Lars Kullberg

No Groove in the Gunsights

Always under the thumb of his dark mistress, the speaker struggles beneath her power. Try as he may, he will never be able to break the tie of lust between the two. His threats are not threatening to her, and he knows this. His power is beneath her’s, and he knows this as well. By threatening his lover in the 140th sonnet, the speaker is merely admitting to his own helplessness to which he is forever bound.
This appears to be the first sonnet in which he is taking a stand. Never before has he spoken in such a threatening tone: "Be wise…do not press/My tongue tied patience…" (140. 1-2). One might think that he is now revealing for the first time his yet unheard of power.
But he has no such power. He knows that his threats do not frighten her…so why does he even bother? Sure, he could untie his tongue and let the world know of her habits. However, no one would care. She is a dark lady—she and others like her are meant to be that way. He would only be telling what is already known. However, what she has to tell of him is not already known. Being a married man, he is not expected to have a mistress.
She is his only mistress. They both know this as well. If he were to lose her, he would have nothing left. She knows his lust for her—his need for her. She knows he lives for her darkness and for the pleasure he finds in her…temporary as it may be. Temporary yet lasting. There may be times when he thinks he can live without her, but the time comes again soon when he feels the familiar lust again. It is the lack of love which makes it temporary. However, it is the abundance of lust which makes it permanent.
He is only one of her many lovers. If she were to loose him, she would still have many others to satisfy her. She takes comfort in the fact that he needs her and he remains under her thumb to almost any extent. The speaker knows she has many lovers. He claims to hate her unfaithfulness, but in fact he likes it. He likes the fact that she is nothing more than an object of sex…of temporary pleasure. If she were really in love with him and were truly faithful, he would be less attracted to her. The passion and the lust would be gone.
So the question remains—why does he bother with these empty threats? She would laugh if she were to hear these threats; he knows this. These threats are not for her to hear, but for himself to hear. Sometimes you say things just to hear them said—because they sound good to the ear. But you know these things hold no meaning and are not true. After the bully takes your lunch money, you whisper under your breath, "He’s dead. I’ll kill him one of these days." Although you know you never will. It just feels good to say these things as a sort of release.
And that is all it is—a release. The speaker likes to think of himself as the one in power, as most anyone would. Even he himself admits to his own helplessness at the end of the sonnet: "Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide." (140.14) He knows she sleeps around, but he asks that she pretend as though she doesn’t when she is with him. What he means by that last line is, "I know my threats mean nothing to you, but make believe they do just for my sake."
So our speaker turns out to be not much different from the lot of us. He lusts after that which is bad for him. He seeks out that which will destroy him. And once he finds this entity, he is forever enslaved to it.