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Idealistic Love in “Sonnet 116” by William Shakespeare Essay

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Updated: Jun 30th, 2020

One of the reasons why Shakespeare’s poetry is being commonly referred to as such that represents a particularly high literary value, is that the overwhelming majority of his poetic pieces contains a number of in-depth insights into what accounts for the essence of different emotional states that people experience throughout their lives. The validity of this suggestion can be well illustrated, in regards to the Sonnet 116, in which the poet exposes readers to his highly idealistic view on the significance of love.

After all, there can be only a few doubts that, along with being aesthetically refined, this poem appears thoroughly consistent with what happened to be people’s unconscious anxieties, in respect to the notion in question. This, of course, contributes to the mentioned sonnet rather substantially, in the sense of making it discursively plausible. Let us explore the legitimacy of this statement at length.

Probably the first thing that comes in sight of just about anyone who read Sonnet 116, is that Shakespeare tends to objectify love, as something upon which the flow of time and what happened to be the affiliated circumstances have no effect, whatsoever:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds (2-3).

Despite the sheer simplicity of this suggestion, it is indeed utterly powerful, because it correlates well with people’s deep-seated desire to think in absolutes – especially when dealing with the emotionally charged notions, such as love. There is even more to it – the quoted suggestion appears rhetorically sound. That is, the very manner in which is being structured, presupposes that it would be rather impossible for readers to disagree with the suggestion’s predicate. This, of course, points out to the fact that Shakespeare was not only aware of what the rhetorical device of ‘appeal to ethos’ is, but also that he knew perfectly well how it could be used in the work of poetry.

Partially, this explains Shakespeare’s intention not to be questioning the beneficence of the love-relationship between two individuals – especially if they happened to be psychologically compatible:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments (1-2).

Apparently, the poet knew perfectly well that love should be appreciated for what it is, with no considerations given to the fact that it seldom proves long-lasting.

The reading of Sonnet 116 also leaves only a few doubts that, although rather intuitively, Shakespeare was knowledgeable of the ways, in which one’s psyche actually operates – something that can be proven, in regards to the lines:

O no! it (love) is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken (5-6).

The rationale behind this suggestion is quite apparent – the quoted lines imply that Shakespeare understood the importance of the deployment of highly metaphorical language, within the context of how one goes about encouraging readers to adopt his point of view on the actual significance of a particular abstract category (in this case, love). After having been exposed to the above-quoted metaphorical account of love, readers will indeed be much more likely to agree with the poet that the notion in question implies ‘indestructibleness’. The reason for this is that it is namely one’s ‘visualized’ images of abstract ideas, which his or her memory preserves the best.

What it more – this suggestion was meant to capitalize on what happened to the socially suppressed sexual anxieties in readers – hence, the clearly defined phallic undertones of the images it strives to invoke. Apparently, Shakespeare never doubted the assumption that the notion of love can be best discussed in relation to what causes men and women to enter into the sexual relationship with each other – for him, this was something self-evident.

What gives Shakespeare an additional credit, in this respect, is that in Sonnet 116, he succeeded in combining the formally incompatible ‘materialist’ and ‘metaphysical’ outlooks on love. This simply could not be otherwise, due to the sheer ease, with which the poet moves from reflecting upon the physiological aspects of love, to referring to the latter in terms of a ‘thing in itself’:

It (love) is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken (7-8).

Quite obviously, these lines imply is that it is specifically the measure of love’s intensity, which positively relates to what can be deemed as the indications of its high worth. After all, the concerned lines do emphasize that true love is necessarily a ‘noble’ (high) one, regardless of whether it proves long-term productive or not. In other words, love is something that exists independently of people, while constituting nothing short of the universe’s actual fabric.

As they live their lives, people in fact climb the ‘ladder of love’, with only few of them having what it takes to be able to climb higher than the rest. Simultaneously, the quoted lines can be discussed as such that provide us with a better understanding of what caused the sheer popularity of Sonnet 116 – the fact that in it, Shakespeare proved himself as a ‘master of pathos’. Since it is in people’s very nature to be attracted to the ‘dramatic’ emanations of the surrounding reality, poetry-lovers are naturally inclined to favor specifically the emotionally charged works of poetry.

As we continue to read the sonnet, it becomes quite apparent that the last thing Shakespeare intended to do, while writing it, is to create the impression that his admiration of the notion of love came because of the poet’s cognitive abilities having been ‘love-impaired’. As he noted:

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come (9-10).

Being thoroughly rational, this statement appears to serve the purpose of convincing readers that Shakespeare’s outlook on love is thoroughly conscious. The reason for this is that the above-quoted suggestion implies the poet’s awareness of the actual effects of time on one’s physical appearance. However, it does not seem to undermine the integrity of his idealized stance on love – hence, adding even further to the extent of the mentioned suggestion’s plausibility.

This, of course, can mean only one thing – along with having possessed poetic talent for exploiting people’s endowment with the senses of ethos and pathos, Shakespeare has also been capable of adopting a proper discursive approach, when it comes to appealing to one’s sense of logos. Therefore, Sonnet 116 is not solely a ‘hymn to love’ – it is also a ‘hymn to rationality’.

At the sonnet’s end, Shakespeare comes up with the particularly powerful statement:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved (11-14).

At first, this statement establishes the predicate that ‘love alters not’ and then, it presents readers with the choice of whether to agree with the author, in regards to the subject matter in question, or to renounce the validity of his love-related emotional experiences – something that would prove being easier said than done. Thus, the earlier quoted lines represent the classical example of ‘rhetorical contradiction’. It is understood, of course, this this credits Shakespeare rather substantially, as a poet – it is not only that Sonnet 116 is aesthetically pleasing, but it is also rhetorically thorough, in the full sense of this word.

This particular quality of the concerned sonnet explains why, despite consisting of only fourteen lines, it is utterly informative. The legitimacy of this suggestion can be illustrated, with respect to the fact that, in the aftermath of having read this Shakespeare’s masterpiece, people will learn the following: love is internal, love is one’s greatest spiritual endeavor, love guides individuals through their lives, time has no effect on the intensity of love.

I believe that the deployed line or argumentation, in defense of the suggestion that the popularity of Sonnet 116 has been objectively predetermined, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there is nothing accidental about the fact that Shakespeare is being commonly referred as a poetic genius – as Sonnet 116 indicates, he was capable of both: ensuring the emotional appeal of his poetic works and convincing readers that the ideas, contained in them, are logically sound. Therefore, it will be fully appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that Sonnet 116 is indeed exceptional. The fact that it happened to be inspiring and wise at the same time, leaves only a few doubts, in this respect.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William 1609, Sonnet 116. Web.

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