- A comparison and contrast.
William Shakespeare was an extremely good playwright, poet and dramatist who lived during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. His plays have been translated into every major language and are performed more than plays by any other playwright. He is often called the national poet of England and the “Bard of Avon”. His surviving works, including some collaborations with other writers, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon in England. His exact birth date is unknown, but from church records we know that he was baptised the 26th of April, 1564. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This playing company was later known as the King’s Men. Shakespeare appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime, but in 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays that are now recognised as Shakespeare’s. This collection is known as the First Folio.
William Shakespeare was a genius when it came to the literary arts. He perfected the form of the English sonnet. Later it became known as the Shakespearean sonnet, which is one of the greatest things Shakespeare is known for. He had an ability to create exceptional sonnets with his mastery of the literary elements. Examining two of his sonnets, Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130, will show the differences and similarities between them, and illustrate Shakespeare’s expertise in developing his love and admiration.
Sonnet 18, alternately titled “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, is known to be Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence (sonnets 1 – 126), and the first of the cycle after the opening sequence described as the Procreation sonnets (sonnets 1 – 17). Fair Youth refers to the unnamed young man to whom the sonnets in the sequence are addressed. Some commentators, noting the romantic and loving language used in this sequence, have suggested a homosexual relationship between them; others have read this relationship as platonic love, or the love a father for his son.
The sonnet is written in the typical Shakespearean sonnet form, having three quatrains followed by a rhymed couplet. It is written in the iambic pentameter and has the characteristic rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. The poem carries the meaning of an Italian of Petrarchan sonnet. These sonnets typically discuss the love and beauty of a beloved, often an unattainable love. It also contains a volta, or shift in the poem’s subject matter, beginning with the third quatrain, where Shakespeare contends that comparing his lover to summer fails to do him any justice.
Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor throughout the sonnet, comparing his lover to a summer’s day. He uses the analogy to illustrate the perfection of his lover, and is able to do so due to all the shortcomings of summer.
Sonnet 130 is part of the Dark Lady sequence (sonnets 127 – 152). This sequence distinguishes itself from the Fair Youth sequence by being overtly sexual in its passion. The Dark Lady is so called because the poems make it clear that she has black hair and dusky skin.
This sonnet also uses the standard Shakespearean iambic pentameter, following the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme. It has three quatrains and a rhymed couplet at the end.
In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare uses typical love poetry metaphors, but he uses them against themselves. The sonnet mocks the conventions of the showy and flowery courtly sonnets in its realistic portrayal of his mistress. In the first five couplets, the poet’s mistress is compared to a number of natural beauties, such as snow or coral; each time making a point of his mistress’ obvious inadequacy; she cannot hope to stand up to the beauties of the natural world. In the final couplet, however, the speaker claims his love for his mistress as much as any man could love a woman.
The tones of both sonnets are at opposite sides, or ends, of the spectrum. When Sonnet 18 is read there is a tone of romance and seriousness, whereas the tone in the first two and a half quatrains of Sonnet 130 is humorous. The couplet at the end is most sincere, however, and it completely changes the mood at the end of the sonnet.
While it is clear that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130 are different, there are also similarities between the two sonnets. Although his uses of analogies create a different image, the comparison of humans to nature is one similarity. Both sonnets also contain the elements of a courtly love sonnet, where Sonnet 18 is an excellent example of that. His lover is too perfect to be compared to anything, even the most enjoyable day in the year does not suffice. In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare in essence mocks the typical love poem. Even though the first three quatrains emphasize his mistress’ unattractiveness, the ending couplet emphasizes that even though the mistress is not perfect, the speaker loves her for who she is anyway.
Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130 are great examples of William Shakespeare’s artistic talent. He created a different kind of imagery and mood in both sonnets, but was able to convey similar emotional feelings that are felt for someone at the same time. His ability to express those feelings in the ways that he does is why Shakespeare’s love sonnets have lived on through the centuries.
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