Why Did Shakespeare Write Sonnets
Why did Shakespeare write the 154 Sonnets and what is their significance?
Shakespeare uses his sonnets to explore love from as many perspectives as possible. For example, in Sonnet 130, he actually mocks typical love sonnet conventions in order to provide a more realistic portrayal of a lover, and love in general. Love isn't always (or even mostly) flowers, and love can make people attractive even when they aren't by love-sonnet standards. The narrator says,
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. (lines 1-4)
Rather than flatter his lover with untrue comparisons, saying her eyes shine like the sun or that her lips are like coral, or her skin is snow-white, the speaker is honest about her looks. He doesn't mean to say that she's ugly, but, rather, that she is human. We don't all walk like a goddess or have rosy cheeks or a melodic voice. Instead, we trudge, grow pale, have bad breath sometimes. The point is that this doesn't change the speaker's feelings for his lover, and he doesn't love her "in spite of" her deficiencies. In fact, he doesn't view her as deficient in any way.
In the end, he says,
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare. (lines 13-14)
This means that he thinks his mistress is as lovely and wonderful as any other woman who was ever misrepresented by the typical exaggerated comparisons that other poets write. This speaker loves her for who she is and so he doesn't feel the need to flatter.
Shakespeare wrote the Sonnets to explore all aspects of love.
In Shakespeare’s day, a sonnet was the quintessential expression of love. To capture the essence of love in all its forms in simple poetry is not easy. Shakespeare sought to tell a story about everything related to love.
One aspect of love is obsession and infatuation. It is the “rose-colored glasses” that come with thinking one’s lover is perfect. This is represented well in one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, “Sonnet 18.”
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date… (Sonnet 18)
In this poem, Shakespeare captures the innocence of young love, and the beauty of finding everything you seek in your lover.
Contrast this to the depiction of love in “Sonnet 138,” which is less idealistic.
When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
In this sonnet we see that love is not all roses. Love involves conflict, and often deceit. Sometimes we get so caught up in loving someone that we do not realize how they are harming us.
In these and all the sonnets, Shakespeare explores the different aspects of love, and how love can change and differ.