in my own right, and him, being under my guard. However the poet than rethinks the situation, and realises that his lover is not likely to subscribe to this view, but will be as harsh as ever, for he is totally in her power, a realisation which he states in the final couplet.

13. And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,

And yet thou wilt – i.e you will use harshness in detaining me.
being pent in you
= being imprisoned by you, being totally in your control. No doubt a play on the sexual meaning, given the content of 135 and 136 which follow shortly.

14. Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Perforce = by force, by duress. The implication is that you have control of me, whether I wish it or not.
and all that is in me = my body and soul, all of me. An echo of some of the other words of commitment in the sonnets, such as

And thou, all they, hast all the all of me. 31

When thou art all the better part of me? 39

For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

but here the boot is on the other foot, and the totality is not one of giving, but one of imprisonment. There may also be a deliberate biblical echo in these words, which resemble those from Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. PS.103.1-5.
Perhaps the poet wishes to contrast the love which might have been with the love which is.


My next post:  Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.  My introduction to our next play (one of my favorites), Measure for Measure.

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5 Responses to “Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan/For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!”

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