Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138 is a poem that focuses on infidelity, denial, and the fear of aging. In this sonnet, the speaker refuses to believe that his lover is being unfaithful to him, even though he knows this is true. Sonnet 138 contains several words that possess multiple meanings, such as the word lie and vainly. The sonnet also contains several words that are not used in modern context, since it was published in 1609.
In Sonnet 138, the word “lie(s)” holds multiple possible meanings. In line 2 of the poem, Shakespeare writes ‘I do believe her though I know she lies’. Given the context, the word “lies” has two meanings. Lies can be interpreted as his mistress lying in bed with other men, or that she is being dishonest with him about her infidelities. On line 13, “lies” also holds two meanings: ‘Therefore I lie with her, and she with me’. In this line, lie can either mean that the speaker and his mistress are lying to each other, or that the speaker and his mistress are “lying” down together as a loving couple.
Another word that holds more than one meaning is “vainly”. On line 5 of the sonnet, Shakespeare writes “Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young”, where vainly holds two meanings. Vainly can be interpreted as either the speakers’ mistress does not want him to learn about her infidelity, or that his mistress thinks of him as young and inexperienced. Norton Shakespeare glossed the word vainly, and stated that it can either mean “in vain” or “with vanity”, which fits both of the interpretations. The Oxford English Dictionary defines vainly as “foolishly, senselessly, thoughtlessly”, and the entry profile shows that this definition of the word was most popular from 1588 to 1790, which is the appropriate time frame for the sonnet.
The word simply holds two meanings in line 7 of the sonnet, where Shakespeare writes “Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue”. In this context, simply can either mean that something made solely up of one thing, or something that is easily done. On line 11, Shakespeare writes “O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust”, where the word habit can either mean something random (such as a loose garment), or it can mean a regular practice.
On line 7 of the sonnet, Shakespeare writes “Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue”, where the word credit holds significance. The Norton Shakespeare glossed the word credit, stating “naively (foolishly; giving the appearance of folly) I (pretend to) believe.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, credit is defined as “’the estimate in which the character of a person (or thing) is held; reputation’...’Favourable estimation, good name or standing, honour; an instance of this.’” The entry...