Shakespeare’s Sonnets

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Transcript Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s Sonnets
English 220
Winter 2013
History of Shakespeare’s Sonnets
• First published as a collection: 1609
• Earliest evidence of their existence: 1598
– mentioned in Wit’s Treasury
• Unauthorized publication of 138 and 144: 1599
• No authenticated order or dates of writing
• No authenticated notion of who the poems are
about, who they are dedicated to, sex of most
• Some think many written during closure of play
houses, over a 20-year period
Sonnet Formats
• Shakespearean/English
– abab cdcd efef gg
• Spenserian
– abab bcbc cdcd ee
• 14 lines
• 3 quatrains, 1 couplet
• Iambic Pentameter
– 5 feet, two syllables
– unstressed, stressed
– occasional variations
• Turn/Volta
– Can occur after line 8 or 12
• Petrachan/Italian
– abab abab cdecde
– abab abab cdccdc
• 14 lines
• 2 quatrains, one sextet
• (I don’t know Italian
meter, but when used in
English, generally Iambic
• Turn/Volta
– Occurs after line 8
Shakespearean Formal Characteristics
• Content
– Generally love poems, to a perfect yet unattainable
object of desire; embodies notions of courtly love
• Structure
– Quatrain One: Introduces Topic
– Quatrain Two: Develops/Complicates Topic
– Quatrain Three: May further develop or complicate
OR it may move toward resolution (depends upon
placement of turn/volta)
– Couplet: Provides resolution, often in “pithy” manner
– Golden Mean: 8/5 (13 parts/lines, with one added)
Sequence Framework
• More a collection than a sequence, though
contains “sequences”:
– 1-17: Procreation
– 1-126: Fair Youth
• (may or may not be the same person as 1-17)
– 127-152: “Dark” Lady
• 78-80, 82-86: Rival Poet
– 153-154: classical allusions
Thematic Concerns 1
• Time
– Passage of
– Attempt to regain the past
– Combat time’s destructive effects
– Enjoy passing flux of the present moment
– For time to stand still
– Will for immortality of verse and beloved
– Transcendent power of youth
Thematic Concerns 2
• Image
– Self in mirror (multiplied, reflected, recreated);
warning against single, lonely life
– Breeding, recreation of self via procreation (a sense of
– Mortal beauty
• Object of poems lives in verse
– “in these black lines be seen”
– “love shall in my verse”
– “live twice, in it, and in my rhyme”
Thematic Concerns 3
• Desire and Language of Sexuality
– “from fairest creatures we desire increase”
– Often expressed indirectly (“all-too precious you”)
as well as directly (13 times)
– spiritual and sexual desire
– No rigid distinction between homosexuality and
male friendship in the era
– “friend” and “lover” have variant meanings
– Often indeterminate gender
• 1-126 none are clearly addressed to a woman
– 20 contain masculine pronouns of address
• 127-onward overtly address a woman
– 7 are clearly about a female
• Remainder are indeterminate and could go either way
• 123 addressed to an individual; some linked to those not clearly
addressing anyone: 5-6, 73-74
• Some reference individual in third person (63-68)
• Numerology: 60 (clock time), 63 (grand climacteric), and 49 (minor
• Four kinds of persons: 3 male, one female;
– Male: poetic voice (which could be imagined as female), male
addressee, and the poet entangled with addressee “black” woman
– “Black” woman, the initial poet voice’s lover
The Poet
• Could be named “Will”
• Never states he is married
• Suggests his relationship to male resembles that
of a wife to her husband
• Has a female partner/lover
• Poet is older than the friend, object of the poems
• Has a sense of being victimized
• Unworthy in comparison to object of poems
• Torn between the friend and the black lady
• Shows a determination to idealize the beloved
The Young Man (or Men)
• Never named; inference in 135 and 136 he too is a
• Unmarried in some poems, and no contradictions in
• Early poems address in loving terms with some
criticism for selfishness
• Contains faults (which is counter to courtly love
• Offended sexually with poet’s mistress
• Keeps bad company
• Poet will take some responsibility for friends wrongs
A Woman, or some Women
• No names used, which is counter to sonnet
• Spoken of generically: my mistress, my music,
dear heart . . .
• “Lady” not used; “dark” only once; “black” five
times, three times for praise; seven mentions
of dark coloring
• Betrays poet sexually with his friend
Other Poet(s)
Known as “the rival poet”
Identity unknown, but plenty of speculation
Usurps poet’s place with the friend
Poet tongue tied in face of rival’s seemingly
superior work
In short
• Poet/speaker in the poems loves one or more
young men and/or women
• Love is to some degree reciprocated
• Poet also loves a “black” woman
• Another poet also loves the person or persons,
who respond to his praise
• One or more women has an affair with one or
more young men which the poet deeply resents
• There is no resolution to the situation
Thoughts on Reading
Act of Reading
Each sonnet is an
individual poem to be
read by itself
Each sonnet is part of
an interconnected
collection or cycle
Each Sonnet is a literary
Sonnets represent real