The many works written by William Shakespeare during his lifetime address within them a wide variety of themes and subjects, one of the most common of them being envy. Shakespeare’s portrayal of this theme was to be found in almost all of his works and especially within his famous plays, and most directly focused on in several of his sonnets, including sonnets 29 and 79. Within his sonnets Shakespeare uses discreet and subtle literary techniques and clever wording to bring across to the reader his interpretation of the most complex and consequential of human emotions, and although his effectiveness in doing so remained as time progressed, the manner in which it was executed continued to evolve as his perspectives began to shift.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 addresses the feeling of isolation and depression from which spring envy and jealous thoughts that certainly all of his audience can relate to or have related to at some point in their lives.His choice of words and imagery artfully portray and personify the thought train that travels through one’s mind during times of such despair, starting from the initial sense of complete desolation to the envy that sprouts from insecurity and consequently the comparing of oneself to others that seem better off, on until the volta which skillfully depicts how the human mind is capable even in the midst of utter pessimism of turning around to face the bright side, and finding a thread of hope to which it desperately clings till the darkness fades.
The first few lines in the sonnet begin with the speaker lamenting his condition and “cursing his fate”. Shakespeare’s words are extremely critical and skillfully chosen in these lines in order to help his readers identify strongly with the speaker’s narrative. For example, the simple phrase “I, all alone” employs several literary devices to show just how desolate the speaker feels. The alliteration helps the line to flow smoothly, while the use of the adjective “all” to emphasize the word “alone” shows how the speaker wishes to accentuate his lonely state. Lastly, the use of the singular pronoun of “I” before the phrase as opposed to simply starting off the line with “All alone” emphasizes the loneliness of the situation even further.
The tone within these lines is self-pitying, lonely, desperate and overall indicative of a completely pessimistic outlook on the speaker’s part. However, the tone then shifts from depressed to envious within the next few lines, in which the speaker begins to compare himself to those around him, those with handsome features, many friends, art, greater talent etc. and he starts to find himself no longer content with what he used to enjoy. The tone once again shifts within the next quatrain, when a thought occurs to the speaker that begins to lift his spirits. He goes on to end the poem on a hopeful and content note, stating that the thought of his love makes him unwilling to change places even with kings. The way Shakespeare allows the poem to unfold to the reader makes a profound impact, as the audience is given the opportunity to experience the emotions the narrator is experiencing through Shakespeare’s choice of words; they empathize with the initial desolation and the envy of the narrator, then feel their own spirits lifted with the pleasant surprise of hope that follows the volta, leaving them with a sense of fulfillment and gratification.
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