Shakespeare On Love

Although I’m no expert of Shakespeare’s works but his words certainly inspire many. I remember travelling occasionally to London with like-minded friends just to watch some of his amazing plays. I resonate with some of his philosophical views on love and life. His wit needs no introduction. Yet I still do not consider myself a fan because some of his words seem more to entrance than to enlighten.

I got to know the following sonnet via an online celebrity interview. He was asked what love means to him. And with Shakespeare’s words, he answered, ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ I fell for this line and it somewhat rekindled my buried passion for Shakespeare’s words. Here is Sonnet 116 in full –

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:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Dharma perspectives aside, true love to Shakespeare, as paraphrased and explained in modern English at http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/116detail.html:

Let me not declare any reasons why two
True-minded people should not be married.
Love is not love
Which changes when it finds a change in circumstances,

Or bends from its firm stand even when a lover is unfaithful:
Oh no! it is a lighthouse
That sees storms but it never shaken;
Love is the guiding north star to every lost ship,
Whose value cannot be calculated, although its altitude can be measured.
Love is not at the mercy of Time, though physical beauty
Comes within the compass of his sickle.
Love does not alter with hours and weeks,
But, rather, it endures until the last day of life.
If I am proved wrong about these thoughts on love
Then I recant all that I have written, and no man has ever [truly] loved.

Shakespeare kind of successfully described the most ideal love anyone could give and have. A perfect love that flows freely unconditionally based on trust and understanding, that is able to withstand the challenges of crises and cruelty of fleeting youth. But… should love endure to the extent when a lover betrays? Honestly, I was a bit uneasy when I read that. Well, unless one is enlightened, such break of trust will definitely tear love apart. How do we not ‘bend from its firm stand even when a lover is unfaithful’?

Was Shakespeare telling us to accept a lover’s deliberate unfaithfulness? What if the person is unrepentant? How long should one endure such untrue love? It would be foolish to love someone who does not love you back as much? (But that would make it conditioned love.) Then, I came to realise that it is quite impossible for anyone who truly understands love and wholeheartedly loves someone to be unfaithful, even to the unfaithful. I can’t truly speak for Shakespeare but at least, this is my version of true love. True love should endure all kinds of extremes, but it takes enough love and wisdom to know when one should at least appear to ‘end’ it for the sake of not letting the unfaithful create more negative karma. It also takes enough compassion to know when one should end it for one’s own well-being; physical, mental and spiritual-wise.

If we see the sonnet in the Dharma’s perspective, we can see how brilliantly Shakespeare described what is close to Buddhas’ and enlightened Bodhisattvas’ true love for samsaric beings like us. Their true love will definitely not alter when it alteration finds, or bend with the remover to remove. Like a mother/father who loves and gives unconditionally to their only child. And we are each their only child. Simply because enlightened beings are void of greed, hatred and ignorance, filled only with pure generosity, compassion and wisdom. If we realise the immeasurable number of times we have not requited their love since beginningless time, we would surely be shocked and ashamed. When will we give ourselves a chance to experience true love by being mindful of them and the Dharma they share? Their true and enlightened love has no expiry date but this life is expiring second by second.