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Krims, M.B. (1999). A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129. Psychoanal. Rev., 86(3):367-382.

(1999). Psychoanalytic Review, 86(3):367-382

A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129

Marvin B. Krims, M.D.

Sonnet 129

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action, and till action, lust

Is perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoy'd no sooner but despised 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 prov'd, a very woe,

Before, a joy propos'd, behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows, yet none knows well

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


Sonnet 129 stands apart from Shakespeare's other sonnets in that it does not address their frequent theme of the complex and often troubled relations between the sonneteer and two people he cares about, the “dark lady” and the “young man.” Instead, it focuses on the powerful drive that often causes their difficulties: lust. However, the sonnet does resemble the others in that it explores the problematic and paradoxical elements of its central motif; in this case, the conflicting feelings and imagery associated with the pursuit and satiation of lust.

The sonnet—the so-called “Lust Sonnet”—presents us with a lust that is isolated from a meaningful relationship, a drive for gratification that is pursued with no interest in another person except as an object for sexual gratification.

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