Sonnet 151

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Sonnet 151

Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
For, thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason;
My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,
But rising at thy name doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize; proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call
Her ‘love’ for whose dear love I rise and fall.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 151 is the 151st of 154 poems in sonnet form by William Shakespeare published in a 1609 collection titled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. The sonnet belongs to the Dark Lady sequence (sonnets 127–152), which distinguishes itself from the The Fair Youth sequence by being more overtly sexual in its passion. Sonnet 151 is characterized as "bawdy" and is used to illustrate the difference between the spiritual love for the Fair Youth and the sexual love for the Dark Lady.[1] The distinction is commonly made in the introduction to modern editions of the sonnets in order to avoid suggesting that Shakespeare was homosexual.[1]


The poem starts with an admonishment to the Dark Lady to not accuse the speaker of sin since she might find herself guilty of the same; specifically her infidelity to the speaker by sleeping with the Fair Youth.[2] The speaker's sin, on the other hand, is to betray himself by allowing his body rather than his soul to steer his actions.[2] It uses the body as a metaphor for the penis, "rising" and "falling" with an erection when aroused, and so reduces the speaker to nothing more than his phallus; by giving in to his desires he enslaves himself to the Dark Lady.[2] Sonnet 151, with a "bawdy chronicle of erection and detumescence," contrasts with Sonnet 55's "grandiloquent expression," but their theme is the same: "what changes, what remains."[3] Sonnet 55 "celebrates ... love and poetry that endure[s]" where Sonnet 151 "contemplates the inevitability of change..."[3]

Sonnet 151 has been compared to a verse by 17th–century author Joseph Swetnam—published in 1615 under the pseudonym Thomas Tell-Troth, in a pamphlet titled The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women—satirizing the vices of women. "The woman's best part call it I dare / Wherein no man comes but must stand bare / And let him be never so stout / T'will take him down before he goes out."[2] Both poems imply that sex subordinates the man to the woman.[2]

The bawdy imagery of the poem, from the "nobler part" ("penis") in line 6 "rising at thy name", its "rise and fall" at line 14, has been discussed extensively.[4]


Sonnet 151 is a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet. It consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet, and has the characteristic rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg.[5]

Syllabic structure of a line of Sonnet 151
Stress x / x / x / x / x /
Syllable No want of con- science hold it that I call

In film[edit]

This sonnet is featured in Derek Jarman's film The Angelic Conversation, which discusses homosexuality. It is the first poem shown in the film, the only one not read aloud, and one of only two partially and not wholly portrayed (the last two lines of Sonnet 57 are also omitted). Only the first two lines of the poem are seen on screen. Jarman is attempting to challenge the idea that Shakespeare was solely heterosexual. In the context of his film, the opening two lines seem to communicate that conscience and ethics come from sexual attraction.[6]


  1. ^ a b Matz, Robert. The World of Shakespeare's Sonnets: An Introduction. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7864-3219-6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Matz, Robert. The World of Shakespeare's Sonnets: An Introduction. pp. 131–32. ISBN 978-0-7864-3219-6. 
  3. ^ a b Matz, Robert. The World of Shakespeare's Sonnets: An Introduction. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7864-3219-6. 
  4. ^ Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare's Sonnets. pp. 525–29. ISBN 0-300-01959-9. 
  5. ^ Ward, Jean. Shakespeare: An Homage To., 2008. ISBN 1-4357-3288-X p. 338
  6. ^ Pencak, William. The Films of Derek Jarman. Jefferson: McFarland, 2002. ISBN 0-7864-1430-8 pp. 87-88