The first two lines recall the "brand" and the "pity" that the poet discussed in the previous sonnet: "Your love and pity doth th' impression fill / Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow." Exactly what caused this "vulgar scandal" is unclear, although many critics surmise that the poet is a public performer who has received notoriety because of a past action, perhaps a bad performance onstage. The poet does not care what critics or flatterers think so long as the young man does not think ill of him: "For what care I who calls me well or ill, / So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?" The creative term "o'er-green" is Shakespeare's own invention and refers to the poet's hopes the young man will conceal the "vulgar scandal" with his love.
As in earlier sonnets, the poet stresses the young man's importance to him. He continues to place great faith in the youth, who remains his only standard of measurement. "You are my all the world," he tells the youth, a sentiment that he emphasizes in the final couplet: "You are so strongly in my purpose bred / That all the world besides methinks are dead." It now appears that the poet's affections for "another youth" are truly dead, which he promised they were in Sonnet 110.