The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Sonnet 91 by William Shakespeare is a relaxed work when compared to its predecessor, Sonnet 90 (“Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now”). The initial quatrain of Sonnet 91 is clear; it remarks that there are those who glory in birth, skill, wealth, strength, and worldly possessions.
The poet is establishing in the first quatrain a platform from which he will depart. The seemingly sardonic nature of this introduction becomes clear with the reference in line 3 to the “new-fangled ill”—a description of clothes that are fashionable but ugly. The unattractiveness of material possessions serves as a metaphor that is related to the implicit ugliness of the other attributes mentioned. The second quatrain begins by excusing the vanities of those who prize the attributes listed in the first quatrain. The narrator simply says that each person’s “humor”—personality or temperament—finds some joy that it particularly prizes. The quatrain ends, however, with the speaker turning to his own preferences. He interjects that none of those individual tastes suit him. Further, he states, he is able to do them all one better in “one general best.”
That “general best” is named in the first line of the third quatrain, where the narrator identifies it as the love of the woman he loves. He then explicitly states that his love means more to him than high birth, skill, and material wealth or possessions. This idea separates him from those...
(The entire section is 497 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The poem’s form is that of a conventional Elizabethan sonnet. Each of its fourteen lines contains ten syllables. The poem consists of three distinct quatrains; the first two are complete sentences, and the third is directly linked to the concluding couplet. It begins with a series of images highlighted by the cadence which is produced by Shakespeare’s steady use of anaphora in the first quatrain.
The extensive repetition of “some” (seven times in four lines) stresses the idea which will be refuted by the following two quatrains and couplet. This technique strongly links the lines of the initial quatrain. When this link is broken in the second and third quatrains, the isolation of the narrator is raised to a peak that climaxes in the final couplet.
The anaphora also seems to debase those who are primarily interested in things other than love. This attitude produces a certain irony in the poem’s shift to the singular in the second and third quatrains, where an image of superiority is produced. The narrator, who seems to be deriding those who care so much for items and ideas which cannot reciprocate their affection, actually appears pompous by placing himself above the others.
This technique also produces an oxymoron which is as startling as it is ironic. Love should not be a wretched affair, yet the psychological realism of this emotion is often just that. Love does cause pain and concern as well as a feeling of...
(The entire section is 452 words.)