Sonnet 29 Themes

(Shakespeare for Students)

Download Sonnet 29 Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Alienation and Loneliness
Added to the misfortunes that the speaker of this poem faces is also the pain of knowing that he is facing his trials alone. Society tends to distance itself from sufferers; as the old adage puts it, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.” “Sonnet 29” starts by briefly identifying the source of the problem as “disgrace with Fortune” before settling in to examine the social ramifications of bad luck and the alienation that it causes. The remainder of the first stanza concerns itself with the speaker’s feeling of isolation, a feeling that forces him to withdraw into himself, mostly in anger: he weeps, cries to heaven, and curses fate. The speaker is alone, or so he says, because everyone else thinks badly of him. The next stanza, though, brings up the opposite side of the equation: it is the speaker’s own dark thoughts that are forcing him to distance himself from others. He is jealous, listing the things that others have that he wishes were his own. By its placement in this poem, following the first mention of his isolation, there is a strong suggestion that it is the jealousy he feels, not his bad luck alone, that is at the root of his isolation. The second stanza is presented as an explanation for the speaker’s loneliness, while no such explanation is offered for his bad fortune. The list of things that he envies of others progresses from the shallow to the more serious. He first mentions jealousy toward those who have more money, which is a trait that even the very wealthy may have. In line 6 the poem becomes a bit more specific about what this writer thinks others have that he himself is lacking, specifically good looks and plenty of friends. The third line of this stanza strikes modern readers as a little puzzling or amusing, since the past four hundred years have established Shakespeare as a supreme master of his art, unsurpassed in the scope of his understanding of human nature. The second stanza ends with a line that presents the speaker’s problem as being ultimately one of internal attitude, not external fate: the same things that would satisfy him at other times, he says, just don’t work for him any more. Ironically, the bad mood that he has projected to the outside world, forcing his withdrawal from society, is also broken by a force outside himself: in contrast with the expanding shame that alienates the speaker from most people, one relationship is so strong in itself that it alone can overcome the speaker’s intense loneliness.

Doubt and Ambiguity
“Sonnet 29,” like most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, was written from a very close and personal perspective in regard to the circumstances of the author’s life. In many poems, the speaker is a character made up by the author to present his or her ideas (even when the character has much in common with the author), but it is generally recognized by scholars that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets about events that were occurring in his life and the world around him. In doing this, Shakespeare took on a very difficult task, one that took courage and artistic integrity: capturing his own words and ideas even when he might not have been sure what he was thinking. The mood that prevails throughout “Sonnet 29” is one of insecurity, of feeling that whatever life has to offer, the poet would not have the resources to deal with it. The poet describes himself as an outcast, but it is not the world that has cast him out: he has cast himself out with his shame, “myself almost despising” (line 9). Unsure about himself, about whether he is a victim of fate and other people or a small, insignificant person who deserves to be mistreated, he eventually finds his doubts erased by the thoughts of another, whom he loves. The metaphor of the lark rising from the earth, up to heaven, is such a strong and bold visual image (especially in a poem that does not use very much imagery

(The entire section is 1,048 words.)