Part One The Merchant of Venice 1.1. Brief Account of Merchant of Venice • The Merchant of Venice is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and is best known for Shylock and the famous 'pound of flesh' speech. • The title character is the merchant Antonio, not the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who is the play's most prominent and most famous character. This is made explicit by the title page of the first quarto: The moſt excellent Hiſtorie of the Merchant of Venice. VVith the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Jewe towards the ſayd Merchant, in cutting a juſt pound of his fleſh: and the obtayning of Portia by the choyſe of three cheſts.
1.2. Major Characters • Antonio - a merchant of Venice; • Bassanio – Antonio's friend, in love with Portia; • Gratiano, Salanio, Salarino, Salerio – friends of Antonio and Bassanio; • Lorenzo – friend of Antonio and Bassanio, in love with Jessica; • Portia – a rich heiress • Nerissa – Portia's waiting-maid • Shylock– a rich Jew, father of Jessica • Jessica – daughter of Shylock, in love with Lorenzo; Jewess, • Leonardo - servant to Bassanio • Duke of Venice - Venetian authority who presides over the case of Shylock's bond • Prince of Morocco – suitor to Portia • Prince of Aragon – suitor to Portia • Magnificoes of Venice, officers of the Court of Justice, Gaoler, servants to Portia, and other Attendants
1.3. The Story of The Merchant of Venice • Long ago, the city of Venice in Italy was one of the richest of the world. Among the wealthiest of its merchants was Antonio. He was a kind and generous person. Bassanio, a young Venetian, of noble rank but having squandered his estate, wishes to travel to Belmont to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia. He approaches his friend Antonio, who has previously and repeatedly bailed him out, for three thousand ducats needed to subsidize his traveling expenditures as a suitor for three months. Antonio agrees, but he is cash-poor; his ships and merchandise are busy at sea. He promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan’s guarantor.
Shylock hates Antonio, both because he is a Christian and because he insulted and spat on Shylock for being a Jew. Also, Antonio undermines Shylock's moneylending business by lending money at zero interest. Shylock proposes a condition for the loan: if Antonio is unable to repay it at the specified date, he may take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio does not want Antonio to accept such a risky condition; Antonio is surprised by what he sees as the moneylender's generosity (no "usance" — interest — is asked for), and he signs the contract. With money at hand, Bassanio leaves for Belmont with his friend Gratiano, who has asked to accompany him. Gratiano is a likeable young man, but is often flippant, overly talkative, and tactless. Bassanio warns his companion to exercise self-control, and the two leave for Belmont and Portia.
Meanwhile in Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors. Her father has left a will stipulating each of her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets – one each of gold, silver, and lead. If he choose the right casket,he got Portia, if he lost, he had to go away and never trouble her or any other woman again with a proposal of marriage. The first suitor, the luxury- and money-obsessed Prince of Morocco, reasons to choose the gold casket, because lead proclaims "Choose me and risk hazard", and he has no wish to risk everything for lead, and the silver's "Choose me and get what you deserve" sounds like an invitation to be tortured, but "Choose me and get what most men desire" all but spells it out that he that chooses gold will get Portia, as what all men desire is Portia. Inside the casket are a few gold coins and a skull with a scroll containing the famous verse All that glisters is not gold / Often have you heard that told / Many a man his life hath sold / But my outside to behold / Gilded tombs do worms enfold / Had you been as wise as bold, / Young in limbs, in judgment old / Your answer had not been inscroll'd: / Fare you well; your suit is cold.
The second suitor is the conceited Prince of Aragon. He decides not to choose lead, because it is so common, and will not choose gold because he will then get what many men desire and wants to be distinguished from the barbarous multitudes. He decides to choose silver, because the silver casket proclaims "Choose Me And Get What You Deserve", which he imagines must be something great, because he egotistically imagines himself as great. Inside the casket, however, is the picture of a court jester's head on a baton and remarks "What's here? the portrait of a blinking idiot . . . / Did I deserve no more than a fool's head?" The scroll reads: Some there be that shadows kiss; / Such have but a shadow's bliss: / . . .Take what wife you will to bed, / I will ever be your head -- meaning that he was foolish to imagine that a pompous man like him could ever be a fit husband for Portia, and that he was always a fool, he always will be a fool, and the fact that he chose the silver casket is mere proof that he is a fool.
The last suitor is Bassanio, who chooses the leaden casket. As he is considering his choice of caskets, members of Portia's household sing a song which says that "fancy" (not true love) is "engend'red in the eyes, / With gazing fed." Seemingly in response to this little bit of philosophy, Bassanio remarks, "So may the outward shows be least themselves. / The world is still deceived with ornament." And at the end of the same speech, just before choosing the least valuable, and least showy metal, Bassanio says, "Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence; / And here choose I; joy be the consequence!" He has made the right choice. • At Venice, Antonio's ships are reported lost at sea. This leaves him unable to satisfy the bond (in financial language, insolvent). Shylock is even more determined to exact revenge from Christians after his daughter Jessica flees his home to convert to Christianity and elope with Lorenzo, taking a substantial amount of Shylock's wealth with her, as well as a turquoise ring which was a gift to Shylock from his late wife, Leah. Shylock has Antonio arrested and brought before court.
At Belmont, Portia and Bassanio have just been married, as have Gratiano and Portia's handmaid Nerissa. Bassanio receives a letter telling him that Antonio has been unable to return the loan taken from Shylock. Shocked, Bassanio and Gratiano leave for Venice immediately, with money from Portia, to save Antonio's life by offering the money to Shylock. Unknown to Bassanio and Gratiano, Portia has sent her servant, Balthazar, to seek the counsel of Portia's cousin, Bellario, a lawyer, at Padua. The climax of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan. He demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unwilling to set a dangerous legal precedent of nullifying a contract, refers the case to a visitor who introduces himself as Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the law", bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from the learned lawyer Bellario. The "doctor" is actually Portia in disguise, and the "law clerk" who accompanies her is actually Nerissa, also in disguise. Portia, as "Balthazar", asks Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech (The quality of mercy is not strained—IV,i,185, arguing for debt relief), but Shylock refuses. Thus the court must allow Shylock to extract the pound of flesh. Shylock tells Antonio to "prepare". At that very moment, Portia points out a flaw in the contract (see quibble): the bond only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the "blood", of Antonio. Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be forfeited under Venetian laws.
Defeated, Shylock concedes to accepting Bassanio's offer of money for the defaulted bond, but Portia prevents him from taking the money on the ground that he has already refused it. She then cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an "alien", having attempted to take the life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke immediately pardons Shylock's life. Antonio asks for his share "in use" (that is, reserving the principal amount while taking only the income) until Shylock's death, when the principal will be given to Lorenzo and Jessica. At Antonio's request, the Duke grants remission of the state's half of forfeiture, but in return, Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity and to make a will (or "deed of gift") bequeathing his entire estate to Lorenzo and Jessica (IV,i).
Bassanio does not recognize his disguised wife, but offers to give a present to the supposed lawyer. First she declines, but after he insists, Portia requests his ring and his gloves. He parts with his gloves without a second thought, but gives the ring only after much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never to lose, sell or give it. Nerissa, as the lawyer's clerk, also succeeds in likewise retrieving her ring from Gratiano, who does not see through her disguise. • At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt and pretend to accuse their husbands before revealing they were really the lawyer and his clerk in disguise (V). After all the other characters make amends, all ends happily as Antonio learns from Portia that three of his ships were not stranded and have returned safely after all.
1.4. Themes of The Merchant of Venice 1.4.1. Shylock and the antisemitism debate • English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as antisemitic. English Jews had been expelled in the Middle Ages and were not permitted to return until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Jews were often presented on the Elizabethan stage in hideous caricature, with hooked noses and bright red wigs, and were usually depicted as avaricious usurers; an example is Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta, which features a comically wicked Jewish villain called Barabas. They were usually characterized as evil, deceptive and greedy. • During the 17th century in Venice and in some other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat at all times in public to make sure that they were easily identified. If they did not comply with this rule they could face the death penalty. Jews also had to live in a ghetto protected by Christians, supposedly for their own safety. The Jews were expected to pay their guards.
1.4.2. The sympathetic • Modern readers and theatregoers have read the play as a plea for tolerance, noting that Shylock is a sympathetic character. They cite as evidence that Shylock's 'trial' at the end of the play is a mockery of justice, with Portia acting as a judge when she has no right to do so. The characters who berated Shylock for dishonesty resort to trickery in order to win. In addition, Shakespeare gives Shylock one of his most eloquent speeches: • Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, • dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with • the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject • to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, • warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer • as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? • If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, • do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? • If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. • If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? • Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his • sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. • The villainy you teach me, I will execute, • and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. • (Act III, scene I)
1.4.3. Influence on antisemitism • Regardless of what Shakespeare's own intentions may have been, the play has been made use of by antisemites throughout the play's history. One must note that the end of the title in the 1619 edition "With the Extreme Cruelty of Shylock the Jew…" must aptly describe how Shylock was viewed by the English public. The Nazis used the usurious Shylock for their propaganda. Shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938, "The Merchant of Venice" was broadcast for propagandistic ends over the German airwaves. Productions of the play followed in Lübeck (1938), Berlin (1940), and elsewhere within the Nazi Territory. • The depiction of Jews in English literature throughout the centuries bears the close imprint of Shylock. With slight variations much of English literature up until the 20th century depicts the Jew as "a monied, cruel, lecherous, avaricious outsider tolerated only because of his golden hoard“.
1.4.4. Self-Interest Versus Love • On the surface, the main difference between the Christian characters and Shylock appears to be that the Christian characters value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. The Christian characters certainly view the matter this way. Merchants like Antonio lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk for those they love, whereas Shylock agonizes over the loss of his money and is reported to run through the streets crying, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” (II.viii.15). With these words, he apparently values his money at least as much as his daughter, suggesting that his greed outweighs his love. However, upon closer inspection, this supposed difference between Christian and Jew breaks down. When we see Shylock in Act III, scene i, he seems more hurt by the fact that his daughter sold a ring that was given to him by his dead wife before they were married than he is by the loss of the ring’s monetary value. Some human relationships do indeed matter to Shylock more than money. Moreover, his insistence that he have a pound of flesh rather than any amount of money shows that his resentment is much stronger than his greed.
Just as Shylock’s character seems hard to pin down, the Christian characters also present an inconsistent picture. Though Portia and Bassanio come to love one another, Bassanio seeks her hand in the first place because he is monstrously in debt and needs her money. Bassanio even asks Antonio to look at the money he lends Bassanio as an investment, though Antonio insists that he lends him the money solely out of love. In other words, Bassanio is anxious to view his relationship with Antonio as a matter of business rather than of love. Finally, Shylock eloquently argues that Jews are human beings just as Christians are, but Christians such as Antonio hate Jews simply because they are Jews. Thus, while the Christian characters may talk more about mercy, love, and charity, they are not always consistent in how they display these qualities.
1.4.5. The Divine Quality of Mercy • The conflict between Shylock and the Christian characters comes to a head over the issue of mercy. The other characters acknowledge that the law is on Shylock’s side, but they all expect him to show mercy, which he refuses to do. When, during the trial, Shylock asks Portia what could possibly compel him to be merciful, Portia’s long reply, beginning with the words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” clarifies what is at stake in the argument (IV.i.179). Human beings should be merciful because God is merciful: mercy is an attribute of God himself and therefore greater than power, majesty, or law. Portia’s understanding of mercy is based on the way Christians in Shakespeare’s time understood the difference between the Old and New Testaments. According to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the Old Testament depicts God as requiring strict adherence to rules and exacting harsh punishments for those who stray. The New Testament, in contrast, emphasizes adherence to the spirit rather than the letter of the law, portraying a God who forgives rather than punishes and offers salvation to those followers who forgive others. Thus, when Portia warns Shylock against pursuing the law without regard for mercy, she is promoting what Elizabethan Christians would have seen as a pro-Christian, anti-Jewish agenda.
1.4.6. Hatred as a Cyclical Phenomenon • Throughout the play, Shylock claims that he is simply applying the lessons taught to him by his Christian neighbors; this claim becomes an integral part of both his character and his argument in court. In Shylock’s very first appearance, as he conspires to harm Antonio, his entire plan seems to be born of the insults and injuries Antonio has inflicted upon him in the past. As the play continues, and Shylock unveils more of his reasoning, the same idea rears its head over and over—he is simply applying what years of abuse have taught him. Responding to Salarino’s query of what good the pound of flesh will do him, Shylock responds, “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (III.i.60–61). Not all of Shylock’s actions can be blamed on poor teachings, and one could argue that Antonio understands his own culpability in his near execution. With the trial’s conclusion, Antonio demands that Shylock convert to Christianity, but inflicts no other punishment, despite the threats of fellow Christians like Gratiano. Antonio does not, as he has in the past, kick or spit on Shylock. Antonio, as well as the duke, effectively ends the conflict by starving it of the injustices it needs to continue.
The strictures of Renaissance drama demanded that Shylock be a villain, and, as such, patently unable to show even a drop of compassion for his enemy. A sixteenth-century audience would not expect Shylock to exercise mercy—therefore, it is up to the Christians to do so. Once she has turned Shylock’s greatest weapon—the law—against him, Portia has the opportunity to give freely of the mercy for which she so beautifully advocates. Instead, she backs Shylock into a corner, where she strips him of his bond, his estate, and his dignity, forcing him to kneel and beg for mercy. Given that Antonio decides not to seize Shylock’s goods as punishment for conspiring against him, we might consider Antonio to be merciful. But we may also question whether it is merciful to return to Shylock half of his goods, only to take away his religion and his profession. By forcing Shylock to convert, Antonio disables him from practicing usury, which, according to Shylock’s reports, was Antonio’s primary reason for berating and spitting on him in public. Antonio’s compassion, then, seems to stem as much from self-interest as from concern for his fellow man. Mercy, as delivered in The Merchant of Venice, never manages to be as sweet, selfless, or full of grace as Portia presents it.
1.5. Analysis of Characters • 1.5.1. Shylock • Although critics tend to agree that Shylock is The Merchant of Venice’s most noteworthy figure, no consensus has been reached on whether to read him as a bloodthirsty bogeyman, a clownish Jewish stereotype, or a tragic figure whose sense of decency has been fractured by the persecution he endures. Certainly, Shylock is the play’s antagonist, and he is menacing enough to seriously imperil the happiness of Venice’s businessmen and young lovers alike. Shylock is also, however, a creation of circumstance; even in his single-minded pursuit of a pound of flesh, his frequent mentions of the cruelty he has endured at Christian hands make it hard for us to label him a natural born monster. In one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues, for example, Shylock argues that Jews are humans and calls his quest for vengeance the product of lessons taught to him by the cruelty of Venetian citizens. On the other hand, Shylock’s coldly calculated attempt to revenge the wrongs done to him by murdering his persecutor, Antonio, prevents us from viewing him in a primarily positive light. Shakespeare gives us unmistakably human moments, but he often steers us against Shylock as well, painting him as a miserly, cruel, and prosaic figure.
1.5.2. Portia • Quick-witted, wealthy, and beautiful, Portia embodies the virtues that are typical of Shakespeare’s heroines—it is no surprise that she emerges as the antidote to Shylock’s malice. At the beginning of the play, however, we do not see Portia’s potential for initiative and resourcefulness, as she is a near prisoner, feeling herself absolutely bound to follow her father’s dying wishes. This opening appearance, however, proves to be a revealing introduction to Portia, who emerges as that rarest of combinations—a free spirit who abides rigidly by rules. Rather than ignoring the stipulations of her father’s will, she watches a stream of suitors pass her by, happy to see these particular suitors go, but sad that she has no choice in the matter. When Bassanio arrives, however, Portia proves herself to be highly resourceful, begging the man she loves to stay a while before picking a chest, and finding loopholes in the will’s provision that we never thought possible. Also, in her defeat of Shylock Portia prevails by applying a more rigid standard than Shylock himself, agreeing that his contract very much entitles him to his pound of flesh, but adding that it does not allow for any loss of blood. Anybody can break the rules, but Portia’s effectiveness comes from her ability to make the law work for her. • Portia rejects the stuffiness that rigid adherence to the law might otherwise suggest. In her courtroom appearance, she vigorously applies the law, but still flouts convention by appearing disguised as a man. After depriving Bassanio of his ring, she stops the prank before it goes to far, but still takes it far enough to berate Bassanio and Gratiano for their callousness, and she even insinuates that she has been unfaithful.
1.5.3. Antonio • Although the play’s title refers to him, Antonio is a rather lackluster character. He emerges in Act I, scene i as a hopeless depressive, someone who cannot name the source of his melancholy and who, throughout the course of the play, devolves into a self-pitying lump, unable to muster the energy required to defend himself against execution. Antonio never names the cause of his melancholy, but the evidence seems to point to his being in love, despite his denial of this idea in Act I, scene i. The most likely object of his affection is Bassanio, who takes full advantage of the merchant’s boundless feelings for him. Antonio has risked the entirety of his fortune on overseas trading ventures, yet he agrees to guarantee the potentially lethal loan Bassanio secures from Shylock. In the context of his unrequited and presumably unconsummated relationship with Bassanio, Antonio’s willingness to offer up a pound of his own flesh seems particularly important, signifying a union that grotesquely alludes to the rites of marriage, where two partners become “one flesh.”
Further evidence of the nature of Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio appears later in the play, when Antonio’s proclamations resonate with the hyperbole and self-satisfaction of a doomed lover’s declaration: “Pray God Bassanio come / To see me pay his debt, and then I care not” (III.iii.35–36). Antonio ends the play as happily as he can, restored to wealth even if not delivered into love. Without a mate, he is indeed the “tainted wether”—or castrated ram—of the flock, and he will likely return to his favorite pastime of moping about the streets of Venice (IV.i.113). After all, he has effectively disabled himself from pursuing his other hobby—abusing Shylock—by insisting that the Jew convert to Christianity. Although a sixteenth-century audience might have seen this demand as merciful, as Shylock is saving himself from eternal damnation by converting, we are less likely to be convinced. Not only does Antonio’s reputation as an anti-Semite precede him, but the only instance in the play when he breaks out of his doldrums is his “storm” against Shylock (I.iii.132). In this context, Antonio proves that the dominant threads of his character are melancholy and cruelty.
1.6. Symbols • 1.6.1. The Three Caskets • The contest for Portia’s hand, in which suitors from various countries choose among a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, resembles the cultural and legal system of Venice in some respects. Like the Venice of the play, the casket contest presents the same opportunities and the same rules to men of various nations, ethnicities, and religions. Also like Venice, the hidden bias of the casket test is fundamentally Christian. To win Portia, Bassanio must ignore the gold casket, which bears the inscription, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (II.vii.5), and the silver casket, which says, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (II.vii.7).
The correct casket is lead and warns that the person who chooses it must give and risk everything he has. The contest combines a number of Christian teachings, such as the idea that desire is an unreliable guide and should be resisted, and the idea that human beings do not deserve God’s grace but receive it in spite of themselves. Christianity teaches that appearances are often deceiving, and that people should not trust the evidence provided by the senses—hence the humble appearance of the lead casket. Faith and charity are the central values of Christianity, and these values are evoked by the lead casket’s injunction to give all and risk all, as one does in making a leap of faith. Portia’s father has presented marriage as one in which the proper suitor risks and gives everything for the spouse, in the hope of a divine recompense he can never truly deserve. The contest certainly suits Bassanio, who knows he does not deserve his good fortune but is willing to risk everything on a gamble.
1.6.2. The Pound of Flesh • The pound of flesh that Shylock seeks lends itself to multiple interpretations: it emerges most as a metaphor for two of the play’s closest relationships, but also calls attention to Shylock’s inflexible adherence to the law. The fact that Bassanio’s debt is to be paid with Antonio’s flesh is significant, showing how their friendship is so binding it has made them almost one. Shylock’s determination is strengthened by Jessica’s departure, as if he were seeking recompense for the loss of his own flesh and blood by collecting it from his enemy. Lastly, the pound of flesh is a constant reminder of the rigidity of Shylock’s world, where numerical calculations are used to evaluate even the most serious of situations. Shylock never explicitly demands that Antonio die, but asks instead, in his numerical mind, for a pound in exchange for his three thousand ducats. Where the other characters measure their emotions with long metaphors and words, Shylock measures everything in far more prosaic and numerical quantities.
1.6.3. Leah’s Ring • The ring given to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, who is most likely Shylock’s wife and Jessica’s mother, gets only a brief mention in the play, but is still an object of great importance. When told that Jessica has stolen it and traded it for a monkey, Shylock very poignantly laments its loss: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (III.i.101–102). The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position and to view him as a human being capable of feeling something more than anger. Although Shylock and Tubal discuss the ring for no more than five lines, the ring stands as an important symbol of Shylock’s humanity, his ability to love, and his ability to grieve.
Part Two Shakespeare’s Sonnets • 2.1. Brief Introduction • There are 154 poems in sonnet form written by William Shakespeare that deal with such themes as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. All but two of the poems were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted. Sonnets 138 and 144 had previously been published in a 1599 miscellany entitled The Passionate Pilgrim. The quarto ends with "A Lover's Complaint", a narrative poem of 47 seven-line stanzas written in rhyme royal. • The first 17 sonnets, traditionally called the procreation sonnets, are ostensibly written to a young man urging him to marry and have children in order to immortalise his beauty by passing it to the next generation. Other sonnets express the speaker's love for a young man; brood upon loneliness, death, and the transience of life; seem to criticise the young man for preferring a rival poet; express ambiguous feelings for the speaker's mistress; and pun on the poet's name. The final two sonnets are allegorical treatments of Greek epigrams referring to the "little Love-god" Cupid.
2.2. Dedication • The dedication reads: • “ TO.THE.ONLIE.BEGETTER.OF. • THESE.INSUING.SONNETS. • Mr.W.H. ALL.HAPPINESSE. • AND.THAT.ETERNITIE. • PROMISED. • BY. • OUR.EVER-LIVING.POET. • WISHETH. • THE.WELL-WISHING. • ADVENTURER.IN. • SETTING. • FORTH. • T.T.
The initials 'T.T.' are taken to refer to the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, though Thorpe usually signed prefatory matter only if the author was out of the country or dead. Foster points out, however, that Thorpe's entire corpus of such consists of only four dedications and three stationer's prefaces.. That Thorpe signed the dedication rather than the author is seen as evidence that he published the work without obtaining Shakespeare's permission. • William Herbert (the Earl of Pembroke). Herbert is seen by many as the most likely candidate, since he was also the dedicatee of the First Folio of Shakespeare's works. However the "obsequious" Thorpe would be unlikely to have addressed a lord as "Mr".
2.3. The Structure of Sonnets • The sonnets are almost all constructed from three four-line stanzas (called quatrains) and a final couplet composed in iambic pentameter (a meter used extensively in Shakespeare's plays) with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg (this form is now known as the Shakespearean sonnet). The only exceptions are Sonnets 99, 126, and 145. Number 99 has fifteen lines. Number 126 consists of six couplets, and two blank lines marked with italic brackets; 145 is in iambic tetrameters, not pentameters. Often, the beginning of the third quatrain marks the volta ("turn"), or the line in which the mood of the poem shifts, and the poet expresses a revelation or epiphany. • There is another variation on the standard English structure, found for example in sonnet 29. The normal rhyme scheme is changed by repeating the b of quatrain one in quatrain three where the f should be. This leaves the sonnet distinct between both Shakespearean and Spenserian styles.
2.4. Characters • Some scholars of the sonnets refer to these characters as the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady. • Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton at 21. Shakespeare's patron, and one candidate for the "Fair Youth" of the sonnets.The 'Fair Youth' is an unnamed young man to whom sonnets 1-126 are addressed. The poet writes of the young man in romantic and loving language, a fact which has led several commentators to suggest a homosexual relationship between them, while others read it as platonic love, or even as the love of a father for his son. • The earliest poems in the collection do not imply a close personal relationship; instead, they recommend the benefits of marriage and children. With the famous sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") the tone changes dramatically towards romantic intimacy. Sonnet 20 explicitly laments that the young man is not a woman. Most of the subsequent sonnets describe the ups and downs of the relationship, culminating with an affair between the poet and the Dark Lady.
The Dark Lady/ She is also described as dark-haired. • These sonnets, beginning at 127, to his Mistress. They are also in many places warm with passion. Their chief faults, and heavy ones they are, are sameness, tediousness, quaintness, & elaborate obscurity. • The Rival Poet • The Rival Poet's identity has always remained a mystery, though there is a general consensus that the two most likely candidates are Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman. However, there is no hard evidence that the character had a real-life counterpart. The Poet sees the Rival as competition for fame and patronage. The sonnets most commonly identified as The Rival Poet group exist within the Fair Youth series in sonnets 78–86.
2.5. Excerpts of Shakespeare’s Sonnets 2.5.1. Sonnet 18 • Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? • Thou art more lovely and more temperate: • Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, • And summer's lease hath all too short a date: • Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, • And often is his gold complexion dimmed, • And every fair from fair sometime declines, • By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed: • But thy eternal summer shall not fade, • Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st, • Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, • When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st, • So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, • So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
2.5.2. Main idea of Sonnet 18 • The sonnet starts with a question that might lead to a very ordinary; instead it introduces a profound meditation on time, change, and beauty. Here hyperbole is employed. However, the poet considers these comparisons inadequate, for just like the shortness of summer, man's youth and beauty will fade away. Then the poet expresses a very bold idea: that beautiful things can rely on the force of literature to reach their eternity; and literature is created by man, thus it declares man's eternity. This idea is not only possessed by Shakespeare; it is also a spark of the European Renaissance movement. The emphatic tone of the poem shows the mighty self-confidence of the newly-arisen commercial class . And • the vivid, variable and rich images reflect the lively and adventurous spirits of those who were opening new space and creating new world.
2.5.3. 29 • When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes, • I all alone beweep my outcast state, • And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, • And look upon my self and curse my fate, • Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, • Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, • Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, • With what I most enjoy contented least, • Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising, • Haply I think on thee, and then my state, • (Like to the lark at break of day arising • From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate, • For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, • That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
2.5.4. Sonnet 29 • the speaker describing moments of great sadness, in which he cries over his "outcast state" by himself. This "outcast state" may refer to either a generally unfavorable standing in society or a lack of financial success in the playwriting field. One possible explanation for this lack of success is the closing of London theatres in 1592 due to a plague epidemic. Another suggested reason for Shakespeare's "outcast state" is an instance of harsh public criticism of Shakespeare by fellow playwright Robert Greene. The attack may have had a deep impact on Shakespeare. Yet another possibility of the meaning of the "outcast state" is that, rather simply, the man was outcast. The speaker then says that in these times he "trouble[s] deaf heaven with his bootless cries", meaning he feels his prayers and exhortations are to no avail. The word "trouble" has particular interest because it suggests that he believes his prayers bother heaven, which shows a general exhaustion of hope and faith on the part of the speaker. The speaker then reveals that he is least satisfied in the things he enjoys most.
The "turn" at the beginning of the third quatrain occurs when the poet by chance ("haply") happens to think upon the young man to whom the poem is addressed, which makes him assume a more optimistic view of his own life. The speaker likens such a change in mood "to the lark at break of day arising, From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate". This expression was most probably the inspiration for American poet Wallace Stevens when he wrote the poem The Worms at Heaven's Gate in Harmonium. The couplet is an emotional declaration that remembrance of his friend's love is enough for him to value his position in life more than a king's. The repeated use of "state" is notable in line 2 and 10 to mean the Poets general condition, in line 14, with double meaning, it can be read to mean a country.
2.5.5. 106 • When in the chronicle of wasted time, • I see descriptions of the fairest wights, • And beauty making beautiful old rhyme, • In praise of ladies dead, and lovely knights, • Then in the blazon of sweet beauty's best, • Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow, • I see their antique pen would have expressed, • Even such a beauty as you master now. • So all their praises are but prophecies • Of this our time, all you prefiguring, • And for they looked but with divining eyes, • They had not skill enough your worth to sing: • For we which now behold these present days, • Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
2.5.6. Sonnet 106 • Sonnet 106 is addressed to the young man without reference to any particular event. The poet surveys historical time in order to compare the youth's beauty to that depicted in art created long ago. Not surprisingly, he argues that no beauty has ever surpassed his friend's. Admiring historical figures because they remind him of the youth's character, the poet contends that what earlier artists took for beauty was merely a foreshadowing of the youth's unsurpassed appearance: "So all their praises are but prophecies / Of this our time, all you prefiguring."
In the final couplet, the poet compares historical time with the present and finds that, although he has criticized his forerunners for their lack of definitive descriptions of beauty, he, too, is unable to describe adequately the young man's beauty. In lines 11 and 12, he surmises that earlier artisans never would have been able to do artistic justice to the young man: "And, for they looked but with divining eyes, / They had not still enough your worth to sing." However, he admits in the sonnet's last two lines that he doesn't have the necessary skills either: "For we, which now behold these present days, / Had eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise." Note the parallel imagery in the sonnet's last four lines, in which the past and the present are contrasted: "Eyes" are capable of viewing the youth's beauty, but previous artisans didn't have the skill "to sing" about the young man, and neither has the poet the skill "to praise" him adequately.