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During the seventeenth century in England sonnets were all the rage. They were written for many reasons. They were written to loved ones, as fictional stories, as proverbs, and for sheer entertainment. One of the most controversial topics when it comes to sonnets is the sonnets that William Shakespeare wrote. One of the controversies is that many scholars would debate why they were written. Some would say they were written to show Shakespeare's feelings because what he wrote about actually happened. Others say that what he wrote about never happened. The second option is a fairly logical assumption and based on the evidence, Shakespeare wrote his sonnets as one would write a fictional novel; they are not based on his life or his actions.
Before one can jump into understanding the sonnets and the controversies about them, one must understand how they became popular and how they were released. First of all nobody knows if Shakespeare even wanted his sonnets published. There is assumption that he just wanted them to go to his close friends. The publication page gives hint to this. Thomas Thorpe was the publisher who published Shakespeare's sonnets. The accepted belief is that somehow Thorpe acquired and published them without Shakespeare's permission, which was common of publishers to do. And in the dedication statement he dedicates it to a Mr. W.H. There are several theories of who Mr. W.H. could be. It could have been a simple misprint for Mr. W.S., which would have been Shakespeare; if this were true it would show that Shakespeare did want his sonnets published. Another idea is that it refers to the person who obtained the sonnets for Thorpe. And finally is the idea that it refers to the person who Shakespeare wrote the sonnets for; which would have been either William Herbert or Henry Wriothesley. All of these show a possibility for dedication and whether or not Shakespeare wanted his sonnets to go public, which he obviously wanted them to remain private.
One of the first pieces of evidence that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets simply for entertainment is the title of the manuscript. The title of his collection all together is called Shakespeare's Sonnets. This, in direct meaning, means quite literally Shakespeare His Sonnets. The majority of the sonnets written in that era had a title of a person or beloved. A few examples are Sonnets to Delia and Sonnets to the fairest Coelia. This shows that Shakespeare was not writing them to anyone in particular. The events were not true and he was just writing a story.
Every story has to have characters. In Shakespeare's sonnets there are three characters that grab the reader's attention right away. The characters that he uses are the speaker, the young man, and the dark lady. In Shakespeare's sonnets, the speaker of the poems speaks in first person. Having a character speak in first person for a story is a clever way to draw the reader's attention. By the narrator speaking in first person it makes the reader feel like a part of the story and also gives the reader a different perspective that would not have been feasible in third person. The young man in the story can be considered a personification of the human race entirely. Shakespeare has several sonnets that can be considered parables that mankind should take heed to. These parables and short blurbs are too broad in topic and not narrowed enough specifically to be written directly to a single person or to represent actual events. The final character of major importance is the dark lady. In Shakespeare's sonnets the dark lady, the young man, and the speaker are all in a fragile and burdensome love triangle. The only problem with this is that Shakespeare is married. This would mean that Shakespeare would be having an affair. Not only is he married but he also had three children at the time, one of them deceased. He also would have been married for twenty some years to a woman named Ann Hathaway. His first child, Susanna, was born in 1583. His second and third, they were twins, Hamnet and Julieth, were born in 1585. Sadly Hamnet died of the bubonic plague in 1596. Now it does not take an expert on love to understand that three kids, a tragic death, and twenty some years of marriage would create a very strong bond between two people. Shakespeare having an affair with another woman just does not seem viable. This is one of the things that shows that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets as a story. It just makes more sense that way.
It is also fairly probable that the young man and the dark lady were real. No writer can come up with a story without being inspired. Shakespeare could have been inspired to write this twisted yet ingenious piece of work by being inspired by the young man and the dark lady. One possibility is that he could have been in the town observing and then noticed the young man and the dark lady together. He could have had dark thoughts in his head and he may have wanted the dark lady for himself. But these were only thoughts, and these thoughts could have given him the inspiration that he needed in order to write his sonnets. Sonnet CXIII shows that these were just thoughts , "Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind" (CXIII, Line 1). This is basically saying that Shakespeare is obsessed and cannot stop thinking about the dark lady. So he uses this to give him inspiration to write his sonnets instead of going and doing something completely wrong and obscene.
The very first sonnet of Shakespeare's collection immediately goes in to talking about how children, or a son more specifically, is the legacy of a man. "From the fairest creatures we desire increase, that thereby beauty's rose might never die" (I. 1-11). This is one of those parable sonnets. This sonnet is saying that no man on earth wants to be left to die and have nothing to remember him by. But by having children a man can be seen through the child and thus be remembered. Shakespeare also goes in to more detail of this in sonnets two and three. "When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's fieldâ€¦Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies, Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;â€¦ If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'" (II. 1-11). This, put in to simpler phrasing, means that when a person gets old how will people know him. And only if he could answer, "in my child". So Shakespeare is telling the world to go out and have kids. And by doing that people will secure their legacy and they will also fill the world. This sonnet Shakespeare has written is too broad and not focused enough on one person for it to be about a single actual person.
Shakespeare also has factors added into his sonnets that are normally included in the common story. He has comedy added in, proverbs, and romance. All these are factors of books. They are factors of stories that other writers wrote for the entertainment of other people. Two examples of proverbs are the sonnets CXXI and twenty nine. One line from sonnet CXXI is as follows, "Tis better to live vile then vile esteemed, when not to be receives reproach of being". This is simply a quick shout out to the world saying, "Hey, don't live a lie, just be who you are". No person likes to be misled by somebody. This is saying that it is better to be vile, or terrible, then to pretend to be vile. Another proverbial sonnet is sonnet twenty nine. "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 myself almost despising, haply I think on then, 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", (XXIX, 5-14). This is Shakespeare again talking with his fellow man about being depressed. He says that when depressed, people feel like nothing; they start comparing themselves with others. But once one finds love, and then he is no longer depressed and even feels like a king. He is basically saying that love makes people happy.
The study of why Shakespeare wrote his sonnets still rages on. And it probably will never end. It is impossible to really know why he wrote his sonnets. There is evidence for both sides of the argument, fact or fiction. But the side of fiction seems more logical and makes more sense. Shakespeare chooses a very interesting plot for his story. He allows for love and sexuality to coexist as one, this causes mankind to rethink how they actually understand love. This makes for a driving plot for a very good story. It makes the reader think, it gets the reader involved. The idea that Shakespeare did indeed write his sonnets as a story of entertainment still holds ground.