Shakespeare was born in 1564 on the 23rd of April the same date he died 52 years later. But it was only in 1590’s when he started to write sonnets. He mainly wrote them during the plague as all the theatres were closed. (1592) Sonnets are lyrical poems of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different aspects of a single thought, mood, or feeling, resolved or summed up in the last lines of the poem. Sonnets are generally composed in the standard metre of the language in which they are written – in English this is iambic pentameter.
The there are two main forms of sonnet but these two (sonnet 116 and 147) are both written in Shakespearean form of abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Shakespeare’s sonnets unlike the Italian (petrarchan) form are not structured as an octave (8 lines) followed by a sestet (6 lines) but as 3 quatrains and a rhyming couplet. Yet the first 8 lines of Shakespeare’s sonnets still introduce the argument and the final lines conclude it.
Within each quatrain lines 1 and 3 would rhyme as would lines 2 and 4, this continued for all 3 quatrains and the final two lines would rhyme.
This gives a total of the 14 lines. Sonnets were originally written to show allegiance to a monarch, woman, or a poetic predecessor in the Renaissance. Sonnets are defined as closely argued definitions of human emotions. Shakespeare offers an effective, unifying climax to the whole by finishing with a rhyming couplet. They contain dramatic elements and an overall sense of story, as said by Fiona Shaw in “Great Britain’s”. The sonnets were first shown to his friends. They were published in 1609 and were dedicated to Mr WH. who is still a mystery man.
All together Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. The first 127 were written to a young man and the last 27 concern a woman who has become to be known as the dark lady. Some of his sonnets mention and explore a three way love triangle, but sonnets must not be read as autobiographical. Shakespeare was the third of eight children and was the eldest son, he was well educated at Stratford grammar and was a member of Lord Chamberlain’s company which later became the “King’s men”, William was also an actor and a share holder in the company.
In the 1580’s he is said to have served as a tutor in the household of Alexander Houghton, a prominent Lancashire catholic and friend of the Stratford schoolmaster John Cottom. I found this out when researching more into his life on the internet. Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 with whom he had three children a daughter Susanna in 1583 and twins – a boy and a girl – in 1585 sadly the boy died 11 years later. He is said to have left Stratford and gone to London to carry on his career as an actor and playwright.
He is know one of the most well known English poets and playwrights and recognized in much of the world as one of the greatest dramatists. Shakespeare invented his own language of about 1700 words which was later fixed by the invention and production of the printing press. He wrote from the stance of an actor using rough not polite language. Shakespeare reversed the rhythm for uneasy effect and wrote about many emotions – love, fear, loss, death and jealousy.
He later had a theatre in London which became the theatre capital of the world, he was the first playwright to grow rich by writing and he didn’t avoid “dirt” in life. He also taught us companionship for others and our selves. In 1611- 1613 Shakespeare stopped writing mysteriously and returned to Stratford and the globe was destroyed by fire in 1613. Shakespeare died in 1616 from heavy drinking and fever, – never recovered, he neglected his self and work and unfortunately only ever saw half his plays published in his life-time but the rest of them appeared in 1623.
He had only ever had three portraits of himself but still became a national icon by the 18th century. Sonnet 116 is a tightly structured argument of an ideal of love. It is famous beyond its role in the sonnets. It is often read at marriage ceremonies in the belief it celebrates ideal love. A turn of Volta is evident in “if” (116, 13). The sonnet is opened with the idea that the union of two “true” (116, 1), honest, faithful and genuine, people will not find “impediments” (116, 2), obstacles, to defect their love.
This idea is followed with a statement that is very confident. “bends… remove” (116, 4) asserts that real “love” (116, 2) will not change even though the object of desire might do. The “remover” (116, 4) may be an unfaithful lover, leaving a relationship, or time itself which can remove all things. The first quatrain contains a very important piece of punctuation, “impediments; love” (116, 2). This semicolon provides a strong pause to balance both sides. The second quatrain opens with an even more confident statement than in quatrain 1.
It is a metaphor “ever-fixed mark…. never shaken;” (116, 5) meaning that love is a lighthouse, “mark” (116, 5), that can withstand a storm,”tempests” (116, 6). Shakespeare also says the love is the north star (a guidance), “star” (116, 7), for lost ships, “bark” (116, 7), and carries on to say that it’s “worth’s unknown”, priceless but even so it’s “heighth be taken”, its position has been measured/chartered. The third and final quatrain contains one idea.
It continues to assertively state the power of love and that time is unable to defeat it, although death can kill the physical body and beauty of youth, “rosy lips and cheeks” (116, 9), “true” (116, 1) love “bears it out” (116, 12), endures it, spiritually. It states that the power of love will continue to do this until judgement day, “edge of doom” (116,12) and that will not alter in “brief hours”(116,11). The rhyming couplet which finalises the sonnet appears to open with doubt “if” (116, 13), but that doubt is disproved, “error…
proved” (116, 13), because Shakespeare did write it, “I never writ” (116, 14), and men have “loved” (116, 14). Sonnet 147 is a sustained analogy of love as disease. The sonnet begins with a simile “My love is as a fever” (147, 1), it then continues to explore the comparison that love is beyond all cure, it will not obey and ignores advice and it longs for what makes it ill. The quatrain makes a series of statements that condemn the persona “I” (147, 7) and the object “thee” (147, 4) of love. A metaphor is used to portrait it like a doctor prescribing treatment.
The sonnet is made coherent by the lexical set it contains which is related to illness. This lexical set contains “disease”(147,2), “sickly”(147,4), “physician”(147,5), “prescriptions”(147,6) and “death”(147,8). The persona is “desperate” (147, 7) and stops caring as he believes he is “past care” (147, 9). The result of these feelings is seen as madness with “unrest” (147, 10), eternal torment, and that it is unrelated and different, “At random” (147, 12) to truth and reality that are “vainly expressed” (147, 12), foolishly spoken.
The turn of Volta is evident by “for” (147, 13). His vows “I have sworn thee fair” (147, 13) make the disillusion suffered worse. There is also a huge disappointment apparent as he speaks directly to the loved one, dark lady, and tells her he once thought she was “bright” (147, 13) and “fair” (147, 13), but now he believes her to be “dark as hell” (147, 14) and “dark as night” (147, 14) which is again a simile. Both the sonnets have the idea of never ending love; sonnet 116 infers this by the phrase
“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,” (116, 11) while sonnet 147 conveys this with the phrases “, longing still” and “longer nurseth” (147, 1 and 2). Both sonnets also talk about love changing “bends with the remover to remove” (116, 4) and “Th’uncertain” (147, 4). In sonnet 147 love is compared to a disease “fever”, “disease”, “sickly appetite”, “physician”, “prescriptions” whereas in sonnet 116 love is painted as a more positive picture of love with it’s “rosy lips and cheeks”.
Also in sonnet 147 Shakespeare finishes with references to madness and with the love turning into something evil yet in sonnet 116 he finishes with the conclusion that love cannot be argued against and will continue till judgement day. Therefore what is love, the dictionary defines it as a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties, attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by others.
Shakespeare proves that love can be seen from many different angles, it can be seen as a disease or an object that has much power, Shakespeare also says that no-one really knows what love is. A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. Therefore “what is love”, I believe sonnet 147 explores Shakespeare presentation of it’s paradox in such a way as to make it make sense because it portraits love as a disease instead of love having power.