Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Please analyze Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIV identifying any literary devices, metaphors, connotations, and contextualization.

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Shakespeare's first division of Sonnets, I-CXXIX, subvert courtly love since the one addressed is a man, rather than a woman. So, while the poet addresses the man in language appropriate to a woman, he does not assign this man a woman's part since he emphasizes the maleness of the loved one, thus stressing a depth of feeling for friendship rather than heterosexual love. Unlike the petrarchan sonnets, too, the traditional highly emotional and poetic responses---such as in lines 1 and 2 of Sonnet XXIV that are rich with personification [eyes = painter] and metaphor "table of my heart"]

Mine eye hath play'd the painter, and hath stell'd
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart---

are subverted by means of manipulation of syntax and inflection, as well as turns of thought and wit in the couplets. For instance, in Sonnet XXIV, the heroic couplet contradicts courtly love that assigns virtue out of the heart and romanticizes love as in lines 5 and 6, lines that continue the figurative thought of the first quatrain,

For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur'd lies

Instead, the couplet observes the limitations of love's eyes,

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

In addition, as Emily Stockard observes in her essay,"Patterns of Consolation in Shakespeare's Sonnets 1-126," the couplet also contradicts the "consolation" of the Neoplatonic notion involving the reciprocity of hearts which would provide an illusory comfort that lovers share identities, an idea which seems to be the argument of Shakespeare's extended metaphor of the painter/the painted continued in lines 9 and 10,

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn they shape, and thine for me

But, in the couplet, the lover's eyes are not those of the beloved--"eyes for eyes"; on the contrary, they can only paint through his perspective and not know the feelings of the other. Certainly, then, Sonnet XXIV is a skeptical poem as the speaker is not convinced that his love is reciprocated.

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