Sonnet of Shakespeare
Shakespeare as a Sonnet writer
Shakespeare wrote a series of sonnets, consisting of 154 sonnets. Out of 154, the first 126 are addressed to a young man, probably William Lord Herbert or Earl of Southampton. These 126 sonnets trace the course of the poet’s affection for his young patron- a man of rank and beauty.
The remaining 28 sonnets celebrate the charm of a “dark lady” (evidently loved by the poet). This dark lady did not respond to the poet’s love. Who she was, has never been discovered.
These sonnets were written between 1593 and 1596, but were printed in 1609 by Thomas Thrope.
In the first 126 sonnets, the poet “begs for his patron’s favour, urges him to marry so that his charm and virtue may be perpetrated in his children; expresses a hope that the fame of his patron will live in his verse, declares that no frown from his noble friend will discourage him, and expresses jealousy for a rival poet who seeking his (the patron’s) favour.”
“Many of these sonnets are quite conventional and artificial, but others express lofty ideas in noble and melodious (musical) verse”:
Some critics have tried to find out the autobiographical element in these sonnets. According to them the sonnets contain the story of Shakespeare’s love for a particular woman, who ultimately, however, betrayed him. These critics think that Shakespeare “unlocks (open) his heart with this key (key of sonnets). In other words, the sonnets are intimate personal confessions. Other critics think these sonnets are conventional literary exercises, and that they have no autobiographical interest.
Theme of the Sonnets :
In the first 126 sonnets, the poet begs for his patron’s favour, suggests to him that he should marry. He expresses the hope that the fame of his patron will live in the poet’s verses, declares that no frown from his noble friend would discourage him (the poet and expresses jealousy for a rival poet who is seeking the patron’s favour.” (Reade)
In the remaining 28 sonnets, the poet celebrates the beauty and charm of the dark lady. Towards the end he refers to a rival poet who is seeking the favour of the poet’s patron.
Three characters: “Thus the story concerns three characters the handsome patron, the dark lady, and the rival poet.
Sonnets (1-126) are addressed to the handsome youth (the poet’s patron)
Sonnets (127-152) are addressed to the Dark Lady, who is described as “perverse”, wanton, and alluring. Sonnets (153-154) reveal that the handsome patron has betrayed (deceived) the poet, and that a rival poet is seeking his (the handsome patron’s) favour.” (Lae)
Who was the Dark Lady:
No one actually knows who the dark lady was. It is not certain whether she was a real or imaginary character. Some critics have tried to identify her. According to them she was one of the following four women:
Elizabeth Vernon; Mary Fitton; Mistress Davenant and Elizabeth Trentham.
The form of the sonnets :
The form of the sonnets is a variation of the Italian sonnet. Each sonnet consists of three quatrains (four lines together) and a concluding couplet. Their ryhme-scheme is abab, eded, efef, gg.
His Sonnets as poetry :
“Shakespeare’s sonnets are unequal (this is to say, some sonnets are very fine, others are poor). Many of them are quite conventional and artificial, but others express lofty ideas in noble and melodious (musical) verse. Regarded as poems, they are the beset of their kind. They have an intensity of central fire that makes most of the sonnets by other poets seem very lukewarm in comparison.” (Prasad)
According to an American critic “Many of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets are spoilt by far-fetched (fantastic) metaphors and an excess of emotion, but others have a greater content and value. Often Shakespeare attains perfect expression of lofty thought and a sensuous (that which appeals to senses) phraseology.”
Subject matter : Love, Beauty, Time and Death:
“Love and Beauty are the theme of these sonnets. The poet’s friend possesses most ravishing beauty. The poet has romantic love for him.
All things decay with time; one day Southampton’s beauty too would go. But that is no matter. Shakespeare’s poetry will make his beauty immortal (deathless). It shall live for ever in his poetry.” (Furnival)
Personal Touch :
These sonnets are believed to be autobiographical. They throw a flood of light on his personal life. They tell the history of his heart. These describe his personal love for Lord Southampton and the Dark Lady.
“Scorn not the sonnet, critic, for in them
Shakespeare unlocked his heart.”
Dowden also says,
“I believe that Shakespeare’s sonnets express his own feeling in his own person.”
But Browning takes the opposite view. Sonnet-writing was the fashion in those days.
Spenser and Sydney had written sonnets before Shakespeare. Browning says,
“In them Shakespeare unlocked his heart,
Did Shakespeare? Thyeless Shakespeare he,”
According to this view, these sonnets are conventional literary exercises, and that we cannot reconstruct Shakespeare’s life history from these sonnets.” (Dowden)
Rhyme-scheme of the sonnets–
Shakespeare’s sonnets have three quatrains (three stanzas of four lines each), followed by a rhymed couplet. The rhyme-scheme is :
ab ab cd cd ef ef gg.
As a body of poetry, whether these sonnets are regarded as intimate personal confessions, or merely are conventional literary exercises, they (these sonnets) are unequal. Some of them are excellent, others are very conventional. Many of them are spoilt by far-fetched figures of speech (similes and metaphors) and an excess of emotion. A few however express lofty ideas in noble and musical verse. They have an intensity of central fire in them. (Prasad)
Almost all of them follow the English form. They are built up of three quatrains with a final clench in the shape of a rhyming couplet.
Some of these sonnets like the Italian sonnet, have a break in thought at the end of the eighth line.
Regarded as poems, the sonnets are best of their kind.
Shakespeare is one of three great sonneteers of the Elizabethan times (sixteenth century) the other two being Sidney and Spenser. All the three wrote a sonnet sequence, has been regarded by competent, cities, as the greatest and the most inspired, of the three Elizabethan sequences.
Shakespeare possesses an easy and natural capacity for choosing, the right, the unforgettable, the inevitable word. He is a master of rhyme and rhythm.
His lines cannot be easily surpassed for their music-harmonious combination of sound. Finally, all of his sonnets are characterised by a rare charm which is typically Shakespearean.
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