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When studying Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, many people take the view that the speaker is depressed individual, lost and looking for his purpose, which he is reminded of when thinking on his love. This seems to speak of romantic love to many people, so it is often considered to be romantic in nature. Indeed, many informal analytic sources take the same point of view. Upon conducting a rather superficial, basic study of the sonnet, one will most likely receive a reaffirmation of the initial, rather obvious analysis that the speaker is greatly depressed by their own situation, and, upon thinking of their love, they were risen from their low emotional and mental state of well-being. Such was my experience when perusing informal sources. Under this line of thinking, it seems to follow an almost Petrarchan theme, with the speaker being captivated by love, completely under its influence, and ruled by it. (Granted, it doesn’t follow the Petrarchan tradition in the use of flowery, idealized language that is considered by many to be over-inflated in parts. However, it does seem to retain the theme of powerful, magnetic love, common in many Petrarchan sonnets.
However, upon closer study and analysis, this sonnet is revealed to speak of much more than a romantic attachment. In many ways, it appears to suggest that the speaker is, in fact, referring to “his love” as a principle, not merely an individual. In his analysis of Sonnet 29, Professor Thomas Ramey Watson of the University of Colorado approached it from a more biblical point of view. Rather than making the object of Shakespeare’s love a romantic figure—as I was inclined to believe—Watson suggests that the sonnet could in fact be related to the scripture found in 1 Corinthians 13:13.
“ And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
By looking at the sonnet from this point of view, the scope of possibility for interpretation is widened, and appears that the Petrarchan undertones that were seemingly apparent during an initial study of the poem fade away in the face of it.
This new perspective of love as a principle is reinforced by various interpretive recordings of the sonnet. One interpretation stands out as particularly indicative of this idea of the sonnet’s focus being love as a fundamental concept. Rufus Wainwright’s musical rendition of Sonnet29 reinforces this idea by delivering it more like a hymn than a secular poem. Perhaps it is Wainwright’s unique vocal style that encourages the listener to think about the sonnet not in romantic terms, but in a more spiritual sense. Perhaps it is the words of the poem itself that lend themselves not so much to a secular, more shallow interpretation, but rather, to a broader, more metaphysical analysis.
I suppose, at the end of the day, both interpretations could be true: it is possible that Shakespeare meant to speak of an individual when he wrote Sonnet 29. However, it seems much more likely that the love Shakespeare speaks of is more of a principle, as opposed to a single person.