October 8, 2010
The Light and Dark Side of Love in Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Shakespeare’s sonnets are about love, and how love relates to life. Not life of the traditional sonnet variety, where all the men are charming, women are angels, and love and romance make the world go round. Shakespeare’s reality involves the entire spectrum of the human experience, and all the accompanying emotions. It’s fitting, therefore that the other themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets include mortality, lust, pain, beauty, and obsession. Over the course of 154 sonnets, the gifted poet explains multiple, and even contradictory, attitudes about love or the lovers of his story. Upon closer inspection of sonnets 116 and 138, Shakespeare’s differing ideas and observations about love serve as interesting themes for the poet to utilize his mastery of metaphor, puns and other literary devices. Sonnet 116 is an instance of Shakespeare’s feelings about steadfast love and the threatening effects of time. In this case love is being glorified as an ideal. Although it is written in standard Shakespearean sonnet form, it is dissimilar to the rest of the sonnets in tone and theme. Shakespeare defines love in each quatrain, using the repetition to create a sense of distance between the reader and the poet’s own experience. The sonnet isn’t about a person, or any specific instance of love, it is about the general promise of eternal love. There is no typical problem and solution set-up that is usually found in sonnets. Instead, each quatrain is used to further explain the nature of true love, almost as if the poet is searching for a definition of love that is neither vague nor exclusive. This may explain why Shakespeare repeatedly uses negation to define love, beginning phrases with what “Love is not”. He exclaims that no one (including himself) should speak out against love in a “ marriage of true minds”, drawing on the moment in a wedding ceremony when...
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