A Wretch but for Love: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91 Essay

A Wretch but for Love: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91 Essay

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A Wretch but for Love: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91
Shakespeare’s ninety-first sonnet continues to address the young man to whom he has been writing the procreation sonnets. The theme of this sonnet is the incomparable value of the young man’s love. For Shakespeare, the pleasure of the young man’s love is greater than any other pleasure. His rejection of worldly pleasures for the greater joy of love also appears to highlight a distinction Shakespeare wants to make between true wealth and poverty. In doing so, he insinuates a social criticism about the notion of what is truly valuable in this world. Shakespeare emphasizes these points through the structure of the poem, which employs repetition and chiasmus, and through diction.
This sonnet uses repetition in the three quatrains to underscore the value of the young man’s love. The first quatrain gives examples of things in which people glory or about which they generally boast. First, there are those who “glory in their birth” (1). “[B]irth” here most likely means “[p]arentage, lineage, extraction, descent; esp. rank, station, position inherited from parents” (OED), indicating noble birth or high status in society. Others glory in their “skill” (1), in other words, their abilities or talents. “[W]ealth” and strength, or “their body’s force” (2), are two things about which men have long loved to boast. Some also glory in their “garments” (3), indicating that they have the wealth and station to afford and have reason to wear expensive garments. Shakespeare ends the quatrain alluding to three of the common pastimes usually reserved for the upper-class gentlemen hawking, hunting and equestrianism. These things can, for the most part, only be enjoyed by those of noble birth and wealth....


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...iders himself a wealthy man, having something of which to boast greater than those who are not wretches, but born of wealth and high birth.
The structure of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 91” which uses repetition and chiasmus as well as his use of diction underscore the theme of this sonnet: The young man’s love is the greatest pleasure of all and the vanity of material things. By ridiculing the things in which the nobility and wealthy, upper class boast, he sets up a new standard for what really matters most: love.


Works Cited
“better, v.” OED.
“birth, n.1” OED.
“newfangled, v.” OED.
Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2nd ed. 1989. Lane Library, Ripon College, Ripon, WI.
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 91.” The Complete Pelican Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Orgel and A.R. Braunmuller . Penguin Books Ltd., 2002. 89.
“wretch, n. and a.” OED.

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