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Sonnet 29 is a sonnet that encompasses the idea of love and its transforming power. The first nine lines describe a state of deep depression in which the speaker finds himself. He’s looked down upon by other men, is an outcast in society, and “curses” his own fate. He doesn’t seem to have friends and has a hard time imagining his fate being a positive thing. However, in line ten, he seems to change his outlook when he thinks on that person that he loves. He describes it as rising from earth to a higher, more heavenly sphere. It is this sweet love that allows him to be contented with his own state in life. It’s as if the speaker is caught up in his troubles and what seems to be a deep depression, and is only able to find solace in the thought of that person who he loves. There are different elements of this sonnet that enabled Shakespeare to take a different twist on love, which makes it a readable and interesting piece of poetry.
Sonnet 130 vs Sonnet 29
Shakespeare explored the theme of love in several of his sonnets, which is to be expected, seeing as Petrarch (the traditionally known father of the sonnet form) used this 14 line, iambic creation to solely express sentiments of love. In his Sonnet 130, Shakespeare again puts a twist on traditional love. He uses the entirety of the sonnet to compare a woman to different elements- again, a typical use of a sonnet. However, his twist comes in that he is using beautiful, natural elements to contrast, not compare, to his love’s physical features. “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun,” he begins, continuing by contrasting this mistress to several other natural elements. Both Sonnet 29 and Sonnet 130 deal with a loss of expectations. Sonnet 29 speaks of a loss of expectations in life- life is hard, life is disappointing, and the only thing that makes life livable is the love that we find there. Sonnet 130 deals with a loss of expectations in love. Love is wonderful, but there are still faults. Your mistress (or lover, whoever it may be), may not be perfect. They may not be comparable to an angel or to the sun, but that is love, and love can still be wonderful. Both sonnets put a twist on love and expectations.
An Ode Against Traditions
In addition with being a twist on love and expectations, Sonnet 29 has also been read as an ode to an even more liberal idea of love. Several scholars and readers alike have interpreted Shakespeare’s sonnets to be referencing a non-normative, or homosexual, love. Hugh McIntosh, for example, stated: "the major portion of Shakespeare's sonnet collection consists of poems written to a younger man who is clearly treated as a patron". Sonnet 29, under further inspection, appears to follow this pattern. First of all, unlike Sonnet 130, Sonnet 29 does not mention any aspect of femininity at all. Although the speaker is obviously referencing love, it is not a feminine, gentle love. Elements of masculinity infiltrate the sonnet with force. Men are mentioned specifically four times (lines 1,6,7), and the feelings are harsh and intense. In another source that I studied, the pop star Rufus Wainwright also used this idea of Shakespeare writing to a man in Sonnet 29 to promote the idea of homosexual love. He believes that Shakespeare used this sonnet to destabilize social, gender norms of his day. This would be a bold move, seeing as “sodomy’ was considered a crime punishable by death in Shakespeare’s time.
Reading this sonnet with the idea that it was written to a man, it began to make more sense why the speaker felt so desolate. He was a disgrace in men’s eyes, alone in his outcast state, Heaven didn’t hear his prayers and his fate was not one that he could change or help. He didn’t have what others had, but neither did he want it. Even with all of this, the love that he had made it worth it. His choice of love, if he indeed wrote this to a man, was actually what ostracized him in the first place, due to the time period in which he lived. The love that they possessed, however, made it worth it.