O! from what power hast thou this powerful might,
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill,
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O! though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.
There is little doubt that this sonnet covers the same ground as that traced in sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
This may seem a piece of gratuitous blasphemy to those who have read both sonnets, but a short consideration of the similarities might occasion a change of mind. Firstly I draw attention to the echo from the marriage service in line 10, Therefore, if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else here after forever hold his peace. The whole sonnet is seeking a just cause as to why his love should not continue, just as 116 sought to overcome impediments to the eternity of loving, the mere baggage of time being one of them. It would not be a just criticism if we chose to recognise the links to the marriage service in 116 (which is after all only provided by the word 'impediments') and yet decided to ignore those same links in this sonnet, which also is exploratory of the nature of love. For the text from the relevant part of the marriage service of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer is as follows:
Therefore, if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else here after forever hold his peace.
And from this sonnet:
The more I hear and see just cause of hate Line 10
Here however the impediments appear to be more serious at first sight, the moral blackness and moral ugliness of the beloved being the most serious obstacles to a continuation of love. But why, one might ask, why should the unworthiness of the loved one be the cause of cancelling one's bond, as if the need for it to exist can disappear as soon as one discovers that the object loved has altered from what one supposed it first to be? For if one accepts such an argument, that love may alter when it alteration finds, then love becomes merely a mercenary transaction, and a more fitting place for it is the tradesman's mart, and not the churches of Christendom. And that is precisely what 116 sought to deny. Now, when confronted with an embodiment of 116's postulated eternal love, how is the lover going to respond?
One of the differences between this sonnet and 116 is that this one is framed as a series of questions, to which there appear to be no answers, whereas 116 is a series of declarations, positive and almost oratorical, but which in the final analysis cannot be substantiated. Another telling difference is that 116 deals with love as a sort of abstraction, whereas this sonnet deals with love for a particular person, who turns out not to be quite as ideal as the ideal of love demands. Therefore one is thrust back on the defensive, seeking to define what are the true limits of love and to discover if it has a terminus beyond which one should not go. The three questions raised in this sonnet, What power?, Whence? and Who? seem to invite only two possible answers, Cupid, the blind God who is the power of love, or Satan, and the powers of darkness, a somewhat terrifying choice. And what is more, the love here depicted is more insistent and inescapable than that in 116, partly because it has a sexual motive force, partly because of its own mysterious regenerative force, which defies all reason. The former sonnet perhaps too complacently supposed that the love which would last for all time would be a mutual love. Here the horrifying reality emerges that despite his self sacrificing love for the woman he desires, the poet achieves nothing and he is not loved in return, so the 'eternal love in love's fresh case' looks decidedly limp and deformed, with only one side considering it to be love at all, and the other party being entirely indifferent to what is happening. It is the tragedy of this renunciation which brings on his frenzied loving and the insistent series of questions and accusations which inform and shape this painfully raw group of sonnets.
Note that the other places where Shakespeare uses 'just cause' deal either directly or indirectly with marriage. In the Henry IV episodes it is the marriage of Henry to his realm. (Elizabeth often spoke of being married to her subjects). In Much Ado the subject discussed is Beatrice's love for Benedict, and in the Winter's Tale Leontes discusses re-marrying. The likelihood of this phrase being used as part of common speech, for example, and having little special significance, is difficult to decide. The entire King James version of the Bible does not use the phrase at all, nor is it common in the plays. (See opposite). Shakespeare uses 'just' and 'cause' in close proximity in four other places, listed opposite. The words obviously have legal significance, and in the Henry IV and Henry V episodes they relate to the idea of a 'just war'. On the whole it seems unlikely that Shakespeare would have been unaware of the signifcance of the phrase 'just cause', since virtually all marriages took place in Church, (his own included), his daughter married in 1607, and echoes from the marriage service are readily admitted for sonnet 116. See the additional notes at the end of the page for the texts referred to.
One should also consider the supreme irony of placing this one-sided debate in the setting of a marriage ceremony, for, as sonnet 152 shows, the final sonnet of the dark lady series, the love affair involves the breaking of marriage vows. It is as if the poet is appealing to a higher court, the court of a deity more just than blind Cupid, a deity, whoever it might be, who recognises the eternal commitment which transcends all limited human values. The fact that the appeal is made to this court on behalf of a love for a woman whom the poet considers at times to be little better than a whore, adds a dimension to the sonnets which in the end diverts attention away from the immediate words and forces us to look back into ourselves, to consider the deeply perplexing question of what is love and why does it bring us to the edge of the abyss? For the series of insistent questions turn out to be almost of a biblical character, a cry against injustice and sorrow, as when Job appeals to his maker:
Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? For now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be. Job.7.20-1.
What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Job.15.14.
Or as the final despairing cry from the cross:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matt.27.46.
The 1609 Quarto Version
OH from what powre haſt thou this powrefull might,
VVith inſufficiency my heart to ſway,
To make me giue the lie to my true ſight,
And ſwere that brightneſſe doth not grace the day?
Whence haſt thou this becomming of things il,
That in the very refuſe of thy deeds,
There is ſuch ſtrength and warrantiſe of skill,
That in my minde thy worſt all beſt exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me loue thee more,
The more I heare and ſee iuſt cauſe of hate,
Oh though I loue what others do abhor,
VVith others thou ſhouldſt not abhor my ſtate.
If thy vnworthineſſe raiſd loue in me,
More worthy I to be belou'd of thee.