Religious Belief in Sonnet 55 of Shakespeare
English Department, Literature and Law School of Sichuan Agricultural University, Ya’an, Sichuan Province, China Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
English Department, Literature and Law School of Sichuan Agricultural University, Ya’an, Sichuan Province, China Email: email@example.com Abstract—In many poems of Renaissance, there is a dominant theme that poetry can overcome time and eternize a person with his virtues. As a Christian, some poems of Shakespeare reflect not only this theme, but also his religious belief. In Sonnet 55, Shakespeare praises the power of poetry over material world, shows the power of love to eternize a person, and hints a challenging belief to his contemporary theme that God is the actual source of eternal life. Index Terms—Shakespeare, sonnet 55, religious belief, time
In Renaissance England, there is an opinion that poetry can immortalize a person with his virtues, whether the person praised, or the author. Many poems of great poets of this period reflect this theme, such as Sonnet 75 of Spenser, Sonnet 18 and 55 of Shakespeare, etc. With the same theme, different poets have different ways to show their opinions and their attitudes. Philip Martin, in his study of sonnets of Shakespeare and others, concludes three kinds of attitudes: first, most poets says man is immortal in his poem; second, Spenser steps ahead that “you are immortal in my poem, from which our love will reach out to enhance later lives”; third, Shakespeare goes further to say “you are immortal in my poem, and in yourself, and you will live in the poem, in yourself and in the eyes of later lovers.” (qtd. in Hammond, 1981, p. 71) Even in his own poems, the poet shows his different thoughts about the same theme. Some poets try to resolve it with the secular love. Tracing back to Petrarch, Maclean (1993) finds that lovers created by poet “cannot reconcile love for God with sexual longing for the women they love” (p. 639). The conflict between secular love and divine love is hard to resolve. Spenser refers to the Christian liturgy (Maclean, 1993, 639). Shakespeare may hint the love of God. When Shakespeare wrote sonnets, he tried to reconcile such conflict. He is a Christian. Even in the second line of Sonnet 1 he suggests there is a paradise: “That thereby beauty’s rose might never die” (Vendler, 1997, p. 46). Sonnet 18 and 55 of Shakespeare all discuss the theme of power of poetry, which overcomes time and eternize a person. As Rowse (1984) states, in Sonnet 18, that love will bring the immortality of his verse (p. 39), Shakespeare praises the virtues of a man, and claims he will have an eternal life in the poem. With last two lines, it seems that poet suggests the secular love can prolong the life of the person praised. It says: “So long as man can breathe, and eyes can see.” It means in the poem the fame of a person can last as long as human being. But it does not give an interesting answer: if he can live after human being? For at that time, people still believes in God and the eternal life. Among all immortalizing sonnets, Sonnet 55 is most confident in eternity for six “shall” verbs in it (Hammond, 1981, p. 72). It confirms the power of poetry over time, discusses in what way poetry outlive the material world, overcomes time, shows that secular love can make a man eternal, and hints that only with belief of God one can get a real eternal life. It reflects the religious belief of Shakespeare. There are 154 sonnets of Shakespeare. The sonnets published in 1609 are most important works with attention next to Hamlet. From the first critic, George Chalmers, to present critics, Auden, etc. those sonnets receive high praises throughout the English literary history. Many critics...