These three pairs of words manage to sum up William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” and “Sonnet 147,” while also demonstrating the duality of Shakespeare’s heart. “Sonnet 116” reveals to a careful reader the aspects of Shakespeare’s concept of what ideal love is. However, “Sonnet 147” shows the danger of believing in this ideal form of love. These two sonnets perfectly complement and clarify each other while also giving the reader insight into William Shakespeare’s life. To understand these two sonnets completely, one must first have a little background information concerning the sequence of the Sonnets and William Shakespeare’s life.
Shakespeare’s series of Sonnets can be divided, “into two sections, the first (numbers 1-126) being written to or about a young man, and most of those in the second (numbers 127-154) being written to or about a dark woman” (Wilson 17-8). Because of the autobiographical nature of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, these two characters are people from Shakespeare’s actual life. The young man is Shakespeare’s patron and Shakespeare has a “humble and selfless adoration [that] he feels for his young friend” (Wilson 32). The dark woman is Shakespeare’s lover, a woman that infatuates him.
These two people provide an emotional contrast for each other and Shakespeare’s views on love. When these two meet, they have an affair, “behavior that, as the Poet [Shakespeare] is really deeply in love with the woman, causes him such distress, at times agony, as to introduce a note of tragedy into the series [of sonnets], . . . ” (Wilson 33). The affair between the young man and the dark woman is the catalyst for Shakespeare’s authoring of “Sonnet 116” and “Sonnet 147. ” “Sonnet 116” is directed towards the young man, while “Sonnet 147” is directed towards the dark woman.
Each poem reflects the emotions that Shakespeare experiences with the duality of his love. Although each of these poems only show one half of this duality, “Sonnet 144” expresses both while giving a further basis for the understanding of “Sonnet 116” and “Sonnet 147. ” “Sonnet 144” opens with the line “Two loves I have of comfort and despair,” (1). When used as a foundation, this opening line reveals that the reader can expect one of the two sonnets to deal with the comfort of love while the other deals with the despair of love.
Shakespeare goes on to say, “The better angel is a man right fair, / The worser spirit a woman, colored ill. 144. 3-4) which shows that he considers his young friend to be the comfort aspect of love and his dark woman to be the despair aspect of love. Shakespeare goes on to say that the dark woman tempted his young friend from his side. This shows that an affair has occurred between the young man and the dark woman. Taking this poem as a basis, the reader can better understand how “Sonnet 116” deals with the comfort of love and how “Sonnet 147” deals with the despair of love. “Sonnet 116” can be viewed by the reader in two different ways.
It can be seen as a soliloquy by the author written to his young friend about their friendship or it can be seen as a letter written to the young friend about Shakespeare’s view of what ideal love is. In either case, it was written after the affair between the young man and dark woman was discovered by Shakespeare. The first quatrain informs “the reader of what love is not” (Shakespeare 2). The words “marriage of true minds” (116. 1) can be seen as the concept of soulmates or as a literal marriage. He could be saying that he and his young friend are soulmates meant to be true, nonsexual lovers.
However, Shakespeare could be saying that he and the dark woman are meant for each other despite her infidelity with his best friend. Shakespeare believes that there are no “impediments” that can disrupt this “marriage. ” “Impediments” means obstacles. In the case of his friendship, Shakespeare could be mentioning numerous things that prevented their relationship from becoming public knowledge. “He is poor . . . and outranked by his adored youth, who appears to be a noble and a darling of Fortune. Thus the friendship suffers a marked disparity, which is a substantial obstacle in the way of an ideal relationship” (Landry 5).
In the case of the dark woman, “impediments” might mean that she is already married, a close relative, or in love with the young man. In both cases, Shakespeare believes that if his love is true than all the barriers will be broken down between he and his one true love. Lines 2-4 mean, “Love isn’t really love if it changes when we notice our beloved has changed. Love doesn’t vary when someone tries to lure us away from our beloved” (www. vccslitonline. cc. va. us). Shakespeare is saying that if love is unconditional then one should be able to forgive all the mistakes a loved one has made.
He could be saying that he is forgiving the young man and dark woman for their affair because he loves them unconditionally. “In the second quatrain, the speaker begins to describe what real love actually is, . . . ” (Shakespeare 2). Shakespeare uses these four lines to describe what ideal love means to him. He says, “Love is like a rock, and storms can’t undermine it” (www. vccslitonline. cc. va. us). In his mind, nothing can prevent true love from achieving over anything that might attempt to destroy it. In line 7 Shakespeare describes love using a nautical metaphor and light imagery.
He says true love is like the north star guiding sailors (loved ones) on their way (to their true loves). Shakespeare closes the second quatrain by saying “we can’t really see its [love’s] true value even if we can quantify love somehow” (www. vccslitonline. cc. va. us). To him, Shakespeare’s concept of ideal love is immeasurable and this is how he views his friendship with the young man and is able to forgive him for having an affair with the woman he loves. “In the third quatrain, the speaker alternates between naming what love’s characteristics are, and are not” (Shakespeare 2). “Love now appears as a sage, not taken in by youthful beauty.
Love perseveres long after youth’s beauty fades: . . . ” (Muth 4). Shakespeare says that time can destroy youth and beauty but it is unable to destroy love. Shakespeare uses the word “compass” in line 10 to show that “the ‘compass’ of Time’s scythe is its sweeping arc, but it is also a device used to guide ships, and thus reminds the reader or the preceding nautical metaphor” (Shakespeare 3). Shakespeare is reinforcing the idea that true love can’t be altered even to the “edge of doom [death]” (116. 12). To Shakespeare love is an ideal that nothing can destroy and that is why he forgave his friend for sleeping with the dark woman.
The closing couplet reinforces the sonnet. Shakespeare is saying that he holds firm in his beliefs of what true love is and that if he is wrong then he has never written anything worthwhile and no one has ever been in love (www. vccslitonline. cc. va. us). With “Sonnet 116” Shakespeare is able to show the comfort aspect of love seen in “Sonnet 144. ” He does this by using his friend, whom he views as his soulmate, to show that nothing has altered his love for the man although he may have been angry for awhile about the affair.
Shakespeare does this by holding firm to his definition of love and comparing it to the guiding light of the north star. Therefore, as the introduction stated we have the first words of each of the three pairs–light, comfort, and love. “Sonnet 116” shows light, comfort, and love. However, “Sonnet 147” complements it by showing dark, despair, and hate. This sonnet was also written after Shakespeare found out about the affair between the young man and dark woman. This sonnet is written to the dark woman and shows the duality of Shakespeare’s heart by demonstrating that whereas he forgave his friend for the affair he can’t forgive the woman.
When the affair took place, “his love for the woman grew rancid, . . . yet could not be cast off because she continued to hold him by her physical attraction: . . . ” (Wilson 50). This idea can be seen in the first quatrain of “Sonnet 147. ” Shakespeare compares his love for the dark woman to a disease the he is still feeding because he still loves her. This shows that he knows he shouldn’t love her and that she wrongs him, but she has a power over him and he is unable to break away from this love. In the second quatrain, Shakespeare’s despair can be seen even more readily. He says he is going insane and not paying attention to his reason.
He still loves her even though he knows he shouldn’t. The dark woman is bringing Shakespeare into the darkness of his mind where he can’t find the logic to break free from it and her. This delving into Shakespeare’s psyche continues in the third quatrain. In these four lines, Shakespeare realizes that he will never be free from her because she is his fantasy and his obsession. The closing couplet of “Sonnet 147” sums up his experience with the dark woman, “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright, / Who art as black as hell, as dark as night” (147. 13-4). The dark woman is the “worser spirit” expressed in “Sonnet 144.
To understand the depth of his love/hate for her as seen in this couplet, the reader should look to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Satan was a beautiful creature who lived in the light, however, he was cast into the darkness of hell, a darkness so dark that it is “darkness visible” (Milton 1478). This helps a reader to understand how much Shakespeare truly hates the dark woman even though he still loves her although she is “darkness visible. ” “Sonnet 116” and “Sonnet 147” complement and clarify each other. The topic of both is love and they both concern the same crucial even in Shakespeare’s life.
However, “Sonnet 116” is about an ideal love while “Sonnet 147” is about a love/hate relationship. The use of “Sonnet 144” helps to demonstrate the basis of these two sonnets, which are Shakespeare’s relationships with a young man and a dark woman. These two poems, although on the same topic, reveal to the reader the duality of Shakespeare’s heart. He is in love with two people and manages to forgive one for a serious transgression but not the other although the crime was the same. Without the Sonnets, few historians would be able to reconstruct the life of a poet so great that he is often simply referred to as the Poet.