John Donne and Shakespeare

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A comparison of ?Holy Sonnet XIV? by John Donne and ?Sonnet 130? by William Shakespeare John Donne and William Shakespeare both wrote a variety of poems that are both similar within the structure of a Sonnet but with very different content. This essay will compare two of their sonnets ? Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare and the Holy Sonnet by John Donne.

John Donne?s poem is a personal sonnet in which John Donne questions his faith in God. It becomes clear from the sonnet that John Donne feels that he has been tempted to sinful behavior by the Devil, Gods ?enemy?. John Donne is asking God to restore his faith to an unquestioning level, either by force or proving his power to him so that his faith can be reinforced.

The Shakespearean sonnet shows Shakespeare poking fun at the courtly conventions of the time. The sonnet is in the form of a love Sonnet. Although it mocks the conventional blazon it does not undermine the beauty of his mistress. Shakespeare tells us that he would love her even if ?her breast were dun?.? John Donne?s sonnet is quite personal as he is writing about his own beliefs but expressing publicly his views. Shakespeare?s sonnet is written for a wider audience as he is trying to get people to see his point of view. This is that the conventional blazon of the love sonnet is inaccurate and either ridiculous or impossible.

The language used for each sonnet is both different and surprising. In Shakespeare?s sonnet the language is interesting because in a love sonnet the reader does not expect language like ?black wires grow on her head? or ?her breasts are dun?. Shakespeare uses this language to ridicule the descriptions in other love sonnets. For example, he makes us think how unnatural it would be to have lips the colour of coral. By using harsh descriptions Shakespeare also manages to show his love for his mistress just as effectively as if he had written a conventional love sonnet. He tells us that even if his mistresses? breath did ?reek? he would love her anyway.

The language John Donne uses is also surprising although it is slightly less obvious than the Shakespearean sonnet. Even though he appears to address God, Donne uses violent, aggressive language. For example, he opens the poem with the words ?Batter my heart?. One normally connects peace, not war, with God. The first line is written as an imperative, which is interesting, as it is usually accepted that God gives the commands for man to obey. The violent language that is used by Donne to shows that he needs to be ruled by God. Even more surprising is that at the end of the sonnet Donne uses sexual language as he says, ?you ravish me?. By using this language he is again saying that God must force himself on Donne in order to be able to be overwhelmed by him.

Both Shakespeare and Donne?s sonnet are set around the same period. However the contents of each sonnet are very different. The period (1577-1631) in which they are set affects each sonnet in different ways. Shakespeare is mocking the courtly conventions of the time. The time that Shakespeare?s sonnet was written in heightens the originality of the sonnet as at that time it would have been almost unheard of to question the traditional love sonnet which was almost universally accepted. The main point of the sonnet was to go against the grain. When interpreting this sonnet we must remember that the language of the time is different that that which we use today. This influences our interpretation of the sonnet. For example, today we would use the word ?reeks? as an uncomplimentary description of a bad smell. When Shakespeare uses the word ?reeks? to describe his mistress?s breath he is simply saying that her breath smells, not that it smells unpleasant.

It could be said that John Donne?s sonnet is more personal than Shakespeare?s sonnet as it is addressing a feeling that is probably felt only by him. Shakespeare is giving his views on love, a feeling that is known throughout the...
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