For centuries, and still today, the theme of Shakespeare's sonnets was presented as a complex set of stories concerning Shakespeare's own relationship(s) with that rival poet, his fair-haired friend, and a dark women, whom he either served, was in love with, or was angry with because she was pursuing his friend.
Sonnet 149 continues the theme of the other sonnets by speaking to the dark lady. The sonnet seems to be both apologizing for the speaker's actions, as well as explaining those very same actions. The tone of the poem is apologetic as well as abject. It's a confusion shared by the speaker as well as the reader of the sonnet
The tone is set by the first couple of lines of the sonnet by showing how subservient to his mistress the speaker has become, even to the point where he is going against himself or his own thoughts, by loving her "for her sake". The speaker continues on by saying that he will hate all those whom she hates, and that (though he considers her a tyrant) will punish himself if he does wrong by her.
The speaker seems to have sunk so low that he does not even know, or understand, his own subservience (thy service to despise). In the very next line of the sonnet, he says the best of him worships the worst of her. This is the tone of someone who realizes that what he is doing is pretty low, but he sees no way that such actions can be stopped. Many experts agree with this assessment of the sonnet and even evidence it with the last two lines of the sonnet. "Tucker dismisses the couplet as 'either very obscure or impotent" and Booth notes that it 'seems inappropriate" (Evans 269).
Lately, however, the theme from the sonnets has been challenged by a 'modern' translation that says William Shakespeare was expressing some homoerotic tendencies, but had to keep them under wraps because an individual (during that era) could be 'hanged from the neck' for sodomy or fellatio.
Duncan-Jones states; "as for the compromising or 'disgraceful' elements of the sonnets: their homoeroticism is here confronted positively, and is newly contextualized within the powerfully 'homosocial' world of James I's court" (Duncan-Jones xiii)
Many experts disagree with Duncan-Jones and even use the sonnet(s) as evidence that Shakespeare was not homosexual, but was in fact, the exact opposite.
The structure of the sonnet is classic Shakespearian. Shakespeare enjoyed writing sonnets and followed the English sonnet pattern, rather than the Italian pattern. This pattern is recognizable as the standard pattern for sonnets and includes fourteen-line poems set in an iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.
As I read and analyzed this particular sonnet, the tone led me to believe that I did understand and feel the tone when it was perceived in the old-fashioned way; man torn between his love of a dark women, whom he should not love and society's perception of his love, than the Johnny-come-lately perception of the sonnet that says Shakespeare was attempting to espouse his 'homosexual' tendencies. The sonnet just did not make sense to me when I tried to read his love for another man into it.
Sonnet 149 (Paraphrased)
O cruel one, can you say you don't love me - Canst thou, O cruel, say I love thee not
When I go against my own best