Sonnet 20 Essay, Research Paper
Over the centuries since the publication of Shakespeare s Sonnets, they have been subjected to a vast amount of analysis. From this seemingly endless supply of critiques, I have selected two that deal particularly with Sonnet 20 and its somewhat sexual ambiguity. They both touch on the mystery of Shakespeare s sexuality as well as the cultural significance of the seemingly homosexual undercurrents of the sonnet.
According to Bruce Smith , this particular sonnet indicates a key change in the sequence. In the previous sonnets the poet s sexual feelings for this friend are curbed but have gradually become more prominent and are revealed as the poets focus. Smith refers to the increased use of the word love and references to the poet s own love throughout the first nineteen sonnets and claims that Questions about love reach a crisis . in sonnet 20. (Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare s England, Bruce Smith p249.) Smith suggests that Shakespeare is trying to address one of the major issues in classical ethics, which he often explores in his comedies, of whether sexual desire for women is more important than masculine friendship. Unfortunately, the issue seems to be unresolved with the young man in the seeming to begrudgingly accept what nature has given him. Smith highlights the puns of Prick and thing , alluding to the male genitalia, as innuendo working against moral innocence. Smith surmises that the sonnet has very clear homosexual implications that are, contrary to popular belief, commonplace in that era.
Unlike Smith, Nigel Davies took a different approach when analysing the sonnet as he suggests that the sonnet is clearly heterosexual. He states,
It is curious that some see homosexuality in this poem when the poet clearly states that the subject being equipped with a male appendage literally “defeats” the prospect of a sexual relationship between the two, that was there whilst the subject was originally fashioned by Nature to be a woman . (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html)
Davies goes on to suggest that if there was a homosexual undercurrent within the poet, surely he would be interested the sexual equipment and inclinations of another man he was attracted to (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html). The poet then goes on to plainly point out that this removes the sexual nature of the relationship as he has been pricked out and he sexual role was for women s pleasure . Which, according to Davies are the natural sentiments of a heterosexual man and the complete opposite of what you would expect from a homosexual man. (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html)
There are vast differences in these two analyses of sonnet 20. Smith s view is obviously influenced by the fact that his book is centered on homosexuality in the Elizabethan world. He in effect, has gone looking for clues or hints of homosexuality and has justifiably found them in sonnet 20. Davies argues against homosexuality and claims the sonnet is focused on The male subject being compared to the positive qualities of women in an avalanche of hews and hues that may identify the subject (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html) He also is concerned more with the structure of the sonnet, the alliteration, Face, false and fashion provide connecting alliteration between the subject and woman (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html) and he also is obsessed with the word Hue or Hew and maintains that it is central to the sonnet, for example:
+ Hews is italicised in the Quarto as Hews, suggesting it has special significance. Perhaps it alludes to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd. Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron.
+ Line 5 contains the word hew in bright…eye…rowling (Quarto spelling).
+ Line 6 contains the word hew in whereupon.
+ Line 7 explicitly contains the word hew in hew and hews. This is significant as line 7 is the centre-line of the sonnet just as the play on hew/hue is central to the sonnet’s theme.
These two very different analyses focus on unique aspects of sonnet 20 and show the range and diversity of Shakespearian analysis.
Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare s England: 1991 p249-51.)
Nigel Davies, (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/20c.html)