The sonnets of William Shakespeare chronicle the conflicts of love and lust between the blond young man and the dark-haired lady. In Sonnet 96, Shakespeare acts as an apologist on behalf of the blond young man as he concludes his discourse on the young man's character." Here the poet presents a picture of the young man as a misguided youth caught up in youthful indiscretion, rather than a rapacious beast prowling for prey. Shakespeare illustrates the inherent differences between dissolution and debauchery as he declares that upon first glance all is not as it appears; therefore, the young man's character must be examined in greater detail. Endeavoring to engender empathy for the blond young man, the poet elucidates the young man's strengths while emending his weaknesses. However, it is the rising meter of iambic pentameter throughout the entire sonnet that sets a steady rhythm suggesting all is well there is no cause for alarm.
The initial quatrain of Sonnet 96 opens the debate on dissolution and debauchery, implying youthful indiscretion is the young man's only serious flaw. The first two lines of the sonnet begin in the same way, with parallel sentence structure and alliteration "Some say," which is deceptive, as the remainder of both lines one and two are contradictory. In line 1, the poet chides the young man, telling him some people see his bad behavior as a result of youth and immaturity, though there are others who believe his bad behavior is indicative of his inherent moral corruption." However, in line 2, the poet dismisses the concerns found in line 1 by characterizing the young man's youthful dalliances as a special privilege of one ...
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The couplet, which should allow the poet to resolve any doubts regarding the young man's character, instead brings up more questions." The (b) rhyme of the first quatrain is found in the couplet with the words "sort" (13) and "report" (14)." Why would the poet return to the quatrain of contradiction when he is so close to restoring the young man's good name?" This exact couplet is found in "Sonnet 37," leaving one to wonder if this couplet belongs here at all." Does the poet truly believe his own supposition that the young man is only a dissolute youth, or does he question the true moral character of the friend he loves?"
Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 96." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 2000. 1: 1031-32.
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