Shakespeare on Addiction: Sonnet 129

Something interesting happens every time I teach Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129. I’m reasonably certain the term “sex addiction” didn’t exist in his day – and neither did 12 step groups for it, with Elizabethans turning up in their flamboyant garb – but that doesn’t mean that the problem, and its attendant degradations, didn’t exist. Just ask Shakespeare about his Dark Lady.***

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had

Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so;

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Why am I thinking about sonnet 129? Shakespeare’s sonnets beg for interpretation, and it’s not just because they are formal masterpieces that we should, as intelligent folk, feel compelled to dissect for dissection’s sake. No, there’s more to them than that. His sonnets are relevant today and I’m going to show you why.

A few years ago, I came across an hour long documentary made about Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside. The area has been ravaged by an influx of drugs and its victims, earning it a reputation for being something of an elephants’ graveyard: it’s where addicts go to die. The film was called Through a Blue Lens and was shot, mostly, by two beat cops who wanted to portray the lives of the addicts living there. It’s not a warm and fuzzy film about drug addiction, but it’s not condemnatory either. Here’s an excerpt:

The plight of those living in that part of Vancouver became a minor cause célèbre in 1999, in part because The Globe and Mail published a photo essay of its denizens that left a lot of Canadians gasping. It made us aware, in a none-too-gentle way, that we had inner city problems just as bad as some cities south of the border. Vancouver’s port is a gateway for the drug trade and it seems at least some of these drugs don’t travel far: they form the lifeblood of those immiserated souls living in the downtown area.

So why look at Canada’s Skid Row when we’re talking about Shakespeare? It’s because his definition of addiction is one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s relevant today and that’s because when addicts talk about their suffering, they report (albeit less eloquently) many of the same things. And when I say things, I mean they report having many of the same feelings and experiences described by Shakespeare. Those haunting sounds of agony — the addict’s anguish — are distilled, painfully and thoroughly, in this poem.

It begins:

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Shakespeare believes we forfeit our spirit – our soul – when we engage in addictive behaviour. The expense, or the price of the addiction, is paid with it. Waste here is used literally (implying that lives are wasted by addiction) and also symbolically to denote a place. This double meaning is made obvious by the use of the preposition in, as “in” a waste of shame. Waste as a place bookends neatly with that other inferno, hell, mentioned in the closing couplet.

Lust is Shakespeare’s drug of choice and the belief is that it was aimed at the infamous Dark Lady, that promiscuous creature that had Shakespeare, and others, utterly intoxicated.

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust

What are the signs of Shakespeare’s enslavement? The form of a sonnet is strictly prescribed: it is made up of three quatrains — three groups of four lines — and a closing couplet. The rhyme scheme tends to alternate lines, meaning the first line rhymes with the third, the second with the fourth, etc. The lines are usually made up of phrases that go towards forming sentences. However, in this quatrain, the last half is simply a list of adjectives or adjective phrases, enumerating Shakespeare’s agonies. And these agonies are stated strongly, with words like murderous, bloody, savage and extreme.

This is a man in the throes of an obsession, an obsession that won’t even allow him to form coherent thoughts; instead he spits out a list of adjectives to convey his feelings. Shakespeare the wordsmith created this list for a reason. It’s there to denote a burst of feeling that can’t be contained.

But does this fury of Shakespeare’s capture the state of those sad and emaciated souls wandering the downtown eastside? I would argue it does and the key word here is shame. Ask any active addict how they feel about their life and you are bound to discover, underneath the anger and street braggadocio, a deep and murky well of it. That shame is what keeps them using; it’s what keeps them from wanting to feel.

After Shakespeare establishes his narrative voice, he turns to the cyclical nature of his malady. In the second quatrain, he states:

Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had

Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Here we see the structural and thematic rendering of the cycle of addiction. Let me translate: the addict no sooner enjoys (uses) her drug when she starts to despise its consequences straight (right away). However, beyond all reason she continues to hunt for it, and again, as soon as she consumes it, she hates it beyond all reason because she can’t stop. Then Shakespeare expands the subtle animal imagery and lays blame on suppliers and enablers. Her drug is like a trap laid on purpose and it makes her, the taker, mad. Mad here is being used in the British sense of the word, meaning insane.

It’s usually at this point in my class that I stop and ask students to think of an activity, any activity, they do to excess. Do they spend too much time online? Eat too much of the wrong kind of food? Text incessantly? And it’s also here that I tell them my own little story of addiction, the one that had me frequently rushing to the neighbourhood corner store, in Toronto, when I was a student.

I had an addiction and it was to Swedish Berries, those soft red candies that taste heavenly but are of no nutritional value whatever. These darlings came in handy at midnight when I had an essay to finish and needed a sugar boost. However, the problem was that I didn’t know when to stop. The store sold them in bulk and I didn’t have the discipline to buy only a few. My reasoning, as I stood in front of that bin and ladled in scoop after scoop, was that I would save some for later.


So I would eat them until I felt sick and this process, over the last two years of my undergrad degree, repeated itself more times than I care to remember. But it was the sequence of events in this process that was important. I would come to the realization it was late. I knew I had to keep working but didn’t want coffee. Then I would think: Hey! Swedish Berries! Great idea! And I would haul myself off to the store, come back and eat way too many of them. Only afterwards would I say to myself: “Did I really have to scarf down that whole bag?” Or: “Good idea? What was I thinking?”

So too goes the cycle of addiction: there is the chase, the consummation and the aftermath. In other words, the anticipation, the imbibing and the remorse. This cycle will be expanded upon in the next quatrain.

Mad in pursuit and in possession so;

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

The first quatrain establishes, through the use of enumeration, Shakespeare’s loss of control. The second establishes the cyclical nature of his addiction. This last is significant because it does not provide new information. However, it does repeat the three part cycle and repetition in Shakespeare is always significant: he uses it to let us know we need to pay attention. Here we are told, again and with more emphasis, that an addict is mad while chasing the drug and mad while consuming it. And of course it is that madness — that inability to reason — that starts the cycle all over again.

But take a look at the second line. Shakespeare reverses the order of the cycle: he starts with the aftermath: had, moves to the consummation: having, and then moves to the first stage of the cycle, the chase: in quest to have. He does this to create the impression of a back-and-forth motion: the addict moves forward and backward, forward and backward, ad infinitum. Why? Because that’s what happens when one becomes addicted: life stalls.

At the start of this article, I said something interesting happens every time I teach this sonnet. Here it is: after I read it out loud, I tell my students to look closely at the panhandlers, especially the young ones, when they pass through the Atwater metro, the metro that services Dawson. I almost always get the same reaction: the class goes silent, the flow of air in the room stops, and these young people, with their futures ahead of them, pay closer attention. This suffering, rendered so poetically by Shakespeare, is only steps away.

And it happens elsewhere. When I drive home, I stop at a busy intersection leading onto the highway. That’s where I often see a young woman, her blonde hair in dreadlocks, holding up a sign asking for spare change. I always give her some and now she knows to come to me. If the traffic light permits, we may even exchange a few words.

I’ve been criticized for doing this — “she’ll just spend the money on drugs” is what I hear — but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how we can stop people from “committing suicide on the installment plan,” as a good friend of mine puts it.

Shakespeare didn’t know either, but luckily for us, that didn’t stop him from looking deeply into that darkness and writing about it anyway.

***I will be, for the sake of brevity and compression, be referring to the narrator as Shakespeare.

7 Reasons to Rent Apartments in Atlanta

Atlanta is the ninth largest city in the country and is the most densely populated city in Georgia. People prefer to stay in Atlanta apartments because of the facilities they get here. It also has a major concentration of Fortune 500 companies and almost 75% of Fortune 1000 companies, making it one of the most economically strongest parts of the country. Here are some of the reasons why people opt for Atlanta apartments.

1. Atlanta Georgia apartments are available in a wide range of surrounding suburbs and neighborhoods. Some of the popular neighborhood areas are Gables Rock Spring, Woodland Garden, Cabbage Town, Adams Park, Lenox Park, Grant Park, etc. Apart from these areas there are also exclusive Atlanta Georgia apartments in Castleberry Hill and Buckhead. The Eastside area is trendy and gentrified, which is ideal for nightlife and arts. On the other hand the northern area, Buckhead is more of an upscale suburban place.

2. Atlanta is one of the fastest growing metropolitan in the US and an important economic hub. It is one of the largest urban areas in the whole world. Apartments in Atlanta are as varied as the city itself because of the perfect blend of earlier styles along with modern architecture.

3. Atlanta is a rich city because of the numerous attractions, arts and culture. It has got numerous science and arts museums along with world’s largest aquarium. Addition to these there are also major sports leagues, modern and classic music scene as well as annual festivals. Atlanta is also known as ‘Hotlanta’ because of its nightlife, which is full of live music scenes. There are lots of clubs, which are famous for foot tapping music and dancing. You will also get some of the best cuisines and famous restaurants like the The Varsity, which is known all over the world for being the home of great burgers.

4. The rental rates of apartments in Atlanta have shown a drop in the last few months and this is the right time to rent these apartments. According to the latest real estate report, a studio apartment will cost you around $807, which has dropped almost 4.3%, 1 bedroom will cost you around $975, a drop of 5.4%. In addition there are also 2 and 3 bedroom apartments costing around $1,227 and $1,479 respectively.

5. According to recent statistics, Atlanta has a population of around 5.4 million, which is bound to go up in the recent years because it is one of the top business city as well as a major transportation hub. Atlanta, Georgia serves as headquarters to many world-renowned companies like The Company. It also houses big companies such as AT&T, The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, UPS and Turner Broadcasting.

6. Atlanta apartments for rent are ideal for people who are frequent visitors and come here for business trips or vacations.

7. Atlanta apartments for rent are also ideal for people with bad credit as there are plenty of options where landlords are offering their property to people with such situations on easy terms.

Who Are You With?

“It ain’t about who you know. It’s about who you with.”

I was reading a book last night while listening to some music, when a particular song began playing which caught my immediate attention. Not only did this song have me put down my book and get ‘crunk’ for a good five minutes, it actually provides the answer to the questions of why you are where you currently are in life, and how you can speed up your success or failure in everything you do.

The song which provides the answer to these questions is called ‘Who You Wit!’ by Lil Jon and The Eastside Boyz. There is actually a very successful message behind all of that ‘noise’. In the words of…well…myself, “It ain’t about who you know. It’s about who you with!” I added the exclamation point at the end of that quote because I’m listening to Lil Jon’s song on repeat as I write this, and if you know Lil Jon’s music then you know why!

Back to the message however, who you know is of little significance in comparison to who you with! If you want to get in great physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial shape in life, it is important that you keep proper and matching circles within your circle of association. The likely reason people lose and get out of shape in life is because they contain too many squares within their circles. Do your best to understand the last two sentences.

You may have huge goals and high aspirations for yourself, but the odds that you will succeed are stacked against you if your circle is filled with individuals who have no goals or aspirations, make excuses, bring you down in any way, and have no intention of becoming successful in any way. You may know many people, but you are really only ‘with’ a few. They could be family, best friends, mentors, business partners, and so forth. Believe it or not, these few individuals add up to be the average of your character.

It is important to align with proper circles because your association is your lifeline. I believe that warriors live and die by their swords while people live and die by their associations. One of the fastest and least talked about ways to reach success within your venture is to learn from the failures and successes of those who are already successful within your field of choice. I placed failures before successes because that’s most likely the sequence of order when you do business, and the most valuable lessons for growth are learned within one’s failures.

Surround yourself around someone long enough, and you will eventually adapt their principles and habits. No wonder the statement, ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ holds so much validity. I always say, “If you want something real bad, rock with those who got it or know how to get it while you’re pursuing it, and you’ll get it.”

There is a secret to establishing an association of beneficial circles which is heavily underestimated, especially within our generation. If you don’t have access to personal constant contact with your desired circles then the bookstores, libraries, and internet should by your second home. Books are the keys to building your association of successful circles. I believe that those who dislike reading severely underestimate the value of knowledge, and/or must also dislike engaging in conversation with other people.

I look at reading like this; you are actually being spoken to when you read! I could be doing anything in the world as you are reading this, but I am still having a conversation with your mind this very minute. I bet you never thought about it like that before huh? Yeah I know. Do you see how we are having a conversation right now? Cool huh? This is the power of reading.

Your successful association of great circles is just a few books away. What better way to pick the brains of someone and know what they know, than to read their books? It ain’t about who you know. It’s about who you’re with! Choose to be with those who prove to be beneficial towards your progression. Choose to be with those who believe in, love, and support you. Choose to be with those who are in alignment with your life’s mission and where you’re trying to go.

Get your circle in shape with beneficial and similar circles. Stay in shape by exercising your mind daily through constant conversation with your association; through reading. A day without exercising the mind is a day of smoking a pack of cigarettes; you’re just killing yourself slowly. The way out of ignorance is through knowledge. The way to knowledge is through people, books, and an oath to everlasting learning.

However, knowledge without application is a virus. I read a Chinese cookie which went something like, “To know something and not do anything with that knowledge is not to know anything at all.” In the words of Lil Jon, ‘Get Crunk!’ by taking massive action with everything you learn to reach your success, happiness, and prosperity, and bless others. Don’t lose out because of any squares in your circle. It’s not about who you know. It’s about who you with!

God Bless You

On A Mission To Make You Successful, Happy, and Prosperous While You’re In My Presence