Shakespeare is reputed to be one of the most eloquent and influential writer, poet, actor and playwright in English Literature. Born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon to John and Mary Shakespeare, Shakespeare was part of a successful middle class family. He grew up in a time where poetry and acting was at an all-time high which helped towards him leading a very successful profession. Throughout his career, he wrote 36 plays and 154 sonnets, four of which will be delved into in this essay. These four are his play “Romeo and Juliet” and sonnets “18, 29 and 130”.
These works of art are a few examples of how Shakespeare uses his clever wit, brilliant mind and his deep understanding of human emotions to show the feelings of romantic love, requited and unrequited. These texts also portray Shakespeare’s mastery over the English language, successfully stirring deep emotions within the reader through his subtle manipulation of language, grammar and structure. This essay will delve into how romantic love is presented throughout the four writings and will compare how it is presented to the reader.
Firstly, Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, is one of the most famous romantic tragedy stories in English Literature. A story with love being the most influential and imperative theme, a force of nature that supersedes all other values and emotions. The plot revolves around to “star-cross’d lovers” who fall in love at first sight. Love is first expressed at the beginning of the play through the prologue of Act 1. Here, Shakespeare includes the phrase “star-cross’d lovers” referring to two couples that are the centre point characters of the play.
He is using a metaphor to get across the fact that the two lovers will have a relationship that will be thwarted by outside forces. The chances of their relationship growing into something fruitful are unlikely and in turn empower the affair the two fall in to. These forces are the two families the duo belongs to, who are locked in a struggle that stems from an “ancient grudge” which only breaks after their death. This phrase can also be interpreted as that the two characters were destined to meet and cross paths and not necessarily refer to the tragic end that befalls the two stars.
Metaphors are also used in the sonnets. Similarly to the aforementioned point, in sonnet 18, metaphor is used to show love and romantic attraction. It is used to flatter the lover with buttery and flowery description. It is represented when Shakespeare says “thy eternal summer shall never fade”. Here, he is trying to say that his lover’s beauty will not diminish with time and she will remain forever young. This shows love as he is saying that she is so beautiful that she will stand the test of time. The love between the poet and the beloved is so powerful that it transcends nature and even death cannot stop it.
Shakespeare expresses this in the last two lines, where he says that her beauty and youth will be preserved through the sonnet itself. He is saying that their love will live on through many generations. It can also be interpreted as the poet’s lover and love itself will become a part of nature as the line embodies summer as a comparison to their love. In stark contrast, metaphor in sonnet 130 is used to a completely different effect. Instead of using it to exaggerate the beauty of his love with dubious and implausible comparisons, he uses it to undermine his lover and to some extent insult her.
The sonnet is full of apparent insults, which was an absurd use of the sonnet form in the Elizabethan times, where In the fourth line, Shakespeare says that “black wires grow” on his lovers head. If the metaphor was used to show love in this sonnet, the poet would not have said something that would seem to say that she is not perfect. Compared to love poems at the time and sonnet 18, Shakespeare seems to be a non-conformist through this sonnet as most poems would exaggerate their beauty of their love, where as he does the opposite.
In this case, most poets would have compared their lover’s hair to something like golden threads to show that it is shiny, which was the norm back then. They also would have said that it is silky and smooth. However, these incarnations of love had become rather cliched and, maybe the reason why Shakespeare did not use metaphors that way. It would not been as head turning as these allusions were already worn out. Shakespeare’s use of metaphor for a negative impact in this sonnet may have been to try and give a realistic impression of his love.
This can be seen through the last two rhyming couplets of sonnet 130, “my love as rare” and “belied with false compare”. The poet is saying that despite all the bad things he has said about his mistress, he still finds his mistress beautiful in her own way and is unique. She isn’t some sort of dream like creature, rather her natural look is superior, unblemished by cosmetics, both physical and literal. While Shakespeare points out many of his mistresses imperfections, he ends his sonnet with a simple rhyme that shows that he actually does not care about the outer beauty, but rather his mistress’ personality and behaviour.
He is trying to say that exaggerated beauty is below his lover and their relationship, rather the truth in his feelings is enough to show his love to his mistress. Shakespeare uses the structure of a sonnet to help incorporate his love; he uses the first 12 lines, the three quatrains, to illustrate the imperfections of his mistress, while using the final two lines, the rhyming couplet, to solve the problem. The solution being that, true love lies not on looks and appearance but in the inner beauty.
The way love was presented in sonnet 130 can be related to this day and age, as many people have now realised that love at first sight is a very rare thing and does not last long. Rather, learning about the person, their personality and behaviour seems a more appropriate way to build a relationship. While sonnet 18 and 130 are poised at opposite ends of the love scale, sonnet 29 seems too fall in the middle, supporting both views portrayed in the other two sonnets. The poet tries to state the romantic love can fall under either being realistic or a dream created by your mind.
One side of this idea is formed through the first two quatrains, while the other half is constructed in the last quatrain and the rhyming couplet. This is evident through the fact that in line 9 it says “yet”, illustrating the fact that the either the problem is being solved or another point of view is being shown. In this case, the poet shows the other side to the tragedy that is upon him. The first two quatrains indicate Shakespeare’s loneliness and lack of love. He is firm on the fact that he should be “like him with friends possess’d”.
From this quote the reader can see that Shakespeare has no friends and would love to have friends like a certain “he”, which could be an old friend that has betrayed him or someone higher than his “outcast state”, alluding to the fact that he has been cast out of society. The “he” could also refer to an ex-lover who has left him for someone else. In addition, within these quatrains, Shakespeare mentions that his “bootless cries” fall on the “deaf” ears of “heaven”. This is an allusion to a character from the Old Testament, Job, and how he was cast out onto a dung heap and God didn’t listen to his pleas to free him.
In this case, Heaven is the personification of God, who is “deaf”, thus making the cries for help “bootless” or pointless. Taking into consideration of the fact that religion was an immense part of society during the Elizabethan era, saying that God was ignoring him can signify that his loneliness and depression has a huge grasp on him. Shakespeare may have touched on this as he was in a similar situation, with the 1592 outbreak of plague causing theatres around to close, making it hard for him to make a living.
Towards the end of the poem, it can be seen that the speaker’s mood change, beginning with “yet” in line 9. In this last quatrain and rhyming couplet, Shakespeare reinforces the idea of bringing happiness to one who falls in love. This can be seen when he says that the lark rises from “sullen earth” at the “break of day”. This can be interpreted as just thinking about his lover brings him happiness and joy. The poet goes onto say how it “sings hymns at heaven’s gate”. This can be taken as God acknowledging him as he has risen from his despaired conditioned and is now invigorated with rejuvenated hope.
Shakespeare mentions his state yet again in this section of the sonnet, not only once but twice. He says in line 10 that when he thinks about his love he thinks about “thee and then my state” and then in the last line, he says “scorn to change my state”. In the first of the two quotes, he is referring to his emotional well-being, rather than his social status, and how it improves at the thought of his lover. The last mention of state can be referring to a kingdom or a nation and how all the riches of the land will not make him happier than thinking about his lover.
The repetition of the word “state” brings together the two sections of the poem. The structure of “sonnet 18”, “sonnet 130” and the prologue of Romeo and Juliet are very similar in the way they portray romantic love. Each text is loosely structured around the style of sonnet developed by Francesco Petrarch from Renaissance Italy. While very similar, Shakespeare adds his own personality to the sonnet form, such as including a lot of iambic pentameters within the texts. The 14 lines of poetry are three quatrains with alternating rhyme scheme of A, B, A, B, followed by a rhyming couplet.
The rhyming couplet in all three texts gives them a striking ending and often contained a moral, solution to the problem conveyed in the earlier lines or a twist to the story. To draw this essay to a close, it can be said that the relationship of romantic love is implemented into the play and the sonnets in many ways in order to show the different levels of compassion and fondness. Romantic love in many people eyes is the lustful intent of falling in love with someone to do intimate things, whereas others would say it is not just about the outer beauty but also about falling in love with someone’s behaviour and characteristics.
It can also be presented as having complete loyalty to the person you have fallen in love with, no matter what happens, and that the mere thought them should make you happy and filled with joy. Through the works of Shakespeare, romantic love can be seen to have many different meanings and can be interpreted differently. If it is taken from sonnet 18, romantic love can be something that only occurs when you constantly compliment your lover with over the top and dream like characteristics, while in sonnet 130 it encompasses all parts of them, not just their outer beauty.
It is about looking at them with the mind’s eye and looking past their physical flaws. In sonnet 29, romantic love is more focused on the fact that it can bring joy to a person who is in despair and that nothing is above true love. Romeo and Juliet explores both side of romantic love, the side that is pure bliss and delightful through to the part that causes anguish and desolation. The beauty of love is shown when they first meet and fall in love, both their moods improve drastically and they both want to be together no matter what.
They both depict each other using other worldly descriptions and that nothing will tear them apart. This leads to the other face of love. The face that is truly ugly and one that no one should need to see. This branch of love is seen when both lovers end up killing themselves due to not being able to be together because of a family feud. Throughout all four pieces of work, there is a distinct and repetitive pattern in the way Shakespeare portrays love.
This is established through the way he uses iambic pentameter to give off a harmonious feel to the sentences. People of today may take a certain dislike to some of Shakespeare writings, while appreciate understand some others. Sonnet 18 and Romeo and Juliet are examples of how they may not be fond of his work, as in the case of the play, the speed at which love blossoms into a full blown relationship and marriage is way too fast, and many people nowadays know that a relationship like this is impossible to keep a hold on.
In the sonnet, he uses a lot of exaggeration to his devotion to his love, this would put off readers as most know that the external looks is not what determines a good relationship. This is the reason why sonnet 29 and 130 would appeal more to people of this day and age. These two sonnets show that love is about inner beauty and that when you think about the person you love, it should bring you happiness.