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In my analysis of Sonnet 29, I was struck by a couple things, one being the dramatic volta towards the latter half of the piece (I’m always a fan of a dramatic volta in literature—not so much in life, though I suppose the occasional 180 degree turn is inevitable) and two, the dramatic nature of the language—call me crazy, but it seemed almost Petrarchan to me. But I thought, “How can this be? In all the limited study of Shakespeare that I’ve done, it seems that the one thing that was driven home every time we started to study a sonnet was Shakespeare’s diversion from, if not disdain for, the Petrarchan sonnet. So why then would it appear that he was trending in that direction? I was puzzled and intrigued.
So after looking into it from a more informal stance (ala gradsaver.com), and receiving a reaffirmation of my 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. It seemed to me that, while lacking the outright allusions to love, and the flowery language, the undertones of this sonnet were Petrarchan in the sense that the speaker is ruled by intense love for another. However, upon looking at it from another angle, with the aid of a more scholarly source, I was able to gain some additional perspective.
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 I feel that the Petrarchan undertones I seemed to detect in my initial study of the poem are fading away.
This new perspective was reinforced after I listened to Rufus Wainwright’s musical interpretation of the sonnet. Perhaps it was just Wainwright’s vocal quality and style, but it almost seemed like a hymn, leading me to more deeply consider the possibility that Shakespeare is not praising a specific person, much less a romantic attachment, but the principle and concept of love itself. The possibilities, as far as I can see, are endless.