William Shakespeare is the master of subtle humor and sexual puns. In his "Sonnet 95," a poem to a blond young man, both are seen while pointing out a couple of realities about sexual sin. He speaks directly to a young man whose physical beauty compensates for his lack of sexual morality.
Shakespeare would like for this young man to realize that his handsomeness is
the sole aspect of his person that prevents absolute disapproval of his
behavior in other people, and he also wants him to be aware of the ultimate
consequences of his actions. Through a clever use of diction, imagery, and
meter in a typical Shakespearian format, Shakespeare warns his young friend
of the risks involved with the overindulgence of sexual activity.
In the first quatrain, Shakespeare presents the young man to the readers
by contrasting his beauty and his character. He tells the young man that he
renders "shame" (1) "sweet and lovely" (1). That is, he is much too handsome
to be overshadowed by his questionable conduct. His "shame" may not be a
dominant trait, but it does sneak around behind the scenes "like a canker"
(2). A canker is a nasty internal ulceration, or growth; it is a flaw that
cannot be seen in an otherwise beautiful object, such as a "fragrant rose"
(2). This flaw in the young man, sexual vice, may "spot" (3), or taint his
image later on in his life, as he is still "budding" (3); he is still young,
and there is plenty of time for his reputation to be completely damaged by
his sexual impropriety. This young man is indeed beautiful and he is lucky
to have such "swee...
... middle of paper ...
...re slyly and jovially slips in the idea that if the
young man is careless, he will spend his allowance of energy before his time
comes; that is to say, he will become sexually impotent. This image is
brilliantly conjured up with the picture of a dull knife that will cut no
more after years of its owner using it as a hatchet. The simple lightness of
his joke is expressed through the simple evenness of the iambic pentameter
throughout the couplet, and its straightforwardness adds to the wryness of
Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 95." The Norton Anthology of English
Literature. Eds. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. Seventh ed. 2 vols.
New York: Norton, 2000. 1:1041-42.
Oxford English Dictionary. Eds. James A. H. Murray, et. al. Oxford, 1961.
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