Shakespeare’s sonnets have enjoyed extravagant praise for their transcendent beauty and exquisite verbal melody. They have also been criticized, particularly for their inanity and structural faults.
However, even then, the amount of critical writing devoted to the sonnets is shaken only to that on Hamlet. There is perhaps no collection of English poetry that has been more widely known and praised than Shakespeare’s sonnets, and indeed, no collection of English poetry was frequently misused.
The sonnets of Shakespeare are 154 in numbers. They reflect a commonness of the poetic attitude towards life, which unity the diversity of themes. The themes are passionate love, aching jealousy, musings on the human face, a meditation on earth’s time passage, etc.
As a whole, Shakespeare showed a genius through his sonnets. His diverse themes, the appealing lyrics, the striking images, the witty conceits, the lucid language, and the melodious verses are the wealthiest poetic treasures of English literature.
The Origin of Sonnets Traces back to The Renaissance Era
The sonnets originated in Italy with the famous Renaissance poet Petrarch as a literary form. In the Petrarchan form, the sonnet consists of two parts; an Octave of 8 lines and a sestet of 6 lines with a pause in between.
Each line in the Octave is interlocked by cleverly working out rhyme-scheme, which is abbaabba, and the sestet is cdecde.
In England, Thomas Wyatt wrote the first sonnet. Wyatt followed the Petrarchan form, which invented the English form of the sonnet. Shakespeare used this new English form, which ultimately became known as the Shakespearean.
A Shakespearean sonnet comprises quatrains, three stanzas of four lines, and a concluding couplet of two lines in English. The rhyme scheme, in general, is abab cdcd efef gg with subtle variations according to the requirements of thought and emotion.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets Consist of Friendship, Love, And Betrayal
The whole sonnet sequence written by Shakespeare is divisible into two main groups. One consists of sonnets (1-126), presumably addressed to the Earl of Southampton and the other consists of- sonnets 127-152, presumably addressed to the “Dark Lady” identified as Marry Filton.
Nonetheless, according to the theme treated in the ice, the sonnets can be divided into many subgroups like “marriage,” “friendship,” “love,” “self-love,” “the ravages of time,” “immortality and death,” “lust,” “professional rivalry,” etc.
However, the most dominant themes are Shakespeare’s devotion to his patron-cum-friend, his hopeless passion for his mistress, and the betrayal of his friendship and his love by the mistress, respectively.
The majority of sonnets are addressed to the first young friend who is urged to many reprimanded for sensual faults, warned against flatterers and rival poets, and promised immortality in verse. Significantly, Shakespeare relegated the theme of love to a secondary place (only 28 sonnets).
Why did Shakespeare attach such importance to the theme of male friendship?
Shakespeare’s sonnets held autobiographical personal reasons. He might have experienced such passionate feelings for a friend, yet by assigning worship and love, a secondary place, Shakespeare broke the long convention.
Shakespeare Added Satiric Tone to The Dark Lady Sonnets
The satiric tone is a dominant feature of the sonnet addressed to the Dark Lady. Tradition required that a sonnet sequence open with a description of the Lady’s beauty. Shakespeare goes counter to the tradition in these respects also:-
“My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips-red”Shakespeare, My Mistress’s Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun, Sonnet-130
The beloved’s main appeal for the poet is her naturalness. She is not the heroine of the conventional sonnets, encumbered with the attributes of ideal beauty.
The sonnets embody Shakespeare’s total vision of life. They are also memorable for their intensity of emotion, spontaneity, and musical effect.
Shakespeare’s sonnets have the simplicity of expression and are free from the bombastic and rhetoric. In short, the Shakespearean sonnets are highly romantic poems that touch the high watermark of English lyricism.