Shakespeare Sonnet 20

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Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 20’
This sonnet has been the subject of much debate as academics theorise for and against the possible homosexuality of Shakespeare, as per the sexual connotations present in the sonnet and the way Shakespeare plays with gender. However, the way in which one interprets poems of any kind is highly subjective. Consider, for instance, a poem on love: the poet cannot be claimed as being an expert on love and its merits, and oftentimes a poem is not necessarily based on a personal experience, but more of a thought or a concept from within the poet’s mind. For this reason, one might argue that it is not possible to plausibly deduce that Shakespeare was homosexual or, perhaps, bisexual, but one could argue that the narrator of ‘Sonnet 20’ is not averse to homosexuality as he is part of the universe present in the poem. While it is not directly stated, the subject of the sonnet is most likely male; something which can be inferred from the lines ‘And for a woman wert thou first created, / Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting, / And by addition me of thee defeated, / By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.’.1 In this case a-doting could have two separate meanings, although they ultimately led to the same end. For one, doting, as per the OED, can be taken as meaning foolish or stupid, but it can also mean infatuated or extravagantly fond. One could then say that Nature’s sculpting of this woman led to her discovering she had made a mistake and then added the penis (or perhaps the adding of the penis was her mistake), or one could say that Nature became infatuated or lovesick with this woman, and then added a penis so that women could indulge in sexual pleasures with this creature of beauty. This, in turn, binds anthropomorphic qualities to Nature, giving it not only the ability to experience feelings such as affection, but also making it female. As for ‘By adding one thing to my purpose nothing’, one could say that the narrator of the



Bibliography: Knight, G. Wilson, The Mutual Flame: On Shakespeare 's Sonnets and the Phoenix and the Turtle (Methuen: London, 1955). Melchiori, Giorgio, Shakespeare’s Dramatic Meditations: An Experiment in Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976). Wilde, Oscar, ’The Portrait of Mr W.H.’ (Blackwood’s magazine, 1889).

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