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Throughout the 154 Sonnets, Shakespeare makes several references to fortune, poverty, treasure, etc. The general belief is that references to such themes in the Sonnets refer to how Shakespeare wishes that his patron would have a child. However, Shakespeare's word choice leaves room to believe that there is a double meaning to his words. Though scholars do not address the Sonnets in this manner, they do believe that "The pleasure of reading a sonnet comes from discovering how details of sound, meaning, and image are used to form the poem's basic argument" (Dunton-Downer, Riding; 460). The details of sound, meaning and image are used to express two different messages in Shakespeare's sonnets, a literal message and a metaphorical message.
According to The Essential Shakespeare Handbook, "reading a sonnet involves following the speaker's train of thought and listening out for shifts of tone or direction as the poem progresses" (Dunton-Downer, Riding; 460). The shifts of tone and emotion in several of Shakespeare's Sonnets aid to the belief that they are meant to send two different messages to the reader. In several Sonnets, Shakespeare sends a literal message to his patron that he should have children, but he sends a literal request to the patron for some sort of extra payment. Sonnet IV reads "Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse the bounteous largess given thee to give" (IV, 5-6). In this Sonnet, Shakespeare playfully teases his patron, - using somewhat harsh words to question him, however, this Sonnet also expresses a serious impatience with the patron. In modern terms the Sonnet would read something along the lines of "Beautiful miser, why do you waste what you have been blessed with?" (Crowther). Shakespeare appears to feel rather strongly about wanting his patron to have children, calling him a 'niggard', a greedy person. Shakespeare later "playfully" confronts his patron on his lack of children in Sonnet XX "mine be thy love, and thy loves use thy treasure" (XX, 14). Why does Shakespeare re-use a joke he had previously used in an earlier sonnet? Why does Shakespeare feel so strongly about his patron "withholding his treasure"? In both instances, Shakespeare relates his patron not having children to his patron not using his wealth. These are not the only sonnets where Shakespeare appears to ask for money, however, they are the best examples of when he appears to use reproduction to disguise his requests.
In one of Shakespeare's more famous sonnets, Sonnet XXIX, Shakespeare implies his requests for advancements or raises using the flow of his emotions."When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes/Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee, - and then my state (like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate" (XXIX; 1, 9-12). The flow of the sonnet, from the first line "when in disgrace with fortune", to the last three lines before the couplet, "yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, haply I think on thee" literally translates to "when I am not graced with fortune(money) I think about you happily" which appears very suspicious. Obviously the patron would come to mind when Shakespeare is down, in "disgrace" with fortune, or otherwise- he is Shakespeare's source of income. Why did Shakespeare feel the need to mention it? This Sonnet was a hint to whoever Shakespeare's patron was. Shakespeare was implying to his patron that at the time he was in "disgrace with fortune". Shakespeare, however, changes throughout his sonnets. In his requests he becomes less grateful and playful, more impatient and serious, he becomes angered.
In several other Sonnets, Shakespeare appears to complain about how he does not receive more money. "I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief although thou steal all my poverty" (XL, Lines 8-9). Though Sonnet XL appears to be talking about the patron "Stealing Shakespeare's love", he does drop mention of robbery and poverty, why? It appears that the patron might be horribly underpaying Shakespeare for his work. Shakespeare feels that "Alack! What poverty my muse brings forth" (CIII, Line 1). Once more Shakespeare mentions poverty. This time he uses it metaphorically to describe his lack of words. Shakespeare is saying that his patron is too beautiful and Shakespeare does not have enough skill to express how beautiful the patron is (Crowther). However, the literal translation of the line sits in plain sight- "what poverty my patron brings forth" Shakespeare appears to outright complain to his patron about how little he receives. One of the characters in Shakespeare's 154 Sonnets to this patron is an "enemy poet", sonnet 154 might be a hint that the other poet is present before he is officially introduced, and Shakespeare is starting to show his jealous side.
The idea that Shakespeare's messages are used to request money from patron is re-enforced by the belief that Shakespeare worked to keep his writing professional, though he appears to, in a way, lose control at times. Shakespeare could not have outright begged the patron for more money, nor could he make his requests frequent. If Shakespeare had made requests constantly, he risked over-pestering his patron. Frequent requests would have made Shakespeare appear to be a beggar of sorts. The young man would have found a high number of sonnets devoted to requests for payment advancements to be rude, distasteful, uncivilized, etc. Shakespeare would have risked losing his source of income if his patron was convinced that Shakespeare was a man incapable of producing a higher quality of writing. What patron would pay for letters from a beggar?
Shakespeare spaced his requests throughout the different areas of the sonnets using the different "stories", the evolution of his emotions, and characters, the patron; the enemy poet; and the dark lady, to his advantage. Shakespeare begins with using his compliments to the patron, his peculiar obsession with wanting the young man to have children as a means of masking his requests for money. Then Shakespeare has a change of heart, he switches to the anger of the presence of the other poet, and the jealousy and anger over issues with the dark lady. He uses his anger as fuel. He turns these situations against his patron in order to justify disrespecting the young man and demanding pay. The evolution of Shakespeare's emotions contributes to the belief that "By working within and against formal constraints, poets constructed new relationships among linked images, sounds, and ideas to produce beautiful and keenly-observed arguments" (Dunton-Downer, Riding; 460). Shakespeare constantly constructed new ways to link a different idea to his main focus. Writing sonnets was Shakespeare's
"job" his focus would have been on money. Shakespeare worked his overall desire for money into his poems relating it to different topics- having children, for example.
A point used to defend the idea that Shakespeare writes to express double meanings is made using Sonnet LIV.
"An important word in this sonnet is sweet. In line 2, sweet describes the additional beauty that "truth" brings to mere beauty. But in line 4, sweet describes the fragrant and pretty opposed to the merely pretty rose. The word sweet links the general observation of the opening lines to the specific example developed in the sonnet's core. As the sonnet progresses, the sweet rose evolves" (Dunton-Downer, Riding; 460-461)
Just as Shakespeare writes to make the meaning of the word "sweet" evolve to have a different meaning as the poem progresses, he writes to have two messages to his sonnets. Shakespeare writes to express a less common, somewhat metaphorical, meaning of sweet at first. Then Shakespeare writes to use a more literal meaning of sweet. This was most likely how Shakespeare wished his works to be interpreted. He wants the patron to read his Sonnet first to get the metaphorical messages, and to receive the literal message second.
Shakespeare's sonnets have been subject for interpretation for many years. M most people often look towards the more metaphorical interpretation(s). Shakespeare's Sonnets were written to a person of higher education. Therefore, he had to write metaphorically as not to insult the young man. Shakespeare writing metaphorically does not mean that he wrote strictly to portray a metaphorical meaning. How could Shakespeare's works be written to strictly portray one idea? His emotions do not stay singular; they change along with the story- which changes not once, but twice. Each of his sonnets has three flows, with three stories divided amongst all of them. Shakespeare does not show himself to be singular at all. All of these elements come together to prove that Shakespeare's word choice, and flow of his storyline throughout the sonnets are used to send two different messages- a literal one, and a metaphorical one.