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There is but one feat of the heart that evokes more passion from humankind than love, and that is infidelity. Infidelity transcends time and is unbiased when selecting its victims. Throughout history, one can attest to the effects of infidelity on the choices individuals make such as: wars, murders, suicides, artwork and writings. Although 1600 years have passed between the writings of Gauis Valerius Catullus and William Shakespeare, many similarities are apparent. In regard to the subject of infidelity, Shakespeare's Fair Youth Sonnets 93, 116 and 119 bare a remarkable semblance to the Lesbia Poems 5, 8 and 72 of Catullus.
Gaius Valerius Catullus was born approximately 82 BC in the city of Verona (Walker). During this time period, the majority of poets were commissioned by the aristocratic families to write epic poetry. Catullus, however, preferred to "go against the grain" and write about private individual occurrences. The poetry style was new and as a result; Catullus was known as a neoteric poet (Academy of American Poets). Poems 5, 8 and 72 are labeled as the Lesbia Poems and were supposedly written about Catullus' married lover Clodia (Walker, Clodia). Therefore, these poems are considered autobiographical.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford, England as Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare (Mabillard, Shakespeare's Birth). He was a famous poet and playwright. Some consider his Sonnets autobiographical (Rolfe). Sonnets 93, 116 and 119 are part of the group of Sonnets labeled Fair Youth Sonnets. Debate surrounds the relationship between a married Shakespeare and the young man who was the subject of the Sonnets. Some historians proclaim the youth was mentored by Shakespeare, while others suggest the relationship was a homosexual affair (Ciccarelli).
As we explore the great works of these poets, we will examine the previously mentioned writings and compare their similarities. Catullus 5 and Sonnet 116 explore the first taste of new love. Bare in mind, that one or both subjects of these writings were involved in another committed relationship; therefore infidelity was in the forefront of both poets' writings. Both poets proclaimed love for their forbidden lover. In Catullus 5:7-13, he is begging his lover for thousands of kisses (Walker, Catullus 5). Shakespeare's Sonnet 116:7-8 states, "It is the star to every wand'ring bark, whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken." (Mabillard, Sonnet 116). Shakespeare basically declared to his lover that his love was beyond measure. Shakespeare continues to express the depths of his love in 116:13-14, "If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved." (Mabillard, Sonnet 116).
As the relationship between lovers became irresistible, both poets tried to justify the reasons the forbidden love should continue. Catullus' plea is simple. Catullus 5:1-3, "Let us live, my Lesbia, and love, and let us value one farthing all the talk of crabbed old men." (Walker, Catullus 5). In other words, who cares if people talk? To love you is to live. Shakespeare's Sonnet 116:1-2 tells us that the poet never wanted to know of any reason their love should not exist (Mabillard, Sonnet 116).
Next, both poets look toward eternity with their lovers. Shakespeare's Sonnet 116:12-13, "Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom." (Mabillard, Sonnet 116). In other words, time cannot change our love, because it is eternal. Catullus 5:6 also speaks of eternity with "the sleep of one unbroken night" (Walker, Catullus 5).
The theme of infidelity continues with Catullus 72 and Shakespeare's Sonnet 93. However, love is not as sweet as it once seemed. Although the poets were being adulterous with their new lovers, they were discovering the old adage: "If they will cheat with you, they will cheat on you." Infidelity is discovered in Catullus 72:1, "You used once to say that Catullus was your only friend," (Walker, Catullus 72). As we can see in this passage Catullus is wondering, "Who has been sleeping in my bed?" (Story Bus). As you will see with Shakespeare 93:1-3, he did not mince words. He said he would continue to pretend his lover was true (Mabillard, Sonnet 93).
During both poems the victimized lover continues to show the depth of love they feel for their beloved. Catullus 72:3-4 does this best by stating, "I loved you then, not only as the common sort love a mistress, but as a father loves his sons and sons-in-law" (Walker, Catullus 72). The reference to "as a father loves his sons" is homage to a time when only men were valued (Walker, Catullus 72). This theme repeated in Shakespeare 93:9-10, "But heaven in thy creation did decree that in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;" (Mabillard, Sonnet 93). In other words; when you were born, heaven decided our love would last forever.
Both Catullus 72 and Sonnet 93 take us on an emotional rollercoaster with questions of infidelity: Were you unfaithful to me? How could you do this to me when my love for you is so strong? Can you not see how much pain I am in? The agony of love is prominent in Catullus 72:7-8, "How can that be? you say. [sic] Because such an injury as this drives a lover to be more of a lover, but less of a friend" (Walker, Catullus 72). Simply translated, "I cannot help loving you, but I do not have to like you." Shakespeare's Sonnet 93 shows similar agony. It states in 93:13-14, "How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow, if thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!" (Mabillard, Sonnet 93). His lover's look is not as innocent as it appeared to be, and therefore aided to deceive his heart. The reference to "Eve's apple" compares his love to the forbidden fruit from the tree of life (Mabillard, Sonnet 93). This is an important detail, because it shows a connotation of good and evil.
Next, we will compare Catullus 8 and Shakespeare's Sonnet 119. These poems deal with ending a relationship. An emotion they both shared was a feeling of foolishness. Catullus 8:1-2 describes this emotion, "Poor Catullus, it's time you should cease your folly, and account as lost what you see is lost" (Walker, Catullus 8). A modern day translation would be, "Catullus, snap out of it. It is over." Shakespeare echoed the same sentiments in 119:1-4, "What potions have I drunk of Siren tears, Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within, applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, still losing when I saw myself to win!" (Mabillard, Sonnet 119). In other words, you fooled me into loving you.
Both of these poems reminisced on their past feelings of love. Catullus 8:5 reflected Catullus' feelings about his lover, "she who was loved by me as none will ever be loved" (Walker, Catullus 8). In Sonnet 119:6, Shakespeare admits never feeling more blessed then when he was with his lover.
As these poems conclude, we see the poets telling their cheating lover's goodbye. Catullus 8:12 translated, "Farewell, my mistress; now Catullus is firm; (Walker, Catullus 8). As Shakespeare says farewell to his lover, he admits he will be punished for his mistakes. Sonnet 119:13-14, "So I return rebuked to my content and gain by ill thrice more than I have spent" (Mabillard, Sonnet 119).
In conclusion, this essay proves time does not change the emotional effects of infidelity by comparing the writings of Catullus and Shakespeare. The poems discussed in this composition could strike a chord with any modern day lover's heart. 1600 years passed between the writings of these great poets, but in regard to infidelity Shakespeare's Sonnets 93, 116, and 119 are similar in many ways to Gauis Catullus' Poems 5, 8, and 72. Both poets struggled with the temptation of forbidden infidelity, the discovery of the infidelity of their lover, and the bitter sting of an ending relationship. As one can see, infidelity is a timeless quandary that bridges the gaps of time between the broken hearted.