sonnet-24

In our modern era we love movies, books and sports games that deliver us stunning reversals at the very end. Well, Shakespeare was practicing this over 400 years ago, and his Sonnet 24 is a superb example of that.

Number 24 contains one of the most fully complete metaphors of all of the sonnets: the Poet’s love for the Young Man’s beauty has consumed him, so much so that the Poet becomes a veritable painting, filled in with that beautiful image. The Poet’s gaze–his gazing at the Young Man–is the painter. The Poet’s body is the frame of that painting. The Poet’s bosom itself houses the exquisite image of the Young Man.

The sonnet is lovely to read. And up until its last line, this verse seems to hew to the traditional Romantic poetry of Shakespeare’s time: mindless (but delicious) adulation of the subject, something most of the rest of Shakespeare’s sonnets either deride or mock.   But Shakespeare doesn’t disappoint. The final couplet sets it up, and the final phrase of the sonnet delivers it: ‘know not the heart.’ The painting in the Poet’s bosom reflects only a surface illusion; all this adulation has done nothing to capture the Young Man’s heart. It’s all really just a sham.

24

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is the painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies;
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

3 thoughts on “Sunday Sonnet – 23 October 2016

  1. Nice to see another Shakespeare enthusiast on WordPress! I am actually in the middle of memorising the whole Sonnet cycle! I, too, love all the shifts and changes of direction, and this is a good example!

    My own blog page might interest you: it’s devoted to the study of meter in Shakespeare’s work, and includes (so far) a pretty thorough analysis of Sonnet 1. I’ve recently done a lot of work on my posts, so any feedback would be very welcome (and please be as critical as you like: I usually find criticism to be the most usual feedback!).

    On a side note, regarding this Sonnet, one of the tricky things about following the meter in Shakespeare’s verse is that not all words were pronounced the same way in his day! In this case, the word ‘perspective’ is accented on the 1st syllable: PERspective!

    1. Hi Keir, thanks for your comments. Meter is one of my weaknesses, and so I’ll have to make point of regularly visiting your site. I took a look and you’re doing God’s work! I’m sure you know about the Globe Theatre now offering some plays in what they believe is a more accurate Elizabethan pronunciation of the language. –Rich

      1. Hi Rich,

        I was curious to find out how you’d got on with the posts on my site? If there’s anything you’re struggling with, or that isn’t quite clear, I’d be happy to help!

        All the best,

        Keir

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