What is the theme and structure of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?
Theme and Structure
The theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 involves how man's life may differ depending on whether his life is full of material wealth vs. spiritual wealth, or spiritual wealth vs. material wealth.
Shakespeare's sonnets consist of 3 quatrains (4 lines each) -12 lines total, followed by 1 couplet (2 lines) - 14 lines total.
If you look at most of his Sonnets, youll notice that Shakespeare usually starts out with a problem in the first quatrain, and throughout the 2nd and 3rd quatrain, he builds on that problem, until an almost climatic point. Then, in the couplet, he provides the answer, or solution to the problem.
Breaking it down:
“When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,”
Line 1: fortune = wealth, disgrace = negative view/judgement
The first line doesn’t start out on a positive note; usually problems are not positive
Line 2: notice words: alone, outcast – negative again; this speaker isn’t happy
Line 3: words: trouble, deaf, cries – more negativity…the speaker is crying out for someone to hear him-to help him, and yet, even heaven is ignoring him—he is truly and utterly alone,
Line 4: Speaker is reflecting on his life/situation – he is not at all happy with how his life has turned out, and fate implies that there is no control over what is happening
“Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;”
Line 5: Wishing, rich, hope = positive words
Line 6: Friendship = Looking at all the people around who have someone by their side to care for them
Line 7: Speaker is envious of these other people who seem to have it all – man’s art = material wealth
Line 8: Speaker is saying, what is most enjoyed in life actually makes him the least content/happy
“Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply 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;”
Line 9: Speaker is almost hating himself for his way of thinking – for being envious of other’s wealth – basically anything that he does not have
Line 10: So, he decides to change his way of thinking, to embrace all that he DOES have. This line makes reference to another person—“Haply I think on thee” = Happily, when I think of you
It’s almost like the sun is shining for this speaker at the thought of this other person
Line 11: Lark=bird known as a spiritual reference, has very pretty and musical singing abilities
Break of day arising = new day is beginning, or a new beginning in life, turning over a new leaf, etc.
Line 12: sullen earth: earth = ground; ground = dirt; dirt = black/brown – add the dark color and the negativity/melancholy mood the word sullen conveys and you have the speaker referring back to the negativity in the first quatrain. However, rather than despise or curse his life, he will instead look forward, look ahead at his future which could be bright and happy if he allows it.
Sing hymns at heaven’s gate = spirituality, sing= like the lark, happy feelings, maybe contentment
“For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
Line 13: The speaker is remembering this person who has made him happy, and this other person’s love and memories bring its own kind of wealth
Line 14: the state of kings is that they’re usually rich in material possessions and power, but not so much spiritual wealth, and the speaker is saying that there’s no way that he would ever trade places with a king – he is not envious of a king’s wealth, because his love overpowers it all.
“Sonnet 29” by William Shakespeare is one of the 129 poems written for a mystery man. In the thirteenth line of the poem, the poet describes the subject of the poem as “they sweet love remembered.” Despite its initial negativity, the poem becomes a love poem for someone that is greatly admired.
The form and structure of the poem is the English or Shakespearean sonnet. The sonnet expresses an idea and emotion. With fourteen lines, the poem is divided into three quatrains with an ending couplet. The poem has a “volta” or turning point at the beginning of the third quatrain which implies that the poem has built to a climatic point. The rhyming follows a set pattern: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
Theme and Summary
The poet is depressed because of something that he has done which makes him feel alone and outcast by his peers. His prayers to God he feels are unanswered. He looks at himself and feels damned by his lack of good luck.
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state…
The speaker envies someone that feels more hopeful in his outlook on life. He also wishes that he were like this same person who has friends, artistic talent, and vision about things that he normally enjoys but does not like now.
Now, the turn---
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,
However, the speaker almost hates himself because he has these thoughts. Happily or by chance, his thoughts turn to his lover; then, his attitude changes as though a lark were singing at the break of day from the earth but sounds like hymns sung in heaven.
The love of this man brings such joy that he would not change places with crowned royalty.
The theme emphasizes the depressed man who sees nothing good in life until he thinks about the man whose love brings him great happiness.