Figuratively, the fair lord represents pure love and the woman represents lust. These two types of love are contrasted against each other, which allows the reader to evaluate and think about the ideas each type of love presents. However, where is the humanity within this sonnet? There is no mention of humans; one can only be classed as an ‘angel’ or a ‘devil.’ How would one go about attaining an angel, one of the purest beings that dwells in heaven? Perhaps the fact that Shakespeare has likened the fair lord to an angel is for the simple fact that he cannot attain him, that pure love cannot be attained.
This idea of likening love to something that is unattainable is replicated in Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare has the character Claudio fall in love with Hero at first sight. When Benedick asks Claudio if he will buy her, he replies:
“Can the world buy such a jewel?”
Despite likening Hero to something as perfect as a jewel, again there is no humanity within a jewel. Combined with the idea that the world cannot, in fact, buy this jewel seems to suggest that Hero (this completely pure virgin) is unattainable. Perhaps Shakespeare is trying to suggest that if you compare love with wonderful and perfect objects then you simply won’t be able to attain it, just like you cannot attain an angel or a priceless jewel.
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This idea is applicable in modern society. In Much Ado, Hero is portrayed as this completely pure and innocent virgin. Being compared to that of unattainable priceless jewels, Shakespeare highlights how a woman like Hero (in most cases) is unattainable. In today’s modern society it would probably be extremely rare to find a woman like Hero, whereas perhaps in Shakespeare’s time it was more common, especially if the woman was of high social status. One might say that there was more of an expectation for women to behave in certain ways during Elizabethan England. However Shakespeare added the character of Margaret to his play, perhaps to juxtapose the expectations society held for a high class woman to that of an ordinary servant. Margaret seems to represent more of a realistic view on how love and relationships will be, not pure and perfect, but flawed and tainted (by physical love).
Shakespeare seems to allude that a more pragmatic and realistic view to love is needed in order for it to succeed. “Sonnet 130” takes more of a practical view to love. Its meaning is simple: the dark lady’s beauty cannot measure up to the beauty of a goddess or to that found in nature, for she is a mortal human being. Shakespeare rejects deification of the dark lady:
“I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.”
Here the poet overtly states that his mistress is not a goddess and cannot even begin to rank close to one. Although this seems to be extremely unflattering, it is also the truth. After all, no mortal being can actually compare to a god or a goddess. She is also not as beautiful as things found in nature:
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.”
Yet Shakespeare loves her in spite of this, and in the closing couplet says that she is actually as extraordinary (“rare”) as any woman depicted with such overstated or false comparisons. Shakespeare has accepted the fact that his mistress is not perfect and that she will indeed have flaws, yet so does he. “Sonnet 130” may be suggesting that if you recognise and accept the fact that love will have flaws and is not some perfect idealistic emotion, then the likelihood of the love lasting is more likely.
This blunt but charming sincerity is also seen in Much Ado between Beatrice and Benedick. These two characters have never been pleasant with each other, and whenever they meet, they often continue a “merry war” between them. They have known each other “of old” and seem to enjoy fencing insults at each other, using them to show their true feelings of fondness towards one another. When the playwright makes his characters confess to one another there is no employment of blank verse, just simple prose. Beatrice and Benedick’s confessions seem to go against the stereotypical, grand Shakespearean love confessions:
“I protest I love thee”
“I was about to protest that I loved you”
These two characters appear to be aware of their downfalls and seem to have a mutual respect between them. The love between these two seems to be more realistic than the “bashful sincerity and comely love” that exists between Hero and Claudio. However, because of this there appears to be more room for Beatrice and Benedick’s love to grow.
Shakespeare seems to favour the idea of love as an actuality than an ideal because he appears to suggest that thinking of love as an ideal will end in tragedy. In “Sonnet 116” Shakespeare refers to love as:
“â€¦the star to every wandering bark.”
While the image given to us by the poet is initially one of constancy, the idea that love will guide those who follow it to their desired destination, one must question the feasibility of it. Stars reside up in Space, and while it is true that they can be used to provide direction (in the case of the North Star, Polaris), one can never touch a star. In fact, one would never be able to get close to a star, as it is a mass of burning gas that would have you severely burned before you could even attempt to get near it. Because of this, you can never attain a star and so perhaps with this line in the sonnet Shakespeare is trying to say that, although love has the potential to be this wonderful, shining ideal like a star, the actuality is that if you blindly follow this ideal then you will get hurt.
Another point about stars is that they will eventually burn out and die, they do not last forever. This seems to create a contradiction in “Sonnet 116” as the overall theme of this sonnet appears to be how constant and everlasting love is. Shakespeare even goes so far as to say that:
“Love’s not Time’s fool,”
Yet stars are always falling victim to time, being ravaged and then eventually destroyed by it. This seems rather ironic and seems to reinforce the idea of love being something that is unattainable, especially if you cling on to the perspective that love is something that is constant, perfect and pure.
Not only does Shakespeare mention Polaris in “Sonnet 116”, but he also mentions it in Act 2, Scene One of Much Ado where the character Benedick is claiming that Beatrice:
“would infect the north star.”
The fact that the character of Beatrice is so nasty that she can influence something that is not even reachable puts her in a very negative light. After all, if she can affect something as bright and pure as a star, then she can affect anything. This claim not only appears to besmirch Beatrice’s reputation, but the idea of pure love itself. Perhaps Shakespeare introduces this idea of pure love being impressionable so early on in his play to make the audience consider realism in love. One may argue that this quote highlights just how easily influenced pure love can be, and how it can be tainted.
“Sonnet 144” continues the idea that pure love can be tainted:
“And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell.”
Shakespeare could be suggesting how easy it is for ‘pure’ love to be contaminated by that of physical love. Perhaps he is suggesting that it is not possible to just have the former because an impure aspect will eventually sully it. Though love can bring out the best in all of us, it can also cloud our judgement and expose the worst in all human beings.
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Claudio is used by Shakespeare to illustrate this point further. This character is constantly subjected to the emotion of jealousy. During the masked ball, Claudio immediately takes Benedick’s statement of, “The prince hath got your Hero” to mean that Don Pedro has betrayed him and wooed Hero for his own. Later on in the play, Don John convinces Claudio that Hero is having an affair. Rather than proceeding with matters in a calm and mature manner, Claudio decides to exact revenge on their wedding day. This immediate change of heart in Claudio makes one question the strength of the love Claudio holds for his fiancée. One moment he is completely infatuated with her, referring to her as a “jewel”, yet the character is calling Hero a “rotten orange” and accusing her of being an “approvèd wanton” the next. Claudio’s ideas of love being this perfect ideal are shattered over the events that occur in the play, yet he seems to grow because of this. Shakespeare made it so that Claudio had to learn to appreciate Hero, and for him to realise that not all can be perfect when it comes to love. Because of this, when the two characters finally get married at the end of the play the audience is given the impression that their relationship actually has a foundation on which to can flourish, as opposed to the unstable relationship that was likely to happen between these two had they gotten married on the original wedding day.
Shakespeare uses a vast array of techniques within his sonnets and Much Ado that highlight how love really is an unattainable, perfect ideal. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets consist of three quatrains and a final rhyming couplet which is composed in iambic parameter. The rhyme scheme for the sonnets are ‘ABAB.’ “Sonnet 144” is no exception to this, and is constructed in the usual Shakespearean sonnet manner. Perhaps the poet chose this conventional method of writing the sonnet because the ideas presented within the sonnet are conventional. It is not to hard to imagine becoming disillusioned between the two types of love, as we all yearn for something permanent and lasting, a pure love, yet humans also succumb to temptation and can fall victim to the desire for a purely physical encounter. As these two types of love both offer something completely different, one must struggle to choose the ‘right’ one, which Shakespeare says is the ‘pure’ love presented by the fair lord. However as I mentioned earlier, it is not possible to attain an angel. The fact that “Sonnet 144” is written this way is rather ironic as the poet is writing about his conflicting emotions and the disorder that they bring, yet iambic pentameter suggests order and harmony. Perhaps Shakespeare could be suggesting that you can attempt to make love a perfect and ordered ideal but the reality is that you will, in most cases, have some element of discord.
In my opinion I feel that “Sonnet 130” utilises iambic pentameter to maximum effect. Shakespeare has admitted that his mistress is not perfect, yet he loves her nonetheless. This view the poet appears to hold, that love is better thought of as an actuality, seems to suggest that love will be much stronger this way. Rather than have everything be perfect, if you know about the other’s imperfections and accept them, then you will achieve harmony within your relationship. This is why I feel that the use of iambic pentameter is essential in this sonnet: it highlights the fact that this type of love is more likely to provide security and a sense of order, despite not being a perfect ideal.
Iambic pentameter is also used in Much Ado, to elevate the importance of love in the play. When Claudio is confessing how he feels about Hero, he claims that when he looked upon her:
“â€¦thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is”
Came to him. As this happens early on in the play, the audience seems to get the (wrong) impression of harmony in the relationship of Claudio and Hero being prominent. Yet maybe the playwright deliberately did this to emphasise the fact that the complex emotion of love cannot be completely ordered when the characters relationship falls apart.
In direct contrast with this, the seemingly more ordered love Shakespeare gives to Beatrice and Benedick is written in simple prose. At no point in the play do Beatrice and Benedick speak in blank verse to one another, this suggests that the two characters are comfortable with one another and perhaps feel a sense of security between them. Perhaps the playwright only utilised prose between this couple to accentuate the fact that the characters do not view love as a perfect, ordered ideal.
A subtle technique Shakespeare uses to define his characters and the type of love that they are likely to have is by their names. Benedick’s name comes from the Latin word ‘bene’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘blessed.’ Beatrice’s name also has a similar meaning: ‘the one who blesses.’ The love between Beatrice and Benedick is portrayed as a more realistic view on love, yet ultimately they seem happy together. While they have attained love, they do not view the emotion as a perfect ideal and so perhaps this is why their relationship is so strong. Shakespeare may have been trying to convey how this view on love is more likely to last and be blessed by the clever use of these two character’s names.
Conversely, the supposed ‘love at first sight’ that Shakespeare portrays between Claudio and Hero is hinted at as being more chaotic. Claudio’s name is derived from the Latin word ‘claudus’ which means lame or crippled. The playwright may have chosen this name for his character to illustrate how this type of love has no real support, how it is more likely to be crippled. It may also suggest that Claudio’s view on love, which is that it is a perfect and pure emotion, is rather handicapped. Claudio seemed convinced that Hero must be an utterly pure human being in order for them to attain love, but as I have previously mentioned a woman with these qualities is hard to find. This short sighted view on love appears to make Claudio unable when it comes to matters of love, for example: taking Don John’s word over Hero’s when it comes to her alleged affair. It seems that Claudio’s judgement becomes clouded where love is concerned, and so he had to learn how to appreciate it.
Thus, I feel that overall Shakespeare is trying to say that if one is to consider love only as a perfect ideal then they will not attain it, for love is a complex emotion that is far from perfection. However, if one considers love to be more of an actuality and can accept that themselves, their partner and their relationship is bound to have a few imperfections, then love can be attained. Just because love may not be perfect doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to attain it.
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