Shakespeare poetry: achievement in Sonnets

Shakespeare poetry: achievement in Sonnets

Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist of the Elizabethan age is also the greatest poet. His poetry is prominently displayed in his plays which are poetic dramas. There are passages in his dramas which, apart from their dramatic relevance are memorable as poetry. As for examples, the great soliloquies in Hamlet and Macbeth and superb love poems in Roneo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra are brilliant specimens of superb poetry. Macbeth’s great soliloquy, if it is done, when it is done’, or Hamlet’s soliloquy, To be or not to be may be studied as glorious pieces of poetry which are rich in evocative quality and depth of meaning.

Shakespeare poetry: achievement in Sonnets

Shakespere’s imagination takes wings for higher lyrical flight in the description of Cleopatra’s fascinating beauty. “The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne/Burnt on the water: the poop was beaten gold/Purple the sails; and so perfumed that the winds were love-sick…” In sheer magnificence of poetry as the Queen Mab’s speech in Romeo and Juliet, the passage is unsurpassed. What poetry can be more simple and sublime then the lines. “Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/Of the ranged Enmpire fall…” Shakespeare’s plays are replete with lyrical songs which are memorable for their melody and picture. In Twelfth Night, Feste’s songs are full of melody and meaning. In As You Like It, Amieas through his songs make a glorification of pastoral life.

Shakespeare wrote two poems – Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. The subject or Venus and Adonis is taken, though with considerable modifications from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It tells the tale of how Venus wooes the beautiful boy Adonis, how he disdains her love, and inspite of her warnings goes to the hunt where he is slain by a boar, and turned, as he lies dead on the ground into a violet. Shakespeare lingers over the details of Venus’s charms and elaborates with minute realism every incident in her amorous strategy. There are superb touches as whern the hand of Adonis in the grasp of Venus is likened to

A lily prisoned in a gaol of snow

Or ivory in an alabastor band.

Shakespeare poetry: achievement in Sonnets

Lucrece bears the mark of maturity. The theme is based upon the story of Lucretia told by Livy and Ovid in Latin, and by Chaucer. The character of Lucrece is drawn firmly and vividly. Tarquin who ravishes Lucrece is forcibly conceived struggling for a time between conscience and desire. The stanzas that tell of his torturing remorse are the most powerful in the poem.

Other poems like The Passionate Pilgrim, The Phoenix and The Turtle and A Lover’s Complaint are attributed to Shakespeare. These poems show a development of style because there are less verbal paradoxes, and more refined verse. But the matchless songs included in the plays and the sonnets that he wrote during 1593 and 1954 under the pressure of private emotions give testimony to Shakespeare’s command over lyrical poetry.

Shakespeare wrote as many as one hundred and fifty-four sonnets. Of these one hundred twenty-six are addressed to a friend (probably Earl of Southampton) and the rest to a dark lady (The identity of the lady is shrouded in mystery). There is no parallel in the whole corpus of Renaissance poetry to Shakespeare’s sustained exploration of the theme of friendship.

In the first group Shakespeare celebrates the beauty of his friend and blames him for careless living. In Sonnet 76, we find that the poet loves the fair youth as a miser loves gold. In Sonnet 116, the poet gives a definition of true love. The second series show the poet’s agony and bitter feelings for the lust and shame of passion. Vilson Knight observes: “The two persons are aspects of Shakespeare’s soul, Whatever they may have been in their own right, and he is further involved in their relationship with each other.”

The sonnets are remarkable in their enchanting melody and picturesque imagery. Sensitive to the charms of music, Shakespeare creates lilting music in the lines: “of the sweet deaths are sweetest odours made” or “For sweetest things sourest by their deeds/Lilies that fester small for worse than weeds.” Shakespeare uses various images drawn from gardening, music time etc. In Sonnet 116, he says love “is an ever fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

It is a star to every wandering bark.” Sometimes he uses complex images suggesting the ambiguity of his feelings: upon those boughs which shake against the cold/Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. Here old age is compared to bare boughs which again are compared to ruined choirs. Sweet birds sang in the boughs just as choirs boys sang in the Cathedral. Here old age and youth are orchestrated in the imagination of the poet.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets use of three quatrains followed by a couplet permits logical exposition with its necessary contrasts and oppositions ending with a summary in the last two lines. The form has flexibility enough to make it suitable for varied needs of the poet in widely different circumstances. Shakespeare uses it for pointed satire, apt eulogy, concise aphorisms and powerful invective.

Read it also:  Differences between Romanticism and Classicism


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