Shakespeare's Dark Lady Sonnets

Shakespeare Sonnets
 William Shakespeare [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Dark Lady Sonnets (sonnets 127 – 152) follow the fair youth sequence. In sonnet 127, the dark lady enters the narrative and instantly becomes the object of the poet’s desire. The speaker introduces the woman by explaining that her beauty is unconventional:

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
… Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black … not born fair, no beauty lack.

From the poet’s perspective, he is treated badly by the dark lady. She is a temptress described in sonnet 114 as “my female evil” and “my bad angel” which ultimately causes anguish for the poet. She seems to be linked to the young man in some way and some sonnets suggest that she is having a passionate affair with him.

As the poet’s frustrations build, he begins to use the word “black” to describe her evil rather than her beauty.

For example, the poet sees the dark lady with another man later on in the sequence and his jealousy boils to the surface. Notice how the word “black” is used with negative connotations in sonnet 131:

One on another’s neck do witness bear
Thy black is fairest in my judgement’s place.
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.

Top 5 Most Popular Dark Lady Sonnets

  • Sonnet 127: In The Old Age Black Was Not Counted Fair
  • Sonnet 130: My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun
  • Sonnet 131: Thou Art As Tyrannous, So As Thou Art
  • Sonnet 142: Love Is My Sin, And Thy Dear Virtue Hate
  • Sonnet 148: O Me! What Eyes Hath Love Put In My Head

A full list of the Dark Lady Sonnets (Sonnets 1 – 126) is also available.