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Exploring the meaning, theme, moral, context, and key lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29


Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29" deals with themes of despair and redemption. The speaker laments his misfortune and envy of others but finds solace in the thought of a loved one, which brings him joy and a sense of wealth. Key lines include “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” and “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings.” The sonnet emphasizes love’s power to overcome adversity.

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What is the meaning of Sonnet 29?

At the beginning of the sonnet, the narrator laments about his life. He feels like an outcast and curses his fate. He also wishes that he was popular, wealthy, and more talented like other men. Suddenly, in the middle of lamenting, he thinks of someone special who makes him feel as happy as a lark singing hymns at heaven's gate. The speaker then recalls the person's "sweet love" and is filled with such spiritual wealth that he forgets about wanting to be someone else.

The gender of the person that the speaker adores has been debated for centuries. Regardless, Shakespeare is discussing the importance of having a companion. Whether the speaker is referring to a close friend or lover, it is clear that despite feeling lonely and isolated, all one has to do is think of the person that they love in order to feel happy. When reflecting on their "sweet love," the speaker no longer feels isolated and depressed. Essentially, happiness and a sense of spiritual fulfillment come from relationships with people one cares about.

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What is the meaning of Sonnet 29?

Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 has as its meaning the fact that the love of another can make all the difference to a person.  This fact is summed in the heroic couplet at the sonnet's end:

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings,

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

The love that the speaker feels is his bulwark against the isolation and despair with which he has long been familiar.  In the first quatrain, for instance, the speaker says that he is in an "outcast state," cursing his fate envying the man who has friends.  This despondancy, however, is broken in the third quatrain when the speaker "haply" thinks of his love, a thought that changes the darkness of his heart to the song of a lark.

The need for another is as old as man.  Adam himself desired a companion, someone to love.  For, "happiness was born a twin"; meaning and happiness depend upon one's sharing with a loved one.  Otherwise, one feels isolated and empty.

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What is the conclusion for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

Basically this speaker mentions all the things that are going horribly wrong in his life (or at least he sees it that way).  Then at the end, when he's been horribly down on himself, his mind wanders to the woman he loves.  Thinking about her for just a minute makes all that other bad stuff go away for him, and he decides that since he has her, he wouldn't want to be anybody else!

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What is the conclusion for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29" is about the despair the speaker feels when he has faced some disgrace of fortune--perhaps he can't pay a bill or a play was badly acted or poorly received--and as a result feels like an outcast from society because of the disgracing glances from other men's eyes. It is times likes this that he cries in vain to heaven and abhors his successes and failures alike.

He wishes he were "rich in hope" like someone else who has loving friends or that he had the talent of this other one or the intellect of that one, and he is most unhappy with his own life and talents. Then he thinks of the his beloved and becomes like a lark at daybreak singing at "heaven's gate" and, when thus thinking of the beloved, would not trade places with kings: "I scorn to change my state with kings."

The conclusion of this slide into melancholia and depression of "Sonnet 29" is that the speaker's gloom and despair are turned to joy and happiness at the mere thought of the beloved who is so good at heart that "thy sweet love" can lift the speaker to soar above kings.

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What is the meaning of Sonnet 29?

Sonnet 29 is a Shakespearean or English sonnet. This sonnet form is often known by Shakespeare's name, although others used the form before he adopted it.

In a Shakespearean sonnet, the fourteen lines are divided as follows: three sets of quatrains (a quatrain is four lines long), followed by a couplet that delivers the resolution of the poem.

This particular sonnet is structured so that the last line of each of the first two quatrains summarizes the quatrain in question. In the first quatrain, "look upon myself and curse my fate" sums up the speaker's feelings in the first four lines. The second quatrain's sentiments are summed up with "With what I most enjoy contented least." As we can see, in these first two quatrains, the speaker is filled with discontent and unhappiness.

In the third quatrain, his mood begins to shift from "sullen" to heavenly as he remembers his beloved. The final couplet provides the resolution:

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
In the sonnet, the speaker moves from deep discontent to joy. What causes the difference is his beloved. When he is dwelling on himself and not thinking of his beloved, he is unhappy. When he thinks of his beloved's "sweet love," however, he feels wealthy and blessed and wouldn't trade places with a king. This sonnet has a simple message and a clear structure.
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What is the meaning of Sonnet 29?

The structure of Sonnet 29 is very interesting. The first eight lines are a relative when-clause indicating the time of the occurrence detailed (or occurrences, depending on how you look at the string of reactions):

PARAPHRASE WHEN I in disgrace weep and cry and curse and wish to be someone with hope, looks or situation, friends, art, intelligence, contentment;....

The relative when-clause is followed by an introductory adverbial clause:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,....

This "Yet" adverbial can be paraphrased for clarity this way: PARAPHRASE Even so, even with these thoughts that make me almost despise myself ....

This adverbial introduces a variation on a standard if-then conditional. The clauses comprising the conditional form a zero conditional representing a statement of simple fact. The simple present tense is used for both sides of the conditional: e.g., If something happens, then the result is something. As Shakespeare puts it:

Haply I think on thee, and then my state, / ... / sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

The import of the expression "Yet in these thoughts" is that Shakespeare presents the paradox that leads to the resolution of the problem in the sonnet. The problem in the sonnet is that the poetic persona nearly despises himself because, for one reason or another, things are going rather badly for him professionally at the moment: "in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes...." The paradox presented is embodied in "Yet," which can be understood as the synonyms "even so," "nevertheless," "in spite of [that]."

What Shakespeare says in the one word "Yet" is that, even with all the woe the persona has described, in spite of all the failure he feels, paradoxically, something greater than all this can alter the course of his thoughts.

What is the the thing that is greater and how are his thoughts altered?

Line 10 identifies the something that is greater than all the speaker's gloomy, self-disparaging thoughts: "Haply I think on thee."

The something that greater is the person to whom the sonnet is address, the "thee" the very thought of whom can elevate the persona's mind from the dejection he feels. The thought of this "thee" raises the poetic speaker's psychological condition, like a lark on the wing at dawn, so that he feels like he is singing hymns at "heaven's gate."

The if-then element, present in a variation on the form, can be paraphrased as: IF I think on "thee," THEN my inner being rises up and sings hymns at "heaven's gate."

The summary of this sonnet can be presented as this brief PARAPHRASE: WHEN I am glum and despairing, comparing myself adversely against everyone, almost despising myself and what I love to do, IF I but think of "thee," THEN my soul soars and I feel like I'm in heaven singing.

The final two lines, lines 13 and 14--the ending couplet with rhyming end-words "brings" and "kings"--give the REASON ("For") and the CONSEQUENCE ("That then") that provide the resolution to the paradox and the problem.

The resolution of the sonnet is that thoughts of "thee" bring such a "wealth" of goodness that the speaker is no longer dissatisfied and would not even trade places with kings.

This is a "love conquers all" sonnet: The wonderful wealth of goodness thoughts of your love provide me with are greater than my problems and greater than the gold of kings.

Is the Sonnet Autobiographical?

One of the foremost theories about the nature of Shakespeare's sonnet cycle is that they are autobiographical. When trying to find an autobiographical explanation for the context of Sonnet 29, there are two events that would have affected Shakespeare and that happened around the time the sonnet was written.

The first is that theaters were closed because of the black plague sweeping through London. This incident--while it may have made Shakespeare despondent because he and all were blocked from the London stage--doesn't really seem to be in tune with the despair, dejection, sense of failure, sense of shame, humiliation and worthlessness evident in the when-clause.

The second incident is that a university educated playwright, who thought Shakespeare was an incompetent who dishonored the craft of play writing, published a scathing denunciation of Shakespeare. The consensus is that Shakespeare was rather shaken by Greene's vicious commentary. This is precisely the sort of incident Sonnet 29 harmonizes with and which would provoke the feelings expressed in the sonnet. Though all we can do is speculate, it seems sound to speculate that Sonnet 29 is a response to dramatist Robert Greene's 1592 scathing commentary (Amanda Mabillard, ShakespeareOnline):

"There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and, beeing an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the only Shakescene in a countrey." (Robert Greene, A Groats-Worth of Wit, 1592)

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What is the interpretation of Sonnet 29?

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,

 When I am out of luck and I am all alone--an outcast in society, and heaven doesn't hear my prayers, and I feel sorry for myself and my situation,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

I look at others and wish I had more hope like that guy or looked good like that guy, or had lots of friends like that guy, or had talents or intelligence like those other guys. What used to please me in my own life depresses me now.

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;

BUT, when I'm low in these thoughts and hate myself most, suddenly I think of you.  Then my situation, like the lark singing at sunrise, is floating like hymns to heaven,

For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.

Because I have remembered that I have your sweet love and the richness it brings to my life makes me unwilling to change places even with Kings.

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What is the interpretation of Sonnet 29?

The first eight lines are the poet's frustrations and miseries of trying to perfect his craft. He both resents and envies the successes of others, at the same time revealing the various obstacles and misfortune he has had to endure.

The last six lines reveal his state of happiness in his memories of his of his friendship with the youth.It is a compensation for the hardships he has had to endure.

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What is the main theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

The speaker in “Sonnet 29” leads a life full of trouble and great unhappiness. As he tells us in the very first line of the poem, he finds himself in “disgrace with fortune and men's eyes.” It is clear from this sad lament that many people, for one reason or another, do not respect the speaker as they should.

As a consequence, the speaker looks about him and becomes jealous of other men and their good fortune, “Desiring this man's art and that man's scope.” On the whole, he gives the distinct impression that he's not very happy in his own skin and would much rather be someone else. This is a perfectly understandable attitude to have if, like the speaker, you find yourself in an “outcast state.”

But just when these unhappy thoughts bring the speaker to the point of self-loathing, thoughts of his beloved enter into his troubled mind and provide him with much-needed solace. His beloved's sweet love gives the speaker so much that he no longer wishes to change places with anyone, not even a king. In other words, he's happy with being himself; he doesn't want to be anyone else. Such is the remarkable, transformative power of love.

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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:

Quatrain 1:

“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

 Quatrain 2: 

“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

Quatrain 3: 
“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.

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What is the theme and structure of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

“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.

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What is the moral of Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

There are several ways to define the moral of this poem. One might be-be grateful for what you have and quit wishing for more. The speaker appears to be unsatisfied with what he is given. He wants a host of things he does not have, but envies in others-a wealth of friends, money, or admiration.

The speaker finds relief from his state of hopelessness by discovering that his worship of his beloved is his source of happiness. The speaker had spent a great deal of time grieving over what he did not have in his life instead of appreciating what he did have. He did not realize what he had, and now he finds peace and bliss in this relationship.

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What is the context of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29"?

The context of Shakespeare's sonnet "A Consolation" is that the speaker has fallen on disfavor from his fellow man--and apparently not for the first time. The cause of the disfavor is not stated. If Shakespeare is here speaking for himself, perhaps his latest sonnets or a production of The Two Men from Verona were not well received.

The speaker describes himself as being an outcast who cries out to a heaven that has metaphorically turned a deaf ear. As a result he curses himself while he wishes that he was like some other man who had the gift of hope or another man who had friends or another who had art because he is discontent with his own art and talents.

The final part of the context is that he remembers his beloved and suddenly his feelings and psychological agony turn metaphorically to a lark singing at the break of new day and he, like the lark, sings hymns to heaven. He ends by saying that he finds such wealth in his beloved that he--now--would not trade lives with a king. His beloved is his consolation in the face of failure and despair and gives him the metaphorical light of a new day.

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Analyze the meaning of William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29".

  • When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…

One of Shakespeare’s often quoted lines from “Sonnet 29” was dedicated along with many other sonnets to a young man that is greatly loved. Not much is known about Shakespeare’s personal life; therefore, it is impossible to make assumptions about the romantic aspect of these poems.

The Shakespearean sonnet follows a set pattern.  It has fourteen lines with three quatrains [4 line verses] and a couplet at the end.  The rhyme scheme is abab,cdcd,efef,gg. 

The first eight lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet always present an argument which shows his unhappiness with what he does. Beginning with the ninth line, “yet,” —, present a splendid image of a morning lark that "sings hymns at heaven's gate." This image epitomizes the poet's delightful memory of his friendship with the youth and compensates for the misfortunes he has lamented.

Haply I think on thee, and then my state

Like to the lark at break of day arising...

The following lines are my translation of the poem:

In disastrous poverty, I stand alone lamenting, dishonored by my fellow man.

God in heaven  does not respond to my cries for help,

I look at myself and I damn my luck,

Hoping that I will have one more chance,

Craving his good looks and all his friends,

Longing to have this man’s skill and vision,

I am so unhappy that I do not even enjoy what I like doing the most,

However, as I almost hate myself

If I think of you, my bad temper,

Like a beautiful song bird at dawn that flies up above the earth and sings a hymn

I remember your sweet love  which brings me such happiness

Then  I feel as though I am a king.

This is Shakespeare at  his most troubled and uncertain.  When Shakespeare wrote this poem, the highly contagious plague hit London and hundreds were ill.  The playhouses had to close.  This would have been financially devastating to Shakespeare.  In this sonnet, the narrator feels unlucky, shamed, and fiercely jealous of those around him. Whether this is Shakespeare writing about himself, literary critics do not know.

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Which lines in Sonnet 29 summarize its theme?

While Sonnet XXIX has the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, its thematic format is that of the Petrarchan sonnet in which the octave states the problem: the brooding poet senses his misfortune as he curses his fate and wishes he could possess the artistic talents and friends that others do, all of which would greatly lift his spirits, 

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state....
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope--

Then, the sestet provides a solution to his dark broodings when he reflects on the fortunate aspects of his life as he "haply" dwells on the love bestowed upon him and his spirits lift,

Haply, I think on thee,--and then my state...
              ...sings hymn's at heaven's gate.

With the love of the woman, the speaker is relieved of his isolation and is no longer alone; now there is meaning in his life, and thus fortified by love, he can again be optimistic.

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Which lines in Sonnet 29 summarize its theme?

Sonnet 29 is all about love's power to bring optimism and hope to one who feels lonely and depressed.  The first two lines of the sonnet perfectly capture his feelings:

"When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state" (1-2).

The majority of the sonnet focuses on the speaker's problems: he wishes he were more wealthy, that he had more friends, that he were more artistic, or had the opportunities that another man might have.  The first eight lines completely focus on this 'why me?' bemoaning of the speaker's situation in life. 

In the final six lines, however, the speaker's tone changes in this pivotal moment "yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, haply I think on thee," and the mood of the poem completely shifts with the sound of birdsong and the imagery of heaven's gates.  Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29" addresses the healing power of love to lift one's spirits when all else seems completely futile and depressing.

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