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Essay: Renaissance – Shakespeare’s Sonnets 55 & 108 / “The Transfiguration” by Rapheal

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: June 9, 2021*
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  • Renaissance - Shakespeare’s Sonnets 55 & 108 / "The Transfiguration" by Rapheal
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The term “Renaissance” derives from the French word of “Re-birth”. The Renaissance had started as a cultural movement during the 14th century Tuscany, Italy and later manifested the rest of Europe. This cultural development during the Renaissance had vast influence over literature, religion and many other aspects of intellectual understanding and development. One of the most prevalent and influential writer during the Renaissance period that comes to mind would be William Shakespeare. The Renaissance period could be argued to have helped influence poetry and the formation of Shakespearean sonnets. This essay will argue the relationship between the cultural production and immorality presented from a literary collection by Shakespeare as well explore the intricate artwork by Raphael’s well-known “The Transfiguration”.

Beginning with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55, the theme of immorality can be seen in the first stanza whereby Shakespeare speaks of ” Not marble, nor the gilded monuments ”

“Not marble”1 Marble has always been perceived as something valuable and deemed as a symbol for wealth and immorality for centuries. Some would argue it possesses ability to provide people with self control, stability and lastly physical clarity. Similarly, in the Bible throughout the song “Song of Solomon” Chapter 5, verse 15, the Holy Bible describes various parts of the “beloved” as ” Gold, sapphire and marble”. During the renaissance – a time in which Shakespeare had written his sonnets, Religion could be argued to have had vast influence over literature. This reinforces the notion of immorality as in the bible, humans receive an afterlife after their death on earth to which God himself decides a person’s everlasting fate. You can see immorality in “Marble nor … Guilded monuments”1 whereby “Guilded monuments”1 would refer to statues that are made to honor a person of high importance or a person who wants to be immortalized within stone. Furthermore, it could be argued that Shakespeare as an artist is immortalized by his poems hence why us, as reader still recognize and read his work till this day. This also goes hand in hand with the notion of creativity as it was Shakespeare’s creative flare of writing that has made him the world renown poet/writer to date. Many would argue anything creative that has been produced by Shakespeare turns to gold, again gold being another notion of immorality and wealth. Similarly, another one of Shakespeare’s well known sonnets which focus on the theme of creativity and immorality is sonnet 65. In the first stanza we are presented with; ‘Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea But sad mortality o’er-sways their power.’

Immediately we are exposed to Shakespeare’s creative flare, “brass” 3 is an object that is very well known for its rusting qualities, “stone”3 weathers away overtime, “earth”3 is known to perish away gradually due to eventual solar evolution and lastly, the sea is produced of water which will also one-day lead to evaporation of sea water. Such factors morphed into one-line showcases how Shakespeare had chosen to use the literary device of metaphor to resemble the bitter truth of the worlds beauty. The truth that “morality will o’er sways their power”3 depicts that even death can be placed on the most innate and natural things in this world, such as the “sea”3 and “earth”3 and nothing on this earth will survive this morbid destiny placed upon them. The next line follows with; ‘ How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower?’3 ’No stronger than a flower’ 3 flowers are known for their delicate nature, for example if pulled from their roots they will immediately be dead, if stepped on they will be squashed, if shaken the structure will crumble with all the petals falling apart. Such imagery depicts a tone of despair and anguish, it’s easy to say that Shakespeare here is looking for ways in which he could combat time. Again, another sign of immorality – it’s almost as though Shakespeare is scared to face death itself and therefore almost tries to beat religion by injecting forms of cultural production such as writing to portray, his views on immortality. For example: ’That in black ink my love may still shine bright.’3

Shakespeare has now come to a realization that the beauty of his words can now be reserved in his writing by the ‘black ink my love may still shine bright’ 3 here it is evident that Shakespeare has urged to his lover that despite everything on earth, there is one thing that will prevail which is his writing. The irony here is that Shakespeare had used the color “black”3 to describe the ‘ink…(that) may still shine bright’3 the irony here is that black isn’t a color that some would perceive as colorful or vibrant but it was rather Shakespeare using the irony to illustrate that his writing and his memory is immortal because its not something that time or even religion could take away from him or his lover. Thus demonstrating his writings would prevail above the natural sentiments on this world such as the ‘sea’3 and the ‘earth’ 3 and be immortal for eternity from both their memory and the people who live on to read his work. This sonnet had really grasped the concept of immorality as it showed how the production of writing itself cannot die, it cannot fade away as it not only acts as an everlasting living memory but it is something that could also be shared down for many generations for all its readers.

Another one of Shakespeare’s sonnet which will also contribute significantly to my argument here is the infamous sonnet 108. Beginning on the first stanza Shakespeare does not wait around to dive into a short tale of a “love” confession. What’s in the brain that ink may character, Which hath not figur’d to thee my true spirit?

Shakespeare begins by letting the readers acknowledge the eternal love the speaker possesses for their partner. “what’s in the brain that ink may character”4 is a beautiful line in which the speaker poses a question asking their lover, what is left ‘in (their) brain’ 4 to write about their beloved as they’ve shown most of their ‘true spirit’4 through love and devotion. The sincerity the lover is trying to express is very obvious to the readers as the speaker questions what else he could possibly do to persuade/ showcase his lover to produce more heirlooms. He then progresses to say, ‘Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place/ But make antiquity for aye his page/ Finding the first conceit of love there bred/ Where time and outward form would show it dead.’ 4

“Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place” 4 this quote here demonstrates that the feelings the speaker holds for their lover is more than just external love, It’s a deeper love. The use of “wrinkles” 4 shows how the gradual unavoidable changes that come with age would never disregard the lovers deep rooted feelings and demonstrates love will always prevail and is much stronger than time. Here, immorality can be seen as Shakespeare has shown how the beauty of love can be immortal with written words and shared memories. “Where time and outward form would show it dead” 4 is another example of how love can be eternal and everlasting which can be seen by “time…(which) will show it dead.” 4 The fact that Shakespeare is able to recall his memories and love for his partner shows how immortal and everlasting his love is. Furthermore, it could be argued that the production of the sonnet being a piece of writing shows the possibility of it being immortal as the nature of it (written source) has the never-ending possibility to be reserved for many years, almost very similar to sacred texts like the Bible.

The production of Renaissance art has also been used to portray the theme of immortality. The artwork that had struck out to me in particular was the notable “The Transfiguration” by the infamous Italian artist Rapheal. The transfiguration was the last ever published art work by Rapheal and had the honor to be commissioned by the pope and hung up in a cathedral in France. The painting is notorious in enabling viewers to see the divine and humanly nature that Christ had possessed. This painting was quite intriguing for me as it contained two unrelated biblical stories combined into one art piece. The top half of the image showcases Christ elevated into the sky with prophets Moses and Elijah both beside him. This most obviously is the transfiguration of Christ. The background shows the clouds behind dark and twilight where as the one section which happens to be the part Christ is floating on is illuminated and beaming. We see Jesus look above the sky as though he is communicating to God. The people below him are seen to shield their eyes with their hands, indicating the light is far too bright for them. This is very interesting for Rapheal to add onto his artwork as he is showing the inhumane powers Jesus has, to be able to look directly at bright light which is inhumanely impossible in order to talk to God, showcasing his immortal powers. Rapheal’s technique of portraying religious messages through artwork is a very special trait he possesses which is one of the reasons as to why he was very popular during the Renaissance period as it was a period in which religion had been vastly popular and many were seeking advances to heighten their knowledge and communication with God. The lower half of the painting depicts the miracle of a possessed young boy. In the bible, the story tells us of how Jesus had the power to heal this young boy who had been possessed by a demon through prayer and faith within god. Again demonstrating immortality within religion, Raphael had played with contrasting colors to depict the power of religion. By using darker colors to illustrate both stories and contrast it with the white, heavenly color of Jesus centered in the middle depicts his powerful entity. The bottom half which showcases the poor boy and his open eyed stare and expressive body gesture with one hand in the air demonstrates his call to God and deteriorating health. Ralpheal had made an effect to capture not only a ceremonial moment of Christ’s configuration but also the mental and physical disorders within religion, his efforts to combine both stories had created a dramatic and emotional painting displaying the core fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my research and study of renaissance literature, being able to explore the different avenues in which artists such as Shakespeare and Rapheal depict their meanings of immorality through art was beautiful. I found both methods very effective as they both displayed two complete different stories in just as equally creative advances. I found Shakespeare’s sonnets very mesmerizing and romantic. The poetical flare from Shakespeare was very intriguing as us as readers have the ability to interpret his words based upon on how we approach the sonnets however with Raphael’s artwork, I found it much more restricted on seeing his artwork from a completely new perspective as I feel it was personally quite straightforward in its effort to depict biblical stories.

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