Literacy In Shakespeare's Sonnets

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Thesis: The Sonnets hold a strange space in the Shakespeare works of literacy, for they are studied as often by literary historians searching for biographical clues to who the author was and whom he loved, as they are by readers finding solace and stimulation in his poetry. However as much as we try and read the poems as poems – at times flirtatious, at times romantic or feverishly passionate, often cynical, sometimes bitter and frequently mournful – lurking behind our readings are 400 years of rumour and speculation about Shakespeare’s sexuality and the identity of his addressees. Perhaps that is inevitable for a collection written in the first person, as the temptation to merge the narrator’s ‘I’ with the poet’s own
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H. is the same person as the character in the Sonnets usually described as ‘the Fair Youth’ to whom the first 126 of the poems are addressed. The poet Don Paterson calls this a ‘sly euphemism’ (believing it desexualises and romanticises the relationship) and prefers ‘the Young Man’. The first 17 sonnets, usually referred to as the ‘procreation sonnets’, suggest that this young man, ‘in single life’, ‘beloved of many’ but loving no one in return, ‘’gainst time’s scythe can make defence’ by giving birth to an heir: ‘Against this coming end you should prepare, / And your sweet semblance to some other give’. Possibly a commission from the youth’s mother, these poems urge the youth to think to the future and a time when he will give birth to ‘some child of yours’ .. In Sonnet 18, possibly the most famous sonnet of them all, beginning ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, a transition takes place as the narrator seems to fall in love with his addressee. No longer persuading the youth to live on in his descendants, instead the narrator wants to immortalise him in the ‘eternal lines’ of his poetry, somewhat immodestly (although, as it turns out, correctly!) proclaiming that ‘So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee’. And from Sonnet 19 to Sonnet 126 we have a sequence of 108 poems that traces the twists and turns of their…show more content…
Not only is the youth ‘a man in hue’ , he is also attractive to (and attracted to) both men and women ‘all hues in his controlling, / which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth’. The narrator’s lines are ‘black’ because they are often filled with uncertainty about whether the constancy of his own feelings are reciprocated – ‘Thou mayst be false’ , ‘the false heart’s history / is writ in moods’ – acknowledging the ‘power to hurt’ the youth has over him, his love for him ‘a maddening fever’.. The final sonnet of the Fair Youth sequence is possibly the most tender, addressed to ‘my lovely boy’ , who some readers, in an attempt to mask the homoeroticism of the verses, have suggested is Cupid, but who, to me, seems to be very clearly the same young man that appears in the rest of the sequence. It is a strange sonnet, composed of six rhyming couplets, its 12 lines gesturing to the missing final couplet, suggesting the relationship is unfinished, ended too soon by Nature’s ‘audit’, the call of time that ‘answered must be’. While their love has been immortalised in Shakespeare’s lines, the reality of life is that everything comes to a conclusion, and in our humanness we are at Time’s mercy. This provides a fitting book-end to the initial sonnets as the narrator has evolved from the boastful,
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