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Before Action (Desire)
Throughout the sonnet the first stage of lust is described as:
• perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, savage, rude, cruel, not to trust
• A joy proposed
It is clear that lust in this stage brings out many evil characteristics in people; it does this because it drives the person “mad.” Lust causes madness so extreme that one will do anything to achieve that “joy proposed.” Morals no longer matter, and an instinctual man emerges to hunt the object of his desire. The sonnet asserts that it is because of this madness that men will continually fall into lust; they stop caring about the consequences of their actions.
This idea is also appears in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 where Shakespeare describes his desire, or lust, as a poisonous food that he can’t stop eating. He knows it is hurting him, and many have told him to stop, but he refuses because he is past reason. He says “My reason…Hath left me,” (lines 5-7) and “My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are” (11). He acknowledges that his lust has caused him to go mad, and behave in self destructive ways, just like in Sonnet 129. Lust before action brings with it a madness that drives away sense, and causes people to become destructive to themselves and others.
During Action (experience)
The second stage of lust is described as:
• expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Shakespeare defines this stage as being “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame” because having an affair is wrong, and will cause one to lose their happiness, demonstrated by the depressed tone of the poem. However people do not realize this until after the action, during action the man is still “mad.” He refuses to acknowledge the wrongness of his action and in the moment enjoys the blissful experience. The madness that has taken over continues to control the person. But this self-imposed blindness cannot last forever and the man eventually comes to feel the guilt and “the expense” of his spirit.
After Action (Memory)
The third stage of lust is described as:
• despised straight,
• a very woe
• a dream
The madness experienced in the first two stages of lust ends rather quickly and is and is “Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight” (5). The moment the deed is done the old madness is replaced with a new madness, the madness of guilt. The speaker is soon driven to hate himself and his actions. This reading of the poem by Ralph Fiennes does an excellent job of expressing the guilty, mad, and angst ridden tone of the sonnet.
The Sonnet begins in iambic pentameter but as the sonnet continues the iambic pentameter is broken by a series of stressed syllables which conveys the unraveling emotions of the speaker. He is slowly driven mad by the memory of what he did. This madness does not bring determination to fulfill one’s desires, but rather sends one straight to “hell,” And it is from this hell that Shakespeare writes this sonnet which is so devoid of hope, and convinced that man will never “shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”
Shakespeare was devoid of hope at this point in his life, his own feelings of guilt led to the writing of this sonnet. The dark depressing tone and diction convey in a vivid and a deeply affective way. Coming from a place of experience gives the sonnet authority and power that allows the sonnet to express the madness that lust brings, and the dangerous consequences of lust.