The Evasive Sonnet CXVI (116)

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In my survey of Shakespeare's Sonnets, I have found it difficult to sincerely regard any single sonnet as inferior. However, many of the themes could be regarded as rather trite. For example sonnet XCVII main idea is that with my love away I feel incomplete, sonnet XXIX says that only your love remembered makes life bearable, while sonnet XXXVIII makes the beloved the sole inspiration in the poet's life. These themes recycled in love songs and Hallmark cards, hardly original now, would hardly have been any newer in Elizabethan England. However the hackneyed themes of these sonnets is in a sense the source of their essence. These emotions, oftentimes difficult to adequately articulate, are shared by all that have loved, been loved, lusted or been hurt in a relationship. Still, it is certainly difficult to criticize Shakespeare's work as a whole. One would only show his ignorance if he were to argue against Shakespeare's sophisticated style.

Far easier than finding inferior works from this cornucopia of verse would be to snatch and guard his more elaborate, brilliant works such as sonnet XVIII. These lucky few need very little explanation for they speak for themselves. Scholarly glosses, profound explanations, and critic's interpretations - needed in the more ambiguous sonnets - are not only unneeded in these sonnets but sometimes unwanted. It is an insult to the intellect of the reader for a scholar to be as presumptuous with these jewels of verse to think that it needs someone asserting meaning ex cathedra. They have their distinguished place because, after slow and careful reading, one may bask in meaning and beauty, contemplating the sonnets bearing on his life. One does not need a critic to el...

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...Linda Gregerson's explication of Sonnet 116. http://www.the atlantic.com/unbound/poetry/soudings/shakespeare.htm.

8 I say that this is not a popular reading and not without error because I have not yet seen any scholarly work to confirm my reading of these lines. In fact, I have seen much to contradict my assertion. Helen Vendler notes that most readers, guided by the beginning of the sonnet, misinterpret it. I agree with Vendler's assertion but not her reading (or other scholars for that matter), and hence I present my own.

9 Ingram and Redpath, 268.

10 Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997) 489.

11 Booth, 385.

12 Booth, as well as Ingram and Redpath seem to be of this mind.

13 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (New York: New Directions, 1958) 30.
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