Sonnet 138 by William Shakespeare - Sample Essay
I will be looking at the ‘Sonnet’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and ‘Sonnet 138’ by William Shakespeare, I will be comparing and contrasting these two poems, looking specifically looking at Imagery, the Poet’s message as well as the use of sonnet form. Elizabeth Barrett was born at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England. Elizabeth was educated at home, learning Greek, Latin, and several modern languages at an early age. In 1819, her father arranged for the printing of one of her poems (she was 13 at the time. ).
She lived in Italy for most of the rest of her life with her lover Robert Browning; once they became married she became known as Barrett Browning. William Shakespeare ranks as perhaps the most famous writer in the history of English literature. Shakespeare employed poetry and verse within his dramatic comedies, tragedies, and histories, and he also composed notable individual poems. His poems include a series of 154 sonnets, unusually arranged as three quatrains and a couplet; the development was original enough for it to become known as the Shakespearian sonnet.
Sonnet 18 (recited by an actor) comes from The Sonnets of Shakespeare (printed in 1609). Both of the writers had a lot of events to draw inspiration from; Shakespeare had the Great fire of London, the Spanish armada, the crusades and the Globe theatre, where as Barrett Browning had the American civil war, the 100 year war and the likes of Rossetti, Tennyson and Hawthorne. A sonnet is a lyric poem of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different aspects of a single thought, mood, or feeling, resolved or summed up in the last lines of the poem.
Originally short poems accompanied by mandolin or lute music, sonnets are generally composed in the standard metre of the language in which they were written-iambic pentameter in English, the Alexandrine in French The two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan, or Italian, and the English, or Shakespearean. The former probably developed from the stanza form of the canzone or from Italian folk song. The earliest known Italian sonneteer was Guittone d’Arezzo. The form reached its peak with the Italian poet Petrarch, whose Canzoniere (c. 1327) includes 317 sonnets addressed to his beloved Laura.
Among Petrarch’s followers, who established the sonnet tradition in their countries, were his countryman Torquato Tasso; Luis de Cami?? es in Portugal; and Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, and other members of the French group known as the Pli?? iade. The sonnet form was also introduced into the literature of the Slavic countries. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, are credited with introducing the sonnet into England with translations of Italian sonnets as well as with sonnets of their own. The Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave, or eight-line stanza, and a sestet, or six-line stanza.
The octave has two quatrains, rhyming a b b a, a b b a; the first quatrain presents the theme, the second develops it. The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes, arranged either c d e c d e, or c d c d c d, or c d e d c e; the first three lines exemplify or reflect on the theme, and the last three lines bring the whole poem to a unified close. Among great examples of the Petrarchan sonnet in the English language are Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591), which established the form in England. There, in the Elizabethan age, it reached the peak of its popularity.
The English sonnet, exemplified by the work of Shakespeare or Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti (1595), developed as an adaptation to a language less rich in rhymes than Italian. This form differs from the Petrarchan in being divided into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, with a final, independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. The rhyme scheme is a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g. Barrett Browning uses neither of the two styles completely; she opted for a Hybrid style of her own design, which followed some of each of the two styles formatting but not all.
Shakespeare’s sonnet is a classic Shakespearian sonnet which follows all of the ‘rules’ of the style of sonnet. Both poets used their own choice of sonnet form to a great affect, to represent their own particular sonnet, however I believe that Shakespeare gets his thoughts and emotions across much more effectively than Barrett Browning, as he has, I believe spent more time on the wording rather than deciding how to lay out the sonnet. Both of the Poets are talking to us about love, they both have had obvious experiences with love and the loss of love in their lives, which is what makes these sonnets really hard to decipher.
On one hand you have Barrett Browning who has lost her brother in an accident, and then found true love in Robert, whilst on the other you have Shakespeare who has a strong love for a woman who lies to him thinking him unable to know when she is lying, but him understanding and then deciding to lie back to make her feel comfortable inside. They both talk about how you should be with the person that you love no matter what obstacles lay in your way, because true love conquers all.
I believe that Barrett Browning’s sonnet has got the most imagery in it as it comes from the heart and therefore is most meaningful, but you cannot talk about love in just words, you have to be able to represent your feelings with actions or images, I believe that Barrett Browning does this perfectly, where she says ‘ I love thee to the depth, and breadth and height my soul can reach’ which is saying that you cannot even begin to measure the amount of her love as you cannot measure ‘the depth, breadth and height’ that her soul can reach because only she knows that specific distance and she knows that it goes on forever.
I do not think that Shakespeare uses imagery at all in the sonnet, as it is not the sort of thing that a male would find particularly easy to do, I should know I am one after all. The reason I think that Barrett Browning is the most effective with the imagery is because she is female and females generally find it a lot easier to talk about how they feel, even if they do have a tendency to talk in code.
So in conclusion they both are talking about different types of love, but they both have the same underlining meaning, they both are telling us that love, gods most sacred gift to us must be cherished and above all, we should never take what we have for granted, and always try to think of those we love, and how what we are doing or about to do is going to effect them. I believe that the better sonnet is by far Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s as she uses all of her emotions to convey her message, and it shines through, showing the better poet.