Throughout Shakespeare’s sonnets, he conveyed strong feelings about both his positive and negative experiences with love through symbolic imagery. Shakespeare, as one of the world’s most renowned and prolific poets, is a master of his craft. In his different sonnets he has a clear motif of his feelings about love, as he frequently returned to this subject and showed extreme passion through his emotional words. In the sonnets I explore throughout this essay, which are, sonnets 5, 60, 137, 141, 127, and 20 as he portrays love in diverse ways that show a range of strong feelings. In each sonnet, Shakespeare utilizes a number of literary devices to effectively depict his experiences with this concept of love. I have observed that he mainly uses different forms of imagery, personification, and simile, but is not restrained by these three types as he is constantly using different techniques of literature to illustrate his perspective on the concept. The approaches Shakespeare takes, in the sonnets highlighted throughout this essay and my research, are approaching love as a force of nature, something brought upon by foolish times of naivety, and a specific person that Shakespeare professes his intense attraction for.
Everything Shakespeare, the poet, writes is a significant piece of poetry with which millions around the world can identify and reveals the deep concepts behind the art form of poetry. Shakespeare’s usage of literary devices demonstrates how poets use such features and the respective effects it has on the literature. Furthermore, the works of Shakespeare are highly significant in terms of their meaning to the concept of love and how human beings comprehend this feeling, have both positive and somewhat negative experiences with it, and convey human feelings through the power of poetry or other literature. Basically, the sonnets of Shakespeare are a very important and key part of the world of poetry and they are meaningful in the use of poetic devices and expressing the experiences of the concept of love.
Unlike most literature, Shakespeare’s sonnets and poems are enduring with a sustained sense of appeal. Shakespeare has a devoted group of followers who appreciate his sonnets and are determined to uncover more about his works especially on the topic of love. In addition to learning more about the thoughts and interpretations of Shakespeare, this essay covers a more general type of worth, as there is value in comprehending the effects of literary devices in a text and how they portray the messages of the author. Using Shakespearean sonnets, this essay is useful with its interpretation of his techniques applied to his powerful love poetry. The highlight of this essay is the analysis and connection between the subject matter, literary devices used, and the interpretations.
Evidently, love has had a consistent presence in William Shakespeare’s life, and he completely obsesses over this emotion. To express his thoughts on love, Shakespeare refers to love as ‘something like a force of nature’ in a number of his sonnets, specifically sonnets 60-5, 137-141, and 127-20. There are many elements of pathetic fallacy that Shakespeare uses such as weather and infinite concepts such as time in general and the movements of the seasons, to show how he differentiates between his positive and his negative feelings towards love. Just as botanical aspects of nature are symbolic of love, so too are Shakespeare’s works replete with those same facets.
In sonnet 5, Shakespeare uses symbolic imagery through the force of nature in order to express the extreme power of love, Shakespeare describes that “Then were not summer’s distillation left”. (Shakespeare 9) First he shows that he believes that there is always a possibility of ideas through his metaphorical use of nature, Shakespeare’s diction utilizes specific words and evokes symbolic imagery through very descriptive language that helps to continue the poet’s portrayal of love in a way that relates to the power of nature. He uses vivid visual imagery throughout the poem, and this imagery strongly pushes forward his portrayal of love to the reader as mighty and beautiful, with expressive description to add detail to the scene. In terms of diction,“Then were not summer’s distillation left”, the word “distillation” (Shakespeare 9) is a key example of Shakespeare’s use of symbolic imagery. Such diction shows that the beauty of summer is preserved in nature despite a transition from a colder atmosphere that engulfs the season of winter, which conveys how the joyful memories of love still remain even past heartbreak. Similar to how seasons come and go, but eventually return, love that experiences heartbreak will still remain. Shakespeare directly compares love to the concept of a force of nature throughout sonnet 5, and these similarities show how the poet’s experiences with love have been both harsh and tender, but there will always be positive memories and feelings even after experiencing an emotional tragedy.
Shakespeare metaphorically compares love to seasons, a key sample of effective symbolism. Referring to love, Shakespeare states, “… never resting time leads summer on/ To hideous winter and confounds him there…” (5-6). In this symbol, Shakespeare refers to objects such as leaves and the season of summer to express the natural beauty of love, but then progresses to colder and harsher features of nature such as snow, and the chilling season of winter to demonstrate the heartache of love when it ends. He compares nature’s four seasons to his life stages, summer being when he was first in love, and winter being its end. The word “confounds” (Shakespeare 6) is used to show how the end to such lust was against his expectations, and unwanted in which he was deeply in love as he later states, “lusty leaves quite gone” (Shakespeare 7). Even after this contrast between the warmth and coldness of love indicates how Shakespeare feels both positively and negatively towards his emotional journey. He concludes the sonnet by stating that his anonymous “substance [love] still lives sweet” (Shakespeare 14) in a manner that confirms that there will always a residue of the effects of love.
Similarly, Sonnet 60 defines love with the abstract concepts of nature once again, but this time he portrays this common feeling in a unique way as he does not focus on the love through the perspective of the seasons as a force of nature but instead discusses the concept of time and the ocean to symbolically convey his sense of love. Shakespeare outlines this comparison right from the exposition of the poem with a simile between the ocean and how he feels existence is a temporary notion as he states, “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore/ So do our minutes hasten to their end” (1-2).
Just like how the ocean meets its shore, love will also eventually meet an end to its once natural beauty. However, with this perception in his mind, the poet emphasizes that “each changing place” (Shakespeare 3) will create new opportunities for yet another experience of affection. In Shakespeare’s eyes, the ocean is symbolic of love as itis cyclical and contains immense variance, but despite its vastness the ocean, like love, ultimately meets an end. However, he continues his comparison between the force of nature and his own experiences of love using the theme of Time itself as yet another symbol for the depth of love and the passion it creates within him. Depending on the individual, with whom he is involved, his approach to and interpretation of love differs. Just as time is enduring, so too Love is presented as eternal and all individuals experience love throughout life in different ways. Though the ocean meets an end at the shore, its waves endlessly meet and retreat with the shore. Shakespeare shows love as something potentially endless, but at the same time unique to each individual and their experiences, demonstrating the complexity of the emotion.
Although Shakespeare’s previous claims of love as a force of nature have a somewhat balanced view, as nature includes both positive and negative elements in its forces, he also symbolically presents love in a chiefly negative way by defining the entire emotion as foolish. In the sonnets dealing with this perspective, Shakespeare challenges feelings such as heartbreak and regret, and ultimately comes to mourn his experiences with love and feel like he is a misguided idiot. He associates love with his confusion and overall frustration and thereby emphasizes the distrust he feels for his emotions of love and how often he relates it to a flawed perception and incorrect judgment. Moreover, Shakespeare envisions love to be something completely foolish at times, and he has demonstrated this passionate feeling through vague sonnets 137 and 141.
For a more negative portrayal in sonnet 137, Shakespeare conveys love as something foolish that makes the poet feel as if his attempts for love are misrepresented and that he keeps making mistakes that lead him to the wrong soul mate. Shakespeare attacks the women who make love so miserable for him by characterizing them with insulting traits and metaphorically describing them as foolish and harmful mistakes. He directly describes this heartbreaking woman as “the worst to be” (Shakespeare 4) and “where all men ride” (Shakespeare 6) to show the detrimental personality that makes Shakespeare regret their relationship. In the last line Shakespeare even compares her to a “false plague” (Shakespeare 14), showing through this metaphor that their love is a sickness that emotionally damaged him. Aside from this description of the heartbreaking woman, Shakespeare’s negative portrayal of love itself through symbolism show how, love is an experience in which only a fool would participate. Shakespeare personifies love as something “blind” (Shakespeare 1) that misleads him, referring to heartbreaks where he wanted love and could not find the tender relationship he was looking for. Through this personification, the concept of Shakespeare’s love is characterized as a villain of “falsehood” (Shakespeare 7) that makes “eyes corrupt” (Shakespeare 5) which emphasizes how Shakespeare believes it to be unwise and wasteful. Sonnet 137 contains Shakespeare’s negative portrayal of love and how it misleads him to paths of heartbreak, showing how it is an overall foolish affair for him and that he sometimes deeply regrets.
In sonnet 141, Shakespeare reinforces the idea that love is something foolish to him but also gloomily acknowledges its immense power over people and how it has influenced him in particular. The poet deeply evaluates the effect of love on each of his senses through imagery, symbolically describing exactly how sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell react to Shakespeare’s negative perception of love. Shakespeare interprets the relationship between love and his senses as a battle between logical reasoning and foolish attraction as no matter what his senses tell him, Shakespeare’s heart still aches for the love of this woman he desires. The poet states that all of these five senses warn him against a relationship with this revolting girl, but despite this perceived danger, his “heart that loves what they despise” (Shakespeare 3) compels him to the foolish errors of love. Furthermore, Shakespeare personifies his heart and other feelings as people to show the dramatic tension caused by love. He assumes that his heart cannot be dissuaded and emphasizes it as “foolish” (Shakespeare 10) and “pleased to dote” (Shakespeare 4) to show his dissatisfaction with his obsession of experiencing love. His inner senses and emotions are personified when he describes a “desire to be invited” (Shakespeare 7) and to not be “delighted” (Shakespeare 5), showing that under reasonable thought, Shakespeare actually despises love and therefore love has a negative control over his life. Throughout this passage, Shakespeare details the conflicted connection between his senses and the love he irresistibly feels, with the overall message that love is foolish and its influence is highly damaging.
Unlike the previous statements on Shakespeare’s symbolism that expresses his feelings towards love, in sonnet 127 and sonnet 20, Shakespeare tackles the topic more directly by writing about just one lover. In both of these selected poems, Shakespeare narrows his broad and abstract reflections on love to instead bring his focus towards a single object of affection. He provides a new perspective on this heartfelt topic, as Shakespeare rarely cites such specific examples and previously presented more scattered portrayals of love. Shakespeare’s unique play on the relationships of his love life makes this sonnet stand out among all of them, particularly as he exclusively specific to a single incident and even writes about the subject of the odd homosexual relations that he would occasionally feel. When Shakespeare writes about love in this fashion, the poems become even more personal as he focuses more on one subject and is relaying the feelings of his love and relationship with a single person rather than the entire concept of love with its many different experiences.
Shakespeare would move on past general statements about love and instead focus on one girl in his life in sonnet 127 as a prime example, as the poet portrays a specific woman in a very flattering manner compared to other “fake” women. Shakespeare utilizes accentuated alliteration to strengthen his personification of art whilst referring to this lover as: “Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face” (Shakespeare 6). Shakespeare personifies art by giving it the human quality of a face to emphasize the shameful way love has become artificial because of fake beauty. As for alliteration, the repetition of “f” carries Shakespeare’s harsh tone that reflects his disdain towards this false appearance. To highlight his admiration for this woman and draw attention to her attractiveness, Shakespeare uses imagery to vividly describe how her “eyes are raven black, Her eyes so suited” (Shakespeare 9-10). The reference to the black color of this lady’s eyes is a sample of chromatic imagery that shows the woman’s dark atmosphere, which seduces Shakespeare. His use of the term “suited” (Shakespeare 10), implies how he feels they belong together, reinforcing his romantic notions of a wonderful relationship and how he is focusing his love on this specific female subject. In this sonnet, Shakespeare’s focus to one particularly attractive girl references how she is artificially changing her beauty to show how much he adores her natural state, and underscores this portrayal of love.
Sonnet 20, unique among most others in Shakespeare’s catalog, as it not only addresses a single lover when he usually portrays love in a broad manner, but refers to a male figure in this passage. Shakespeare describes this interesting love as an oxymoron to highlight this man’s contradictions, as “the master-mistress of my passion”(Shakespeare 2).The link between the coined term master and mistress, illustrates the mixture of masculinity and femininity in this lover. This description emphasizes the perfection of this lover, as he is a combination of the desirable traits of both males and females, both attributes that attract Shakespeare. Shakespeare personifies the body parts of this male lover to illustrate the attraction both genders feel for his beauty: “Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth” (Shakespeare 8). Shakespeare portrays this man as so beautiful he steals eyes and amazes souls as if they were living organisms rather than just objects or intangible concepts. These actions occur from both men and women, demonstrating Shakespeare’s lover’s mixture of both genders which makes him unique and attract Shakespeare’s underlying homosexual tendency. The symbolism of this poem emphasizes the female characteristics of a male that Shakespeare is somehow drawn to, illustrating a new homosexual side of Shakespeare and a specific subject of his attraction in this new portrayal of love. In this context, it is important to note that Sonnet 20 has been the source of scholarly debates among lovers of poetry in regard to how the poet handles the theme of homosexuality. The poet uses strong literary devices in the sonnet to show how the theme of love is deep and emotional. From the sonnet, it appears that the poet has a passion for the ‘master-mistress’ since he says that the subject has unique levels of grace and feminine features. However, he admits that the subject does not possess the pretense that is associated with women in relationships. He states “those wily women with eyes ‘false in rolling’, who change their moods and affections like chameleons” (Shakespeare 8). This is evident that the poet is strongly attracted to the young man being described. In fact, his narration shows that the young man was as attractive as a woman, but had a male form. Line 2 could be viewed to mean that Shakespeare admires the youthful lover since he is beautiful, but is not moody as ‘chameleons’. Associating chameleons with female lovers is a literary device (symbolism) that shows how the poet detest the aspect of infidelity among women.
However, he is confident that the male lover cannot change since he is purpose to love with all his heart. Although he seems not to ‘need’ him physically, he is contented with loving him in a spiritual manner. It can also be argued that he concluded that way since he did not want to be criticized by people of the time for seeming to be attracted to men. To most modern readers, the sonnet appears like a gay man is in deep love with another guy. For example, “But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure/Mine by thy love and thy love” (Shakespeare 2).
Through analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnets, readers can identify some of his portrayals of love and the ways he alters them through symbolism into different perspectives on this powerful emotion. The variety of literary features he uses throughout his poetry, show very distinct representations of love, such as both positive and negative depictions or just generalizing his basic understandings of the feeling and his eventful experiences, or even specifically addressing one specific lover in a manner that can be very direct, passionate, and personal. All of these perspectives create an overall complex portrayal of love from Shakespeare that constantly changes due to his own life experiences. The one feeling that remains constant through all of these contrasting sonnets is that he feels deeply personal about this topic, and that love is clearly a very important part of Shakespeare’s life and can either motivate or depress him to a great extent. Shakespeare conveys this to his many readers through his creative and heartfelt uses of symbolism, and these concepts of his poetry illustrate his portrayals of love either as a force of nature, something foolish, or a reference to a single person’s beauty.
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