Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou knowst, to my dear doting heart
Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet in good faith some say, that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
To say they err, I dare not be so bold,
Although I swear it to myself alone;
And to be sure that is not false, I swear
A thousand groans but thinking on thy face;
One on another's neck do witness bear
Thy black is fairest in my judgment's place. In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds, And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.
Sonnet 131 is a sonnet written by William Shakespeare and was first published in a 1609 quarto edition titled Shakespeare's sonnets. It is a part of the Dark Lady sequence (consisting of sonnets 127–52), which are addressed to an unknown woman usually assumed to possess a dark complexion.
The sonnet, like the others in this sequence, addresses the Dark Lady as if a mistress. It references allegations from unspecified others that her "black" complexion makes her unattractive and rebuts these, but in the final two lines turns the compliment into a backhanded one by admitting that "In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds". The sonnet employs the Petrarchan conceit of "tyranny" to imply the power the object's beauty imposes over the sonneteer and argues for her beauty based on the power she exerts over him. It also uses the word "groan", another common practice from Petrarch, to superficially reinforce the lover's depth of emotion; but it does so ambivalently, possibly implying the word's connotation of pain or distress, or even its alternate meaning that refers to venereal disease.
All references to Sonnet 131, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Arden Shakespeare third series (Duncan-Jones 2007). In references to this work, p.376–7 refers to a specific page or set of pages; 131.1 refers to the first line of sonnet 131; and 131.1n refers to the note associated with the first line of sonnet 131. Where possible references are double-cited to The Oxford Shakespeare (Burrow 2008), with the same reference system, for convenience.