AD's English Literature : Shakespeare Attempts to Master the Problem of Time in His Sonnets ( Sonnet Sequence)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shakespeare Attempts to Master the Problem of Time in His Sonnets ( Sonnet Sequence)



William Shakespeare confronted Time, which he called all – devouring with some trepidation as we all mortals do. Time is a great healer and it is a greater destroyer for it takes all in its eternal sway. The question is when the great bard of Avon faced his moment of truth, how did he think of tackling Time? Shakespeare’s first weapon in the battle against Time was the biological perpetuation through marriage as evidenced in the first 17 sonnets addressed to the fair friend. Read More William Shakespeare   His second was love of a transcendental variety and the third weapon consisted of his verse that was to be immortal and related to the running theme of compensation.

Before we go into the question of Shakespeare’s peculiar ways to mastering time, it is considered necessary to look at the attitude that Shakespeare took about time in general and also to inquire how his attitude differed from his predecessors or contemporaries. Read More William Shakespeare    The ancient poets (Ovid, Horace etc.) and to some extent, their renaissance imitators. Made certain distinctions between different kinds of transience, which is not found in the sonnets of Shakespeare. In such ancient poetry, we very often find a distinction between Ovid’s all – devouring Time and Horace’s brief span of time allotted to humans. There is also a further distinction between the brevity of human life in general and the still briefer brevity of youth and beauty.

In poetry about the brevity of human life in general, the ancient poets and their renaissance English imitators (sonneteers) harped on themes of Carpe diem and Carpe florem. The former means seizing or enjoying the day and the latter, gathering the flowers before they fade and fall. In the sonnets of Shakespeare such sentiments do not find and place at all. This is due perhaps to Shakespeare’s addressing a male beauty in place of a coy mistress as in other sonneteers. The ancients and their imitating sonneteers who were Shakespeare predecessors or compeers in fact sought for the co – operation of Time by submitting to temporal condition, by making most of the day while the sun shines (Carpe diem) and gathering the flowers of youth and beauty (Carpe florem) while they still were fresh and fragrant. Shakespeare will have none of this collaboration with his great enemy, Time and in this respect he may be taken as this most uncompromising of idealists in the whole range of world literature. Read More William Shakespeare   While the ancients and their imitators tried to defy Time in their poetry about poetry, Shakespeare speaks of Time as an enemy to be defied without making any concessions to its temporal power and sway and submitting to its ordained laws of mutability. He makes no distinction like the ancients between Time that destroys might monuments and Time that transfixes the flourish set on youth; for him the total and complete alldevouringness of Time and its swiftfootedness are continually and inseparable associated with his ever – changing series of variation or even dramatizations, of the great single theme of transience. And what emerges from all these Shakespearean meditations or transience is not any moral but the problem or question of how to preserve the victims of Time from the clutches of Time. Read More William Shakespeare    His prescriptions are marriage, perpetuation of the race by happy marriage transcendental love and the celebration of that love by the poet’s immortal verse, and the eternal theme of compensation.

As we have seen in the first 17 sonnets, the poet frantically urges his fair friend to marry and beget children so as to get a fair face from fair. Read More William Shakespeare   That is how the poet thinks, time’s ravages can be conquered biological perpetuation. Marriage, of course, is based on sexual love but the love of the poet for his young patron is a sexual and has a mysterious quality about it, which makes that love a transcendental affair. This transcendental love again is celebrated though the immortal verse of the poet and the theme of compensation, which together Impose on that love a quality that defies time.
Love as the deifer of Time appears in the later sonnets (in the order in which we have them) and this love is not Time’s fool. In sonnet 115, the poet proceeds to say that while Time is always changing, dimming and blunting ever the lion’s love is always growing! “Love is a babe; then might I not say so, / To give full growth to that which still doth grow”. This sonnet is followed by the immortal ‘Let me not to the marriage of true mind / Admit impediments”. Read More William Shakespeare   (Sonnet 116) Here is Shakespeare’s defiant challenge to Time, the like of which is found no where although something of it can be found in Petrarch’s Sonnets where he speaks of the persistence and unchangeableness of his passion for Laura. In fact, it is rather impossible to find out in any medieval of renaissance poet anything that approaches really the characteristic Shakespearean topic of love as the Defier or of Time. The nature of this love is felt if we consider the difficult sonnet 123, “No Time than shalt not boast that I do change,” along with 106 and 59. In 106, “When in the chronicle of wasted time,” Shakespeare contends that celebration of beauty earlier poets had just been the prefiguring of his friend’s, and in 59, “but that which is / Hath been before,” he toys with the idea of the possibility of an eternal recurrence. Finally Shakespeare declares that despite all – changing and all deluding Time, he will remain ‘true’ – true to that “marriage of true minds,” that love, which alone is eternal in this world of time and flux and illusion.

The true marriage of minds, which is his eternal love, is expressed by Shakespeare in his immortal verse which seeks to immortalize the object of the poet’s love. It is the great theme of poetry as perpetuation. There arises from these sonnets a strong conviction that it is in and though poetry alone that somethings more of us than our material selves will survive the ravages of tyrant Time. Read More William Shakespeare   There are about 28 sonnets on the perpetuation theme and this is a topic which has been dealt with in European poetry from Pindar onwards. However, it is difficult to find Shakespeare’s parallels from other poets on this kindred topic or upon variations of this theme. The sonnets of Shakespeare in this category are those
(i)which attempt to preserve his friend’s perfections from Time (15, 18, 19, 54, 55, 60, 63, 65)
(ii) which should not be trusted alone for population perpetuation (16, 17)
(iii) in which the better part of him will remain with his friend (74 and parts 73)
(iv)  which to his surviving friend, would be no reminder of the hand that writ it (71, 72)
(v) which own any merit worth the whole possession of his friend (38, 78, 100)
(vi)which are thought by the post as pathetically inferior to what they celebrate (83, 103)
(vii)which would continue to be read by his friend for the love they express although in style they might be inferior to other poet’s (32)
(viii)whose style remains unchanged because of the unchanging nature of its subject (76)
(ix)whose rhetoric may be surpassed but not its truthfulness as in 82.

We should end this discussion about Shakespeare’s attempt to master the problem of time with the almost religious theme of compensation, which has few parallels in literature except in some of Donne’s religious poetry. Read More William Shakespeare   Love as compensation is a theme that adds a mystic dimension to Shakespeare’s poetic attempt to defy Time and the sonnets under this category, two of which (25, 29) are among his very finest, are qualitatively different from the sonnets written in absentia or after the loss of the beloved, which can be branded as the catalogue of uncompensated delights. This compensating theme is sung with almost religious fervour in immortal poetry and it purpose to say that:
(a)    his friend is a compensation for all his deficiencies (25, 29, 37, 90, 91)
(b)   his friend is a compensation for all the evils life (66)
(c)    in his friend lives every things supposed to have been lost (30, 31)
(d)   his life depends on the continuance of his friend’s love (92)
(e)    his friend is a perpetual subject of recollection or aanticipation (52, 57)
(f)    nothing in the world is comparable to his friend (109, 112).

The poet is absolutely absorbed in the love of his friend and he utters it is immortal verse of a mystic order. He does not want public honour or proud titles because he is happy in his love and his beloved, “Where I may not remove nor be removed” (25). Read More William Shakespeare   This sweet love remembered “such wealth brings” that the poet scorns to change his “state with kings” (29). In sonnet 30, he declares that his friend is not only a compensation for many lost hopes and disappointments but also for the loss of his earlier friend. The subject of lost friend and lost loves is more fully treated in sonnet 31, which concludes.”Their images I lov’d I view in thee, / And thou, all they, hast all the all of me”. Read More William Shakespeare   Finally, in the magnificent sonnet 66, Shakespeare proclaims that his friend is a compensation, not merely for his own lapses and losses, but for all the sea of troubles and those whips and scorns of Time later referred to by Hamlet Confronted with all these, the poet might feel tired crying for restful death like Hamlet but he is more fortunate than the prince of Denmark in his compensating love as he confidently utters: “Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone, / Save that, to die, I leave my love alone”. After this what more delight? As J. B. Leishman asks, “Where, in previous European poetry, from the Greek until Shakespeare’s own day , can we find any from whatever of this topic of ‘compensation,’ Let alone anything approaching Shakespeare’s singular way of combating Time and its tyranny. Here is found the faith he chiefly lived by, ”the values in which he most passionately believed”, which again “centred upon the eternal miracle of human personality” (Leishman). This miracle has conquered Time so far as we remember even today the lover, the beloved and the compensating delights though the immortal medium of Shakespeare’s verse.

 Best Studies: Ref: 1.www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare's_sonnets
                             2. www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/
                             3. www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-sonnets.htm

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