Shakespeare's Sonnets

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William Shakespeare, one of the most influential writers of 17th century, was very well known for his work in theatre and as a poet. In his sonnets, Shakespeare uses imagery and objects of nature as metaphor in describing beauty through contrast and aging. Sonnets were the pop songs of Shakespeare’s era, a very fashionable poetic; all gentlemen were required to learn them as a discipline and a sign of one’s education. A good sonnet alluded to a good education, conveying one’s upbringing as one of a wealthier status. Although the Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter with three quatrains, a rhyming couplet, and a rhyme scheme a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g, was not crafted by Shakespeare, he made it popular and wrote many sonnets in that form. According to the baptismal register of the Holy Trinity parish church in Stratford, William Shakespeare was born April 26, 1563. Traditionally, his birthday is accepted to be on April 23, St George’s day. During this time, a child born would have had to be baptized on the next Sunday or holy day. Unless a legitimate excuse was made by the parents, there were no exceptions. It is believed that Shakespeare probably started his education at the Stratford grammar school (a free school) by the age of six or seven. “Stratford was not a learned community” (Bloom 30). He would have learned his basic ABC or hornbook; most poets of the time did. By about the age thirteen, Shakespeare was removed from school due to his father’s social and financial difficulties. “…William Shakespeare was a rustic who could scarcely have aspired to study at Oxford, and counter –suggested that recusants avoided the oath-taking necessary for a degree. The more likely explanation is money” (Levi 27). Shakespeare was self taught owing to his father’s misfortunes and disgrace (Levi 27). It is assumed that Shakespeare worked as a butcher in addition to helping his father with his business (Shakespeare-online). Shakespeare was a wild and innocent young man. November 27, 1582, Shakespeare formally married the already pregnant Anne Hathaway. Anne Hathaway was 8 years older than Shakespeare, who was eighteen when he impregnated the twenty-six-year-old. The couple had three children. It was after his only son died that Shakespeare realized his dreams on the English stage and moved to London (Levi 36). Shakespeare was recognized as an established actor in London by late 1592. “The theatre was already in the hands of professionals and he did not learn its skills in the classroom” (Levi 30). There is even evidence that Shakespeare performed with the Chamberlain’s Men before Elisabeth I on more than one occasion. It was during this time with the Chamberlain’s Men that Shakespeare wrote many plays. “Three of his first comedies, The Taming of the Shrew, The two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Comedy of Errors, are all in the same classic mould, but Love’s Labour’s Lost is more courtly than others, denser in poetry, denser in comic complexity, and more private, more for real aristocracy” (Levi 77). As time went on, Shakespeare’s plays took on more complexity and poesy. Shakespeare had entered a phase of undeniable and recognized mastery, but neither in 1598 nor at any other time did he proceed smoothly from success to success (Levi 185). By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, London life was quite troubled, a possible contributing factor to Shakespeare’s difficulty with dealing with success. Much Ado About Nothing, a play written in prose about women equaling and outwitting men, is just one of Shakespeare’s plays with many admirers. Many other plays were great successes of their day. Endymion Porter, Thomas Russell, John Davies, and Edward Bushell were just a few of Shakespeare’s close friends and contemporaries. Shakespeare’s sonnets were published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe, and a Mr. W. H. is the only “begetter” of the sonnets. They were first published in quarto, this consisted of three divisions and a poem called “A Lover’s...
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