Wednesday, 11 June 2014

What is Shakespeare's Sonnet 56 About? | Sweet Love Renew Thy Force

Shakespeare's not happy about
coming second in his fair youth's eyes
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56 is part of the collection’s ‘Fair Youth’ sequence (sonnets 1 to 126), which is addressed to an unnamed male youth. 

The romantic nature of many of these poems has led some commentators and critics to suggest that the works are evidence of a homosexual relationship between Shakespeare and the young man. 

Others have implied that the sonnets are describing a platonic love, or affection akin to a father/son relationship.

Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 56

An analysis of Sonnet 56 differs depending upon the assumptions reached about the relationship between the poet and his subject. 

However, what is clear is the relationship (whatever its nature might be), is suddenly unstable, with Shakespeare expressing deep insecurity - this is a big shift from the mood of the previous Sonnet 55.

The poem opens with an address to “Sweet love”, which seems to be a direct plea to love itself, rather than the unnamed object of affection. Shakespeare implores ‘love’ to “renew [its] force,” so it cannot be claimed that “appetite” is stronger than a deep affection.
Henry Wriothesley may have been
Shakespeare's 'Fair Youth'

He points out that appetite, which is a euphemism for the temporary state of lust, may be sated today, only to return tomorrow, “sharpen'd in his former might.” 

This implies that Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ is either promiscuous or fickle (depending on what kind of love we believe he's referring to), and it's this impulsive, lustful nature that is threatening to ruin their relationship.

The poem suggests that Shakespeare is insecure about his place in the young man’s affections. 

He accepts that the youth has his peccadilloes, but asks that he remember their friendship. “ …although to-day thou fill/Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,/To-morrow see again.”

What is the 'Sad Interim' in Sonnet 56?

In verse (line) nine, Shakespeare refers to a “sad interim,” which he likens to an ocean that separates two lovers. 

In Sonnet 56 Shakespeare asks his
friend to remember the deep bond
they share
This ‘interim’ could, of course, refer to a literal separation - when the poet’s young friend is away from London. 

However, it could also suggest an emotional separation; a period of estrangement. This part of the poem is particularly interesting, because, until this point, there has been no suggestion of absence, merely a plea for “love” to outlast “appetite.”

He goes on to paint an image of two lovers, “contracted new” who have been separated by the ocean mentioned above. The pair comes to the shore to either literally see or, more likely, gaze in the direction of their loved one. 

This section of the poem has echoes of the myth of Hero and Leander, who are separated by the Dardanelles (Hellespont). Shakespeare claims that “when they see/Return of love, more blest may be the view.” 

Which can be roughly translated as ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’

In the final couplet, Shakespeare likens the “sad interim” of literal or emotional separation to the long period of winter, which, being filled with “care,” makes the summer “thrice more wish’d, more rare.”

However the relationship between poet and unnamed youth is construed in the here and now, in Sonnet 56 it is clear that Shakespeare feels his friendship (love), has been neglected by the young man and the poem is an attempt to reignite his flagging affections. 

This theme is continued in Sonnet 57, as Shakespeare’s concern over the lustful nature of his ‘Fair Youth’ intensifies.

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said 
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite, 
Which but to-day by feeding is allay'd, 
To-morrow sharpen'd in his former might: 
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill 
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill 
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be 
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see 
Return of love, more blest may be the view; 
Else call it winter, which being full of care 
Makes summer's welcome thrice more wish'd, more rare.

If you'd like to know more about Shakespeare's Sonnets, take a look at Who Was Shakespeare's Fair Youth?

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