Samples Shakespeare Comparison of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 and Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”

Comparison of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 and Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”

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Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, first published in 1608, is not only a typical representation of the Shakespearean form of sonnet, but is also, arguably, one of the most famous amidst his poetry work. If one is to compare any Shakespearean sonnet to another piece of poetry, there are many options. It seems interesting to juxtapose Shakespearean and Petrarchian sonnet as both forms are similar in many ways and yet carry important differences. For this comparison we will not use a Petrarchian sonnet literally, but rather pick something from the later period of English literature and place our choice on Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”.

The overall theme of Shakespeare’s sonnet is that way of true love. The poet states that love has to have constant nature despite any complications. One should not look at the sonnet as distinct representation and celebration of true love since certain critics believe and are able to provide arguments why it may not be the case. The sonnet has a sense generality about it. The sonnet differs from the others as it does not talk about the act of love or any object of love, but about love as an abstract concept with a feeling of detachment from it, trying to view it from the outsider’s point of view, which is not influenced by it. Together with the sonnets 94 and 129, 116 does not set to resolve an issue, but rather move away from the typical concept and to present an alternative perspective of love and a different way of its portrayal and experience.

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If one is to compare a Petrarchian sonnet, the first apparent difference would be in the form itself. It has to be said that this type of sonnet was not invented by Petrarch per se, but rather by a group of Renaissance poets. Shakespearean sonnet is constructed of three quatrains and a final couplet in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is the following: abab cdcd efef gg. It is an often feature that the third quatrain starts with a Volta (a turn) – the point, at which the mood of the poem may shift, usually to signify the poet’s epiphany or realization of a new idea. The sonnet in question is no exception. The author reaches the conclusion that it is beauty, which overpowers love. The latter is prone to chancing and becoming less intense over time while beauty would not change the feelings of the author.

The form of the Petrarchian sonnet can differ slightly. The octave scheme usually stays the same: abba abba. The sestet can be more changeable. Petrarch himself used either cdecde or cdc dcd. Other possible solutions might be cddcdd, cddece, cddccd. Wordsworth uses abbaabba cddece. The sonnet has a rather differing subject matter if compared to the Shakespearean sonnet in question. Wordsworth addresses directly Milton and laments his absence, believing that he could improve the country even during Wordsworth’s era. There is also an element of arriving to a solution in the second part of the sonnet, during the sestet. Another differentiating element between two pieces of poetry is that Wordsworth is clearly engaged in the problem he is discussing, and, therefore, could be considered biased. He is not trying to view the subject coldly, with detachment, as Shakespeare does regarding love, but shows the issue clearly through his prism (if one is to use Henry James’ scheme here).

Both sonnets are similar in their form and sonnet nature. Otherwise, there are far more differences than common aspects in this case. This could be explained perhaps with the fact that there are two centuries between Shakespeare’s and Wordsworth’s work, so such factors as different mentalities, cultures, and outlooks surely take part in making these two pieces of poetry rather different.