The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1518 Thursday, 13 June 2002
Date: Wednesday, 12 Jun 2002 12:39:42 -0400
Subject: Re: Sonnet 144
Sam Small writes:
"There seems to be a theme in the sonnets that love with the young man
is relaxed (except when betrayed) pure, rational, idealistic and
esoterically beautiful. With the woman it is messy, obsessive,
animal-like, out of control and self-gratifying."
I agree with Sam EXCEPT that this "theme" seems undercut in a variety of
ways. The most obvious is that the fair young man is not what he seems
to be. He may be beautiful but he's not pure and saint-like at all.
Moreover, consider Sonnet 20, which is often cited to show that the
speaker's love for the young man is Platonic. On the one hand, the
friend's "thing" is "to my purpose, nothing" (12), which suggests a
non-sexual relationship. On the other hand, consider 20.7: "A man in
hue" -- a man in you?
I think sonnet 20 deconstructs itself because the speaker wishes not to
face the sexual aspect of his love for his male friend. Likewise, the
speaker denigrates women in general (and the Dark Lady in particular)
because he yearns for a type of "pure" love that does not exist in this
So while I support Sam's insight, I'd add to it that a central focus of
the sonnets is a kind of sexual nausea that makes the speaker falsify
his own feelings and also falsely denigrate women. In short, a large
part of the problem is HIM.
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