Themes of Shakespearean Sonnets

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      Spenserian sonnets are called the link sonnets and there are two thoughts which are dialectically presented. But in Shakespearean sonnets, one single thought is presented through a series of images in the three quatrains followed by the closing couplet. In Elizabethan England - the era during which Shakespeare’s sonnets were written - the sonnet was the form of choice for lyric poets, particularly lyric poets seeking to engage with traditional themes of love and romance.

      Shakespeare mostly used the same eternal theme of love. A blond young aristocrat, a dark lady, and a rival poet - none totally trustworthy, all ambiguously admirable - inhibit in his sonnet. All of them are throughout haunted by the theme of time and its effects fell on people, things and building, and human relationships. Regarding the theme of Shakespearean sonnets, critics assigned them to his personal experience of life and consider sonnets as autobiographical. Still others thought the sonnets as the expressions of the dramatist’s final realization about life as parallel to drama containing the dramatic imageries. It is generally interpreted that Shakespeare’s sonnets are a pastiche or parody of the 300 year old tradition of Petrarchan love sonnets. Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex depiction of human love. He plays with gender roles as in sonnet 20, comments on political events in sonnet 124, makes fun of love in sonnet 128, speaks openly about sexual desire in sonnet 129, parodies beauty in sonnet 130 and even references pornography in sonnet 151. In a dozen of the sonnets to the youth, Shakespeare also refers to his “disgrace”: “My name be buried where my body is / And live no more to shame nor me nor you.” (Sonnet 72).

      In many ways, Shakespeare’s use of the sonnet form is richer and more complex than this relatively simple division into parts might imply. Not only is his sequence largely occupied with subverting the traditional themes of love sonnets. The traditional love poems in praise of beauty and worth, for instance, are written to a man, while the love poems to a woman are almost all as bitter and negative as Sonnet 147. He also combines formal patterns with daring and innovation. Many of his sonnets in the sequence, for instance, impose the thematic pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet onto the formal pattern of a Shakespearean sonnet, so that while there are still three quatrains and a couplet, the first two quatrains might ask a single question, which the third quatrain and the couplet will answer.

      Because of the variety in theme and imagery, it has been often speculated how far Shakespearean sonnets are products of tradition and how far they represent individual talent. The Fair Youth and the Dark Lady are the two persons to whom Shakespeare addresses his sonnet where love is the first and central theme. Shakespeare’s Hellenism, his appetite for beauty is evident in the sonnet. The poet knows that though beauty is mighty enough to dominate over the hearts of man, yet it is ephemeral. Again, beauty and love are inseparable: Where there is beauty, there must be love. The poet considers the supremacy of beauty over morality, when at the same time he considers that love is more powerful than both truth and beauty, because both of them depend on love.

      Despair due to personal frustration is another theme of sonnet. A streak of pain runs through almost all the sonnets; they are overcast with a sense of gloom. His despair was also due to another factor: he had one or two rival poets whom he himself thought rival. There perhaps no real rivalry grown between them. Not only have that, the themes of time, its destructiveness and death run though almost all the works of Shakespeare. He has shown different aspects of time. Time is fleeting phenomenon; it is the instrument of mutability; and it covers up bright things with the blankets of darkness. Again, Shakespeare condemns in his sonnets, the use of cosmetics to improve one’s look, and by means of which men and women try to look attractive (sonnet 67). Shakespeare also condemns persons who wore on theirs “the golden tresses of the dead”. To sum up, it is, in fact, the two dominant sonnet sequences, then, reveal the thematic contrast between the poet’s friendship with the Earl of Southampton, and his love for the Dark Lady and the beti ay al of that love by her. Hence, we can consider that the themes of friendship, love, and frustration gets united significance among a variety of themes in Shakespearean sonnets. And thereby, it is and will be ever living. None or nothing can wither the immortality of the sonnet:

“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see
Son long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

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