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    Unit 2 Shakespearean Sonnets

    Shakespeare wrote two long poems, 154 sonnets, and some other short poems. Shakespeares

    two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, were probably composed when the

    theatres were closed because of the plague. Venus and Adonis, created in about 1592-1593. The

    Rape of Lucrece, created in about 1593-1594. They were dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. The poems were successful.

    The sonnet, composed of 14 lines, is composed with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different thoughts, moods, or emotions, sometimes summed up in the last lines of the poem. The two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan (Italian) and the Shakespearean (English). The Petrarchan sonnet has an eight line stanza, or octave, and six-line stanza, or sestet. The octave has two quatrains, rhyming abba, abba, but avoiding a couplet; the first quatrain gives the theme, and the second develops it. The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes, often rhyming cde,cde;

    the first three lines reflect on the theme, and the last three lines bring the whole poem to an end. Shakespearean sonnet differs from the Petrarchan ones in that it is divided into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, with an independently rhymed couplet at the end. The rhyme scheme of the English sonnet is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. All of Shakespeares sonnets were in this form except

    for the poems he wrote earlier in life.

    Shakespeares 154 sonnets can be formed three groups:

    1. 1-26 sonnets written mostly to a young man, beloved of the poet, of superior beauty and rank but of somewhat questionable morals and constancy. 17 of them urge his friend to marry.

    2. 27-127 sonnets, also written to a young man (probably the same young nobleman as in the first 26). They have a variety of themes, such as the beauty of the loved one; destruction of beauty; competition with a Rival Poet; despair about the loss of a loved one; and reaction toward the young mans coldness.

    3. 128-154 sonnets are written mainly to a woman, popularly known as The Dark Lady.

    Many scholars of Shakespeares work believe that he had a love affair with this woman.

    Most Elizabethan sonnets were written about of love.

    Many of Shakespeares themes are conventional sonnet topics, such as joys, sorrows, love and beauty, and the related motifs of time and immortality. But Shakespeare treats these themes in his own, original modemost notably by addressing the poems not to a woman but to a young man; and by including a theme: a woman of questionable faithfulness. Critics have mostly discussed the poets claim that he will immortalize the young mans beauty in his verses, thereby

    defying the destructiveness of time. The themes of friendship and betrayal of friendship are also important critical issues.

    Because these lyrics are passionate, intense, and emotionally vivid, over the centuries many readers and commentators have been convinced that they must have an autobiographical basis. Some of Shakespeares sonnet arrangements are thought to be autobiographical. This is why scholars have tried to learn about William Shakespeares life from his sonnets. There is, however,

    no evidence that this is so. The fact remains, however, that we do not know to what degree Shakespeares personal experiences are reflected in his sonnets; nor do we know with any measure of certainty whether the persons depicted in these poems are based on specific individuals or are

    solely the product of Shakespeares observation, imagination, and understanding of the human heart.

    In this unit, 9 sonnets are chosen to be studied. They are sonnets 18, 29, 30, 33, 35, 43, 54, 66 and 166.

    1. Sonnet 18

    Among Shakespeares 154 sonnets, number 18 is the most renowned one, in which he compared the destructive nature including the smashing power of Death with the eternity of his lovers beauty. It is commonly known that in England the best season is summer. So in the poem, the poet used the image of summer to refer to his beloveds prime (youthful period in the

    persons life).

    Shall I compare thee to a summers day?

    1Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

    2Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

    3And summers lease hath all too short a date:

    4Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

    5And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

    6And every fair from fair sometime declines,

    7By chance, or natures changing course untrimmed:

    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

    8Nor lose possession of that fair thou owst,

    Nor shall death brag thou wanderst in his shade,

    9When in eternal lines to time thou growst,

     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

     Questions for discussion:

    (1) What is the English sonnet form? Study the metrical and rhyme scheme as well as the


    (2) Whats the main idea? Is it really about love? What is peculiar of this love poem? (3) What figures of speech are used?

     1 more temperate: more gentle. 2 darling buds of May: the beautiful, much loved buds of the early summer; favourite flowers. 3 The summer holds a lease on part of the year, but the lease is too short, ie, summer is too short. Lease: allotted time, 使用期;法律用语?。 4 the eye of heaven: the sun. 5 his gold complexion: his (the suns) golden face. It would be dimmed by clouds. 6 All beautiful things (every fair) fade from their previous state of beauty (from fair). They all decline from perfection. 7 untrimmed: this can refer to a lack of ornament and decoration. 8 Nor shall you lose any of your beauty. 9 to time thou growst: you keep pace with time, you grow as time grows.

    2. Sonnet 29

    When the poet is in low mood, he often thinks fate and luck detray him. On thinking all the

    misfortunes, he most dispises himself. However, when he thinks on his love, he will soon be

    happy like in the state of a king.

     When in disgrace with fortune and mens eyes

    1 I all alone beweep my outcast state,

    2 And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

     And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

     Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

    3 Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

    4 Desiring this mans art, and that mans scope,

     With what I most enjoy contented least;

     Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,

    5 Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

     Like to the lark at break of day arising

     From sullen earth, sings hymns at heavens gate;

     For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

     That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What mood was the poet in? Describe the situation of the poet in lines 1-8.

    (2) Why did the poet change so rapidly?

    (3) What figure of speech is mostly used in this poem? What efficiency do they have?

    (4) What power does love bring?

    3. Sonnet 30

    6 When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,

    7 I summon up remembrance of things past,

     I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

    8 And with old woes new wail my dear times waste:

    9 Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)

     For precious friends hid in deaths dateless night,

     1 beweep: weep for. my outcast state: my condition of being a social outcast. 2 deaf heaven: Heaven (God) turns a deaf ear to his complaints and laments. Bootless: achieving nothing. 3 Featured: in looks. 4 art: skill; scope: ability. 5 Haply: by chance. 6 sessions: sittings of a law court. 7 summon up: order to appear in a law court. 8 wail: lament; my times waste: the waste of my precious time. 9 drown an eye: drown my eyes in tears; unused to flow: not accustomed to shed tears.

    1 And weep afresh loves long since cancelled woe,

    2 And moan th expense of many a vanished sight.

     Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

    3 And heavily from woe to woe tell oer

    4 The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

     Which I new pay as if not paid before.

     But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)

    All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

Questions for discussion::

    1 How many sentences are there in this sonnet? Whats the relationship between line1, 2,

    and 5? How do read this poem? Do you stop at the end of every line? 2 Whats the relationship between the sun and he? Who is he? What happened to the

    poet when wrote it?

    3 Whats the theme of the sonnet? To eulogize nature? To praise friendship? To forgive his

    friends mistakes and mistreating the poet?

    4 What figure of speech gives you the most important impression? Give examples.

    5 How do you understand this sonnet? What are your opinions of the nature, friendship,

    and love? Find the alliteration in this sonnet and discuss their effect.

    4. Sonnet 33

     Full many a glorious morning have I seen,

    5 Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,

     Kissing with golden face the meadows green;

     Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:

    6 Anon permit the basest clouds to ride,

    7 With ugly rack on his celestial face,

     And from the forlorn world his visage hide

     Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:

     Even so my sun one early morn did shine,

     With all triumphant splendour on my brow,

     But out alack, he was but one hour mine,

    8 The region cloud hath masked him from me now.

     Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,

     1 long since cancelled: paid long time ago; woe: the debt of love. 2 expense: loss; vanished sight: old person and things. 3 tell oer: count. 4 fore-bemoaned: lamented in the past. 5 Flatter: please by lighting up; sovereign eye: the sun. 6 Anon: soon; basest: darkest, meanest. 7 rack: mass of wind-driven vaporous cloud; on: across; his: the mornings, the suns. 8 region: of the upper air.

    1 Suns of the world may stain, when heavens sun staineth.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What happened to the poet and his friend? What image did the poet use to define their


    (2) What sound scheme and baser words did the poet apply in the sonnet to show his


    (3) Why did he forgive his friend?

    5. Sonnet 35

     No more be grieved at that which thou hast done,

     Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,

     Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

    2 And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

     All men make faults, and even I in this,

    3 Authorizing thy trespass with compare,

    4 My self corrupting salving thy amiss,

     Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:

    5 For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,

    6 Thy adverse party is thy advocate,

     And gainst my self a lawful plea commence:

     Such civil war is in my love and hate,

    7 That I an accessary needs must be,

    To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What did the friend feel and what advice did the poet give?

    (2) Whats the compare in line 6?

    (3) Whats the civil war in line 12 in his mind?

    (4) Understand the oxymoron sweet thief. What do you think is the theme of the sonnet?

    6. Sonnet 43

     When most I wink then do mine eyes best see,

    1 For all the day they view things unrespected,

     1 stain: (1) lose brightness, (2) suffer disgrace. 2 canker: cankerworm that eats the flowers from within. 3 Authorizing thy trespass: justifying your misdeed. 4 My self corrupting salving thy amiss: I corrupt myself in covering your offence. 5 sensual: physical; sense: reason; in sense: =incense. 6 Adverse party: opponent in the case, accuser; advocate: supporter in the case. 7 accessory: accomplice, criminal mate.

     But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,

     And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

    2 Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright

     How would thy shadows form, form happy show,

     To the clear day with thy much clearer light,

     When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!

     How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made,

     By looking on thee in the living day,

     When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade,

     Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!

     All days are nights to see till I see thee,

     And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me. Questions for discussion::

    (1) Find and understand the oxymoron of this poem.

    (2) Notice the repetition of the words used in the poem.

    (3) What are dark and bright stand for? In what state are he and his friend?

    7. Sonnet 54

    3 O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,

     By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!

     The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

     For that sweet odour, which doth in it live:

    4 The canker blooms have full as deep a dye,

    5 As the perfumed tincture of the roses,

    6 Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly,

     When summers breath their masked buds discloses:

     But for their virtue only is their show,

     They live unwooed, and unrespected fade,

     Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so,

     Of their sweet deaths, are sweetest odours made:

     And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,

    When that shall vade, by verse distills your truth.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What makes one more beautiful? With what is a rose considered fairer?

    (2) Whats difference between a canker and a rose? What happens when they both die?

    (3) What made the youth memorable?

     1 unrespected: unnoticed, not regarded. 2 shadow: image. 3 doth beauty beauteous seem: beauty appears admirable. 4 canker blooms: wild roses which have no fragrance. 5 tincture: colour. 6 wantonly: playfully, sportively.

    8. Sonnet 66

     Tired with all these for restful death I cry,

    1 As to behold desert a beggar born,

    2 And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,

     And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

     And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,

    3 And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

     And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

    4 And strength by limping sway disabled

     And art made tongue-tied by authority,

    5 And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,

     And simple truth miscalled simplicity,

    6 And captive good attending captain ill.

     Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,

     Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What do you think of the structure of the poem? How many sentences form this poem?

    (2) What is listed here? And what is the general significance of this poem?

    (3) Compare it with the famous soliloquy of Hamlets To be or not to be.

    9. Sonnet 116

     Let me not to the marriage of true minds

    7 Admit impediments, love is not love

     Which alters when it alteration finds,

    8 Or bends with the remover to remove.

     O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

     That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

     It is the star to every wandring bark,

    9 Whose worths unknown, although his height be taken.

     Loves not Times fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

     1 desert: a deserving person. 2 needy nothing trimmed in jollity: a nobody, lacking all merit, dressed up in fine clothes. 3 strumpeted: turned into a prostitute. 4 limping: incompetent, crippling. 5 skill: those who have good judgment and ability. 6 ill: vicious, evil. 7 impediments: obstacles. 8 remover: one transfers (of a heart or place). 9 Whose worths unknown: whose influence in incalculable; height: altitude; be taken: estimated.

    1 Within his bending sickles compass come,

     Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

     But bears it out even to the edge of doom:

     If this be error and upon me proved,

     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Questions for discussion::

    (1) What is the theme of this poem? And what comparison did the poet use here?

    (2) Discuss the love theme. Compare it with the modern opinion of love

     1 bending sickles: time, imaged by medieval priests as a skeleton holding a sickle cutting everything; compass: reach.

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