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How do we see the theme of friendship reflected in Shakespeare's sonnets?

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porthimi | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 8, 2013 at 5:47 PM via web

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How do we see the theme of friendship reflected in Shakespeare's sonnets?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 9, 2013 at 6:09 AM (Answer #2)

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Shakespeare certainly does have several sonnets that concern the theme of friendship. One of the best examples can be seen in Sonnet 29. This sonnet opens with the speaker feeling in a state of despair and even envy. He feels he has been disgraced by fate and disgraced in the eyes of men. He paints himself as being all alone, feeling rejected, abandoned, and outcast by fellow mankind. The speaker even proclaims he feels envious of other men, envious of men who have more hope than he has, more friends, more skills, and a greater outlook. However, the speaker then says he thinks about a nameless person and that thinking of this nameless person and his or her "sweet love" changes the speaker's state of mind so that now he feels hopeful, uplifted, and wouldn't change his situation for all the wealth of kings, as we see in his final five lines:

Happily I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. (Sonnet 29)

Since nearly thinking of this unnamed person and his or her love for the speaker makes the speaker feel happy and ready to accept his situation, we can see that this poem describes a perfect example of love in the form of friendship.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 30 is also a perfect example of a sonnet portraying the theme of friendship. In this sonnet, the speaker begins by reflecting on all of the things past that he has lost, even "precious friends hid in death's dateless night," which poetically refers to friends who have already passed away. However, the speaker ends the sonnet in his final couplet by saying that when he thinks of a special "dear friend," then he forgets about all of his losses because the one gain of this friend cancels out all of his previous losses and thinking of this one friend puts an end to all of his sorrows, as we see in his lines:

But while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end. (Sonnet 30)

Hence we see that in both of these sonnets, friendship is captured as a true and generous love that puts an end to all grief, which certainly is true friendship indeed.

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hermy27 | Student, College Senior | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted November 8, 2013 at 6:22 PM (Answer #1)

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William Shakespeare wrote collection of 154 sonnets dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, friendship, beauty, and mortality.

The sonnets are almost all constructed from three four-line stanzas (called quatrains) and a final couplett composed in iambic pentameter. This is also the meter used extensively in Shakespeare's plays.

The rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. Sonnets using this scheme are known as Shakespearean sonnets. Often, the beginning of the third quatrain marks the volta ("turn"), or the line in which the mood of the poem shifts, and the poet expresses a revelation or epiphany.

There are a few exceptions: Sonnets 99,126, and 145. Number 99 has fifteen lines. Number 126 consists of six couplets, and two blank lines marked with italic brackets; 145 is in iambic terameters, not pentameters. There is one other variation on the standard structure, found for example in sonnet 29 (my personal favorite). The normal rhyme scheme is changed by repeating the b of quatrain one in quatrain three, where the f should be.

When The Bard spoke of friendship he did so in a nearly romantic fashion, musing the loyalty and affection related to friendship that many writers would be afraid to in this day and age.  He makes his devotions very clear and never seems to worry that his claims of affection will be misinterpreted.  Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex and potentially troubling depiction of human love.  He also violated many sonnet rules, which had been strictly obeyed by his fellow poets: he plays with gender roles, he speaks on human evils that do not have to do with love, he comments on political events , he makes fun of love, he speaks openly about sex, he parodies beauty, and even introduces witty pornography.

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