Sonnet 102

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Sonnet 102

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner's tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer's front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 102, which can also be titled “My love is strengthened, though more week in seeming,” is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. These sonnets “represent practically the only personal statement which has been left to us by one of the greatest figures of the world’s literature.” [1] The first 126 sonnets have been classified by scholars as the Fair Youth sequence; thus, sonnet 102 is likely addressed to this “young man, possessed of beauty, birth, wealth, and wit,” who is also described as “a patron of poets and writers.” [2]

The speaker’s main goal in this sonnet is to express the continuation of love over time. That the speaker does not reveal the depth of his love is due to its never-ceasing power; he does not wish to cheapen its sentiments nor bore the object of his affection.

Paraphrase[edit]

In the opening lines of the sonnet, the speaker declares that his love is, in fact, stronger than it used to be although it appears to be weaker. His love has not diminished in any way; he has simply chosen not to express it because he believes that “merchandized” love, too readily expressed, can cheapen the actual value. The romance between the speaker and the addressee began in the Spring, and the speaker compares his persistent expressions of adoration at this time to those of a nightingale, which sings only at the beginning of Summer. Still, the speaker does mean to say that the Summer, and by extension, this relationship, is now in a weaker form; rather, the music of the nightingale has left behind its refrain, which could not be appreciated in the same way if it were commonly heard. In this way, the speaker sees it as prudent to remain silent as he hopes to preserve the purity of the relationship.

Context[edit]

Sonnet 102 is a poem in the Fair Youth sequence, the first 126 of Shakespeare's sonnets, which are addressed to a beautiful young man. The identity of this young man is not definitively known, although many scholars agree that there are three likely candidates: William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery, and Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.[3][4] According to R.J.C. Wait, Henry Wriothesley is the most likely candidate, although there is still evidence to support possible attribution to either of the two Herbert brothers.[5]

There has long been debate over the implications of the Fair Youth sonnets; the language in many of them is distinctly homoerotic, and scholars have continuously argued over the presence and/or meaning of such language. For much of history, critics explained away the erotic language by saying that it was meant to be only friendship.[6] While there is still support for this idea today, the majority of scholars now believe that the relationship between Shakespeare and the young man was indeed physical and sexual: "Shakespeare in his sonnets invents the poetics of homosexuality."[7][8] This viewpoint can be seen as reflective of the recent changes in global views concerning homosexuality. As it becomes more socially acceptable to discuss homosexuality, scholars are similarly more willing to consider this as a possible theme in Shakespeare's sonnets. Before homosexuality became more socially acceptable, the cultural views of the time dominated the interpretation of Shakespeare's sonnets.[9]

Structure[edit]

This sonnet displays the typical Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG. His sonnets "almost always consist of fourteen rhyming iambic pentameter lines." [10] Shakespeare separates his sonnets into three quatrains, which are groups of four lines, and a couplet, a set of two lines. Many scholars say that he was greatly influenced by the 14th-century poet Petrarch, but he deviates from Petrarch's original format. Petrarch divided his sonnets into an octave, a set of eight lines, and a sestet, a group of six lines. Petrarch's rhyme scheme was also different from Shakespeare's as it was ABBAABBA/CDECDE. The structure of Shakespeare's sonnets allows for more flexibility in arrangement and interpretation. With Shakespeare's format, the sonnets can be read as larger groupings of eight and four lines, or eight and six, if the couplet is included. Shakespeare's three quatrains "can operate in parallel, represent steps in a logical argument, or contradict each other." [11] In the case of sonnet 102, the quatrains do not contradict each other, but rather act as steps in the argument.

Iambic Pentameter of line five from Sonnet 102
Stress x / x / x / x / x /
Syllable Our love was new, and then but in the spring,

Analysis[edit]

Quatrain 1

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner's tongue doth publish every where.

In the first quatrain, the speaker sets up the main argument of this sonnet; he will attempt to show that his love is much greater than it outwardly appears. According to Stephen Booth, a Shakespeare scholar and critic, there are echoes of previous sentiments from sonnet 101, which impact the speaker’s use of “in seeming” and “my beloved.” [12] The former may refer to the speaker’s use of flattery and ornate language; whereas, the latter may speak to the future physical condition of the fair youth, who is usually described as beautiful and young.[13] Shakespeare’s use of “whose” in line 3 as a “non-human antecedent” is another common feature within his writing, and in this particular line it serves a dual purpose because it bears a subtle hint to prostitution in its juxtaposition with “merchandized.” [14]

Quatrain 2

Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer's front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues in the same vein as the first, but he expresses the newness of the relationship with seasonal imagery. There are two usages in this passage, which are of particular interest. The first is Shakespeare's "ambiguous" reference to Philomel.[15] According to Booth, the reference is merely to the poetic name for the species of nightingale, "with no active reference to Philomela." [16] Atkins, another Shakespeare scholar, agrees with this connection.[17] Shakespeare's use of "his" in line 8 is a point of contention among scholars. Some argue for changing the word to "her" as Philomela was a female; furthermore, lines 10 and 13 switch to "her" so this is seen as an appropriate change. Booth argues, however, that this "confusion was deliberate," and Atkins agrees that myth of Philomela itself "has a history of confusion." [18][19]

Quatrain 3

Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.

The Shakespeare scholar Stephen Booth offers a detailed analysis of this third quatrain. Each quatrain is part of the story. The first line assures the addressee that summers, or their time spent together, are no less wonderful now than when they were newly in love. The beginning of line 11 "But that" can be taken to mean, "I act as I do, because." Booth says that we the readers should view line 11 ("But that wild music burdens every bough") as an explanation for why the speaker and the songbird are choosing to be silent: in late summer many "inferior birds sing, and at the present stage of the speaker's relationship with the beloved, every alien pen is celebrating the beloved." Booth also points out that the bird in this line cannot be the nightingale, first because nightingales sing alone at night, and also because we have been told that the nightingale is no longer singing. So at this point in the sonnet, the nightingale has stopped singing, and the speaker has stopped singing the praises of his beloved.[20] We find out why in the next line: "And sweets grown common lose their dear delight." Booth draws our attention to the phrases "familiarity breeds contempt" and "the thing that is rare is dear.", saying that the speaker has chosen to remain silent because there are many other poets praising his beloved at this time, and the narrator does not want to become lost in the crowd, or have his words become as common and meaningless as the other showers of praise.[21]

Couplet

Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.

Booth notes the similarity of these two lines to a proverb, and offers two possible explanations for this couplet: the first explanation is quoted from OED- "My desire is not to dull you, if I cannot delight you." [22] Booth also suggest that the poet does not want to diminish the youth's value by making people tired of hearing your praises, or to render him common and "thus less delightful." [23] Atkins also offers a similar interpretation: "the speaker does not want his praises to become annoying, like the incessant songs of noisy birds." [24] In one instance however, he does differ in opinion. Atkins cites Vendler, saying that "the speaker's reliance on proverbs rather than a personal plea in this sonnet implies that he recognizes that the beloved is 'a person whose eyes are on his audience.' A personal plea would do no good, have no effect on the young man, because he is enthralled with the multitude of praises he is receiving from his admiring audience.[25]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wait, R.J.C. The Background to Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Schocken, 1972. Print. pg. 7.
  2. ^ Wait, R.J.C. The Background to Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Schocken, 1972. Print. pg. 12.
  3. ^ Wait, pg. 12.
  4. ^ Trent, Douglas. "Shakespeare's Love of Objects." A Companion to Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. Michael Carl. Schoenfeldt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. Print. pg. 226.
  5. ^ Wait, pg. 12.
  6. ^ Trent, pg. 226.
  7. ^ Fineman, Joel. Shakespeare's Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California, 1986. Print. pg. 18.
  8. ^ Trent, pg. 226.
  9. ^ Trent, pg. 226.
  10. ^ Shakespeare, William, Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition: Volume 1: Early Plays and Poems. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print. pg. 1745
  11. ^ The Norton Shakespeare, pg. 1746.
  12. ^ Booth, pg. 330.
  13. ^ Booth, pg. 330.
  14. ^ Booth, pg. 330.
  15. ^ The Norton Shakespeare, pg. 1775.
  16. ^ Booth, pg. 330.
  17. ^ Atkins, Carl D. Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2007. Print. p. 254.
  18. ^ Booth, p. 330.
  19. ^ Atkins, p. 255
  20. ^ Booth, p. 330.
  21. ^ Booth, p. 330.
  22. ^ Booth, p. 330.
  23. ^ Booth, p. 330.
  24. ^ Atkins, p. 255.
  25. ^ Atkins, p. 254-255

References[edit]

  • Atkins, Carl D. Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2007. Print.
  • Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New Haven: Yale UP, 1969. Print.
  • Fineman, Joel. Shakespeare's Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California, 1986. Print.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
  • Trent, Douglas. "Shakespeare's Love of Objects." A Companion to Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. Michael Carl. Schoenfeldt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2007. Print.
  • Wait, R.J.C. The Background to Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Schocken, 1972. Print.

External links[edit]