Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame 
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

When making a decision people tend to let their feelings cloud their judgment. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 there are many different emotions present, but the most prominent one is lust, a powerful feeling that can affect people’s actions drastically. This sonnet describes what lust can do to someone’s values and how the actions are looked upon by the speaker. In this case, the speaker is neutral when it comes to lust. There is no judgment towards the action itself, but a portrayal of the mental toll on the doer. This sonnet leaves one main question: should we the reader judge the action itself? However, there are many related questions: who has the power to judge? Why doesn’t Shakespeare judge this? Would we have done the same? One thing that affects someone’s values is their main emotions. Depending on how someone feels their values will shift. This sonnet describes what lust can do to someone’s values and how the actions are looked upon. In this case, the speaker is neutral when it comes to lust. Would this outlook change if it was a different feeling? How does the outcome affect what people think about someone?

A variety of literary devices are used to convey the meaning of a poem. One literary device that plays the utmost importance in Sonnet 129 is word choice. Word choice determines how the reader criticizes the poem’s ideas. In addition, the type of words in the poem influences the reader’s mood and the tone of the poem. In this case, Shakespeare’s ordering of the lines causes the positive and negative words to cancel out. When the words cancel out, it leaves the poem neutral in judgment. This is shown when lines three and four cancel out lines 11 and 12. Shakespeare’s judgment is discreet in the poem. He purposely chooses words at the opposite end of the spectrum. As shown in line 14, when he uses antithetical words such as “heaven” and “hell.” However, if Shakespeare used more positive images than negative imagery, the reader’s opinion and notion would be slightly shifted by the poem. The poem would portray lust as a beneficial feeling for someone. Lines 11 and 12 have a strong positive image that reduces the impact of the initial negativity. Word choice plays a major role when influencing the reader’s outlook and their own personal takeaways from the poem.  

The form of a poem changes its meaning and story. In this case, William Shakespeare wrote a sonnet about lust. Sonnets and the feeling of lust have one thing in common, they have both been romanticized over time. If this poem were not written in sonnet form the feeling of Lust would not be accentuated as much. The meaning and concept of the poem would change. For instance, if this poem was written as a carpe diem then the tone and concept would shift. It would not stay neutral, it would encourage the person to act upon the feeling that it describes(lust). By doing so the poem loses its attributes. Another example would be that if this sonnet was written in the form of an elegy, then it would become more of a narrative. The poem would not stay unbiased as a result of personal feelings and reflections intervening. Elegies are poems about someone leaving the world. So not only would the poem’s concepts and tones change, but the tense it’s written in. Not only would those literary devices be affected but so would the words the poet would use. As you can see the form of a poem affects the literary devices used and the outcome and conclusions that a reader draws from the poem.

This sonnet was focused around the feeling of lust, however, I wondered how the poem would change if it was a different emotion? What if Shakespeare had used a basic emotion instead of a complex emotion? For example, if he used the feeling of contentment then the poem would have a different perspective. Lust is a complicated emotion, because of all the different layers: desire, love, yearning, satisfaction, validation.  Lust is composed of intense (sexual) desire towards someone or something. If the poem were not about lust and what it can make a person do, it would be about feeling whole and not having the desire to look and want more. Contentment, would not just change which emotion is accentuated the most, but the concept and the form in which the poem is written.

Sonnet 129 written by William Shakespeare entails what the feeling lust can do to someone’s values and how the actions are looked upon by the speaker. There is no judgment upon the action of lust, but on the mental effects it has on a person. In lines three, four, eleven, and twelve, William Shakespeare uses absolute language to describe different parts of lust. For instance, in line three and four he uses negative language, “Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame, Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,” Whereas in line eleven and twelve he uses positive language such as, “A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe; Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.” Shakespeare has used antithesis to create opposition in his poem. Antithesis a literary device writers use to accentuate controversy between the ideas of pleasure and pain, anticipation and dissipation. Shakespeare uses this literary device to present lust in two different lights, and the resulting balance allows the speaker to stay neutral by not advocating for only one side of lust.

Lust induces impulsive, irrational behavior. Therefore it is not lusting itself, but the person’s mindset. Lines eight and nine emphasize this idea as they say,“ On purpose laid to make the taker mad; Mad in pursuit and in possession so,”. Lines eight and nine expresses the intention of lust and what it does to one’s mind. It is important to realize that lust’s main function is to create lunacy within the doer. For this reason, we are able to then criticize the doer and the nonsense that they do to obtain their prime objective; which is to have access to what they do not have. Furthermore, lust will motivate the person to do ludicrous things just so they can attain their missing puzzle piece. In fact, it is not lusting itself we can fully critique but actions the doer takes because of lust.

People have heard about lust and what it can make someone do, yet none takes precautions. However, there is no way to fully take proper provisions. Lust is an initiator of one’s inner self. Lust is a cautionary tale for everyone, but the story varies for each person. No one knows lust until they have experienced it. For instance in line 13,  “All this the world well knows; yet none knows well”, William Shakespeare uses a paradox, to touch on the complexity of lust. Lust is a complex feeling that brings out one’s inner demons. It makes all people do nutty stuff to fill their void of emptiness. We can not judge lust and the actions that it makes others do, because we are unable to fully understand it. This is why the speaker staying neutral is key to the development and the concept of the poem.

Sonnet 129 is apart of the dark lady sonnets written by Shakespeare. The dark lady sonnets are comprised of Shakespeare’s sonnets 127 to 154.  These sonnets depict a lady that is a symbol for different parts of love. In fact, the dark lady was in Sonnet 129. The dark lady is what this male is longing for in this case. He wants something more and something different to fill his void. The Dark lady is his short term solution to his long term longing. In a critical analysis exploring the idea of self-knowledge and its interaction with the dark lady, M. L. Stapleton writes, “…he gropes for certainty to stabilize himself and his surroundings, a victim of ‘sexual pride’ ”. In this case, the dark lady provides stability towards men falling into the dangerous emotion of lust. As mentioned before, lust is a feeling of intense sexual desire. The dark lady not only provides stability but also his sexual wants. The dark lady is an important symbol in Sonnet 129 because she is the solution to the madness of the person. She also is the person who sends men to hell. The dark lady helps tell the story of insanity and the finding of relief.

Before the dark lady sonnets, there is the fair youth sequence. This sequence portrays a young man and its journey through love. These different categories of sonnets focus on love and the various aspects of it. When reading Shakespeare’s sonnets in order there is a narrative story of love. In an analysis of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets professor, Jane Hedley noticed a correlation between his narrative of love and narcissism. She claims that the fair youth poems are narcissistic and “love by identification” (Hedley, 1). Ms. Hedley mentions renowned critique and author Joseph Pequigney. Joseph Pequigney looked at Shakespeare’s fair youth sonnets through the lens of Sigmund Freud. Ms.Hedley quotes Mr.Pequiney saying, “the inclination toward a narcissistic object choice.” Basically, Mr.Pequiney is saying that there is an increase in the probability of making decisions solely based on personal happiness and fulfillment. The fair youth sequence builds up to the idea of making decisions for personal gain. In Sonnet 129 the main idea theme is lust. Lust is an emotion that makes people do anything just for their own personal satisfaction.

Besides the fact that lust is about finding the missing link, it is also about insanity. In Shakespeare’s eyes, lust is the initiator of someone jumping off a cliff ( representing stability and rationality). Lust is a complex emotion that has us do various things that can push people to the extreme. It can drive many to commit impulsive and irrational acts that cause mental instability. In a critical analysis by Sidney Burris, he makes a connection between depression and lust. He notices that both of these complex feelings leave people mentally unstable and had people yearning for something. He writes, “Lust and Depression, two emotional states seemingly far removed from one another -yet the victims of each,” are “predators of human sanity.” (Burris, 214). In other words, even though these feelings are different, the person feeling either lust or depression have lost their sense of sanity. Notably, the word predator has a negative connotation, which implies that there is an unbalanced mental state. Shakespeare does not judge this imbalance but he shows the effects of lust.  

Lust is a feeling that provides satisfaction and bliss but with a price. Lust is a feeling that brings many people to short-lived happiness. This complex emotion plays with one’s mind and can not be easily judged. It is a corrupted emotion that people have a tendency to feel and the Sonnet 129 perfectly illustrates how corrupt and immoral it is, yet how amazing it feels. Kenneth C. Bennett a professor at Lake Forest, breaks down each and every one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to the bone. When analyzing Sonnet 129 he notices how complex lust is and why people fall for it. He mentions lust as being one of the seven deadly sins. The seven deadly sins are complex emotions that are beneficial to someone at the moment but create mental instability. These emotions create a high in someone’s mind while also destroying one’s mind. For example, lust is an emotion that gives people a rush but has dreadful mental consequences. Mr.Bennett illustrates this image perfectly when writing, “Lust also gives great promise, but as soon as it is enjoyed it betrays its promise of complete satisfaction” (Benett, 217). Another way to put it is that lust is an emotion that fills one’s gap but with a price. That price is one’s mental balance.

In the current day, the term lust is mostly used when someone is having an affair with someone else.  It is an emotion that surrounds us daily. Many people get into relationships for a reason for self-validation and satisfaction. There seems to be a pattern of getting into one-sided relationships. This happens because many people date others who like them, but they themselves do not reciprocate the same feelings. They do this because it gives them stability. However, as time passes in the relationship they might start to realize they want something more. This causes them to stray away and become distant. They start looking for a solution, but because it is not a simple one and causes them to look deep within they start going mental. Actions are all done out of impulse and driven by an inner flame that will not be extinguished until it has been fully put out. Nevertheless, the feeling of lust is never ending it sits in someone’s body dormant and waiting to strike again. This is because nowadays in society people only care about their external being and not their internal selves. Only focusing on their outward appearances to everyone and doing everything they can in their power to make themselves happy. Not many, focus on what they themselves actually want because the small amount of “love” and validation is apparently enough to calm the roaring monsters within.

Given these points, Sonnet 129 is a complicated sonnet that one can not fully explain. This emotion is apart of our lives and was not just around during Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 is providing people with a visual of what they feel. He wrote this sonnet in the hope that people understand the complexities of lust. He uses a vast variety of literary devices to provide the proper balance of negative and positive aspects of lust. He uses literary devices to further illustrate and justify his thoughts by using: antithesis, paradox, dolphin turn, word diction. All things considered, this sonnet describes what lust can do to someone’s values and how the actions are looked upon by the speaker. The speaker is neutral when it comes to lust. There is no judgement towards the action itself, but a portrayal of the mental toll on the doer. Through multiple critical analysis, there is a theme of lust providing a small amount of pleasure to the person, while causing an imbalance mentally. Lust is a feeling of an intense desire either sexual or non-sexual. This intense feeling drives people to act impulsively in order to obtain a little bit of pleasure.



Bennet , Kenneth C. “Threading Shakespeares Sonnets .” , 2007,

“Shakespeare, Sexuality and the Sonnets.” The British Library, The British Library, 30 Mar. 2017,

BURRIS, SIDNEY. “Past Reason Hunted, or Living with Sonnet 129.” Agni, no. 62, 2005, pp. 209–220. JSTOR,

Stapleton, M. L. “‘My False Eyes’: The Dark Lady and Self-Knowledge.” Studies in Philology, vol. 90, no. 2, 1993, pp. 213–230. JSTOR,

Hedley, Jane. “Since First Your Eye I Eyed: Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnets’ and the Poetics of Narcissism.” Style, vol. 28, no. 1, 1994, pp. 1–30. JSTOR,

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