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07 Aug

Sonnet XXX- William Shakespeare

Sonnet XXX - William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), arguably the world’s greatest playwright and poet, was born on 23rd of April 1564 at Stratford-upon-Avon. Regarded as England’s National poet and fondly addressed “the Bard of Avon”, Shakespeare has written 38 plays, 154 sonnets and 2 long poems.

He had his education at the Grammar Schools, where he learned Latin and Greek. He married Anne Hathaway, a girl few years his senior, when he was 18. A few years hence, he established himself in London as an actor and writer at a theatre company known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He was widely regarded as the greatest playwright of the time. He returned to Stratford in 1612 where he died 4 years later, again on 23rd April.

William Wordsworth believed that the sonnets are the keys to Shakespeare’s heart. He says, “with this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart”. The first reference to Shakespare’s sonnets is made by Francis Meres in  Palladis Tamia (1598) wherein he stated that Shakespeare's "sugared Sonnets" were in private circulation among the poet's friends. Shakespeare’s sonnets were published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609. This edition, titled Shake-speare's Sonnets: Never Before Imprinted, is referred to as the "Quarto," and is the basis for all modern texts of the sonnets. This book is addressed to a certain "Mr. W. H."; this dedication has led to a series of conjectures regarding the identity of this person. The two leading candidates are Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, and William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke. There is also an interesting third candidate – William Himself. John Benson brought out a second edition of the sonnets in 1640.

Of the 154 sonnets, the first 126 sonnets are addressed to a handsome young man, a “fair youth”, popularly believed to be Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton who was Shakespeare’s patron, friend and guide. In these sonnets, among other preoccupations, the poet praises the beauty of the young man, and urges him to marry, beget children and perpetuate his beauty till the end of the world. The poet is also convinced that his sonnets are good enough to immortalise the name, fame and beauty of his patron.

The next 26 sonnets, that is, sonnets 127 to 152, are addressed to a “Dark Lady”, commonly believed to be a woman named Mary Fitton. This grouping of sonnets deals with the poet's relationship with her; there are suggestions that she is a promiscuous married woman with whom he becomes infatuated. The last two sonnets, ie, sonnets 153 and 154, are celebrations of love.

A sonnet is a short poem of 14 lines, often expressing a single emotion, theme or idea. It originated in Italy. The term sonnet is derived from the Italian word sonetto which means a short sound. By the thirteenth century it signified a poem of fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure.

A Shakepearean sonnet is typically written in iambic pentameter. It follows a strict rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. It is also important to know the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. Each sonnet is structurally divided into three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet. In each sonnet, the poet introduces a problem in the first quatrain, explains it in the next two quatrains and offers a solution to the problem in the rhyming concluding couplet.  Often, the beginning of the third quatrain marks the volta ("turn"), or the line in which the mood of the poem shifts, and the poet expresses a revelation or epiphany.

Sonnet XXX

The opening lines of William Shakespeare’s thirtieth sonnet (“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought”) evoke the picture of a man sweetly and silently reminiscing, living once again the pleasant (or “sweet”) experiences of his past. The situation, however, soon shifts from silence to a sigh and from pleasantries to a lament for projects never completed, desires never fulfilled. The angst of this cannot be confined to the past but bursts into the poet’s present consciousness. He suffers intense nostalgic pain for the wasted time that can no longer be reclaimed. Old woes are reborn, exacerbating a fresh hurt.

The second quatrain of the sonnet expands this idea, but the pain is heightened as the author thinks of the people who will never again come into his life. This brings tears into the eyes, as once again the pain of loss is relived. The vanished sights lamented are the faces of friends who have disappeared into death and the emptiness of love that is no more, but also suggested are places, possessions, and events that can never be re-experienced.

The third quatrain adds little new content, but increases the weight and significance of the poem’s central idea: The act of remembrance recalls old griefs into the present where they become as painful in their rebirth as they were the first time they were experienced. It is as if the persona of the poem were caught in a psychological trap from which there is no escape and in which his mind, as if dragging chains, moves “heavily from woe to woe,” unable to escape from the images that repeat “the sad account of fore-bemoaned moan.” Though the account has been paid up in the past, the debt of pain is reopened and he must pay the entire amount again.

After twelve lines of bewailing the symptoms of the persona’s condition, the final couplet of the sonnet moves abruptly to the solution. The cure is carefully coordinated with the disease, for just as the patient’s woes were initiated by remembering the past, so are they dissipated by the thought of his current “dear friend,” which restores all the lamented losses and ends all the reborn sorrows.

Comprehension Questions

I.1. A single sitting in a court of law.

I.2. The poet moans the things he lacks and the sights that vanished.

I.3. Because he has already suffered a lot in the past and these pains have dulled over time.

II.1. Shakespeare sorrowfully remembers that he wasted the best years of his life. The poet is grieving over the old sorrows- reading over the sad account of sorrows again and again- already paid for it before-feels that it is foolish to pay as if not paid before- considered it a waste of time.

II.2. The poet here laments the loss of many things that he has seen and loved. The phrase refers to emotional loss.

II.3. The sorrow caused by a grievance demands a debit of tears. Although Shakespeare has cleared this debit in the past through his tears, he now pays it over again, as if he had not paid it off before. He mourns over his past hardships and sorrows. The lines "from woe to woe tell over" suggest a kind of metaphor in which Shakespeare's woes and failings are like an account book that he reads through over and over. The word "heavily" before these lines also suggests that Shakespeare's reads this "account book" in a painful manner. Finally, the fact that words “fore-bemoaned moan” that come close on the heels of the words "grievances foregone" before it also suggest that Shakespeare is continuously reviewing his past sorrows.

Sonnet XXX explanation Courtesy: www.enotes.com

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