Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade November 2001

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William Shakespeare. His name comes up and most people tend to cringe. Many remember studying this literary figure in school, but a deep appreciation for his writings are rarely developed through simple recitations of his prose. It is only when the readers of his sonnets truly delve into the mindset of the particular speaker in each poem and the possible intent, that the life and meaning behind the words surface and bring about an intriguing design. The fact that Shakespeare's life story is correlated in many ways through his work is at times utterly poignant. In each of his constructions of fourteen concise lines, Shakespeare develops a powerful image of the speaker's personality. By understanding the tone of the poem as well as the message of it, the speaker's character also aids in determining the relationship with the subject, or the "beloved".

One of the most prominent elements of Shakespeare's sonnets is the constant antithesis that the speaker has with himself as well as his subject.

This duality throughout his poems serves as a crucial tool for determining insight into the speaker's mind as it represents a form of conflict. Learning about Shakespeare's life would be to understand that his relationships with the people significant to him were often quite complicated and distressed. To examine one specific relationship would be to speculate whether or not he had an intimate connection with the Earl of South Hampton or even what his feelings were towards this young nobleman whom he wrote letters of admiration to. In Shakespeare's first sonnet there is a sense of embittered resentment towards the beloved.

"From fairest creatures we desire increase, that therefore beauty's rose may never die, but, as the riper should by time decease, his tender heir might bear his memory". These words proceed to anger, castigating the beloved for being so self-involved and not realizing his duty to produce offspring. However, Shakespeare chooses to use contradictory choice of words such as "increase, decease". Although the tone of the poem is almost threatening, it is a possibility that the speaker cared enough about the beloved to preach this message even through the use of such antagonistic words. The people that matter most to individuals are the ones that can spark the worst anger and emotions.

Similar areas are explored in sonnet 34 where the speaker is accusatory towards the beloved for impinging a form of pain onto him. "The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief to him bears the strong offense's cross." Once again, the choice of utilizing such opposite words like "weak, strong" suggest an internalized struggle that the speaker is carrying. The sonnet continues to state that "ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds, and they are rich and ransom all ill deeds." The tone of this poem has an almost love/hate component where the speaker begins with stinging accounts of his "storm-beaten face", the "disgrace", his "grief", but ends up forgiving the beloved at the end. In contemporary times, a wide-known cliché of "love turns you into a fool" can relate. Almost as if the speaker has no choice but to absolve the heartbreak, the blaming hatred dissipates into merciful love.

By leaving her nothing but the second best bed in the home, history has documented that Shakespeare had less than a perfect relationship with his wife, Ann Hathaway. In sonnet 130, the speaker describes the physical embodiment of the subject, "my mistress" as he refers. As he proceeds to compare her blandly to the true beauty of nature, the speaker develops an image of a woman who isn't visibly exceptional by any means. "If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; if hair be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, but no such roses I see in her cheeks." But what does make her distinctive is that fact that regardless of these insulting analogies, the speaker still loves her. This dissenting comparison between the ugliness of her demeanor and the beauty of her soul is what the speaker seems to be struggling with. The beloved may not be offer much based on her appearance, but he still loves the essence that comes from within her. "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare." Naturally there are countless interpretations and theories behind each line and each phrase of Shakespeare's work but all would agree on the point that he was a master at manipulating the English language in order to convey the speakers character with full emotion and personality. Through his personal experiences of pain, conflict, and joy Shakespeare's poems express the human experience through a timeless method of imagery and language. By complimenting his methods with duality and antithesis he adds layers of possible meanings and of shadows perplexing complexity.