In Elizabethan England, sonnets were extremely fashionable amongst poets, and it was common for poets to write customary love poems concentrating solely on the subject's positive aspects. Shakespeare broke away from the Renaissance tradition by forming his own methods, and by writing about a range of highly diverse concepts and themes. Sonnet 20, for example, is connected with anti-female ideas and homosexual love, which is in extreme contrast to the traditional poetic themes of the era.
This sonnet is often regarded as a confusing one, as it is often unclear what Shakespeare's intentions were. Some critics believe that it pardons Shakespeare from any allegations of a homosexual nature, as in the final rhyming couplet, which is usually the summarising point in the poem, the speaker bids the youth to keep himself for 'women's pleasure'.
However, some critics believe this sonnet does the precise reverse, and that Shakespeare included this statement in the ending couplet only because of the homophobia that was present at the time.
Some of the statements and ideas suggested concerning the outright dismissal of homosexuality are too naÃÂ¯ve to be seen as believable, and in places the language seems untrustworthy. When nature 'adds one thing to my purpose nothing' this appears to be an obvious statement that the added feature of a penis is of no benefit to the speaker. It could, however, be defined as the opposite, because 'nothing' was also a word for female genitalia. Therefore a further interpretation would be that the 'addition' is, for the poet's intentions, equal to a female's sexual organs. In sonnets 56 and 57, the poet tells how the youth is absent and neglecting his commitments to the poet. The jealous undertones imply unfaithfulness on the youth's behalf and make it seem more likely that their relationship was...