129 Sonnet Analysis Essay

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William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 is a classic Shakespearian Sonnet from his distinguished collection published in 1609. The Shakespearean Sonnet is unquestionably the most intellectual and dramatic of poetic forms and, when written well, is a masterpiece not only of poetic talent but intellectual talent as well.
Like the majority of sonnets, Sonnet 129 has fourteen lines and is organized into an octave followed by a sestet; or more in depth, three quatrains followed by a heroic couplet. However, there is one thing about this poem that does not follow the traditional cookie cutter model of a Shakespearean Sonnet. The distinctiveness is that this particular sonnet does not have the volta or thematic turn…show more content…

The very first foot of the first line, “Th’expense,” has to be read in this way, as opposed to “the expense,” in order to preserve the iambic rhythm of the sonnet from the very beginning. Lines three and four of the first quatrain are essentially an angry list of what lust is. The word cruel, in line four, produces an interesting effect. Shakespeare could have chosen an obvious two syllable word, but he did not do such a thing, that would be too easy. He chooses a word that fulfills the iambic rhythm, but in effect, disrupts it and works against it.
Rhyme, when done appropriately, produces an effect that free verse simply does not match and cannot reproduce. When being used by a professional such as Shakespeare, rhyme is not just about being appealing, proper or elegant; it directs the reader’s ear and mind, strengthening thought and thematic ideas. The rhyme scheme within Sonnet 129 is rather common. The first quatrain is ABAB, the second is CDCD, the third is EFEF, and finally, the couplet at the end is GG. The most important attribute of the Shakespearean Sonnet is it’s rhyme scheme, rather than the meter. This is because the essence of the Shakespearean Sonnet is in its sense of drama. The rhyme scheme, because of the way it directs the ear, reinforces the dramatic feel of the sonnet and enhances the To conclude, Sonnet 129 is not exactly the most original in form, meter, rhythm or rhyme; nevertheless, it has a very

Sonnet 129

TH’expence of Spirit in a waſte of ſhame
Is luſt in action, and till action, luſt
Is periurd, murdrous, blouddy full of blame,
Sauage, extreame, rude, cruell, not to truſt,
Inioyed no ſooner but diſpiſed ſtraight,
Paſt reaſon hunted, and no ſooner had
Paſt reaſon hated as a ſwollowed bayt,
On purpoſe layd to make the taker mad.
Made In purſut and in poſſeſſion ſo,                                        Mad
Had, hauing, and in queſt, to haue extreame,
A bliſſe in proofe and proud and very wo,                             a
Before a ioy propoſd behind a dreame,
All this the world well knowes yet none knowes well,
To ſhun the heauen that leads men to this hell.

Technically Sonnet 129 is a fine exercise in rhetoric, indebted to types and examples found in primers such as Thomas Wilson’s The Arte of Rhetorike. In Shakespeare’s hands it rises above the purely rhetorical, becoming together with Sonnet 116 one of his most celebrated and diversely treated sonnets. It opens with an inversion: the subject of the sentence’s first part is “lust,” defined as “Th’expense of Spirit in a waste of shame;” “expense” intends outpouring as well as waste; “Spirit” is the generative or life force which keeps the body alive and which, as an essence, was identified with semen and, as a ‘spright’ or pole (Latin = contus), with an erect phallus (as in Mercutio’s line, “To raise a spirit in his Mistresse circle,” [Rom. 2.1.24]); “waste” intends ‘useless expenditure,’ but is suggestive also of an expanse of land (desert) and ocean (a watery waste); “shame” introduces to the sonnet a sense of guilt. Lust is thus defined as the outpouring of vital forces in a shameful excess; or it is the expending of semen wastefully (for no generative purpose) and excessively; or it is the emission from the phallus extravagantly and shamefully; and finally with the pun on waste/waist, all the above, the emission being into a waist full of shame (compare Lear’s outburst, “Downe from the waste they are Centaures, though Women all aboue: but to the Girdle do the Gods inherit, beneath is all the Fiends. There’s hell, there’s darkenes”). 1 Lust, furthermore, is essentially a (sexual) act (“in action”), “action” being the ninth of the measures (or Aristotelian and logical categories), by which a thing’s nature is classified.

The opening inversion allows the next line to comprise a near-perfect rhetorical chiasmus, “lust . . action /  action . . lust.” Until enacted (“till action”), lust is categorized as given to, or as the cause of, or the result of the breaking of an oath (“periurd”); it gives rise to or results in murder and blood-letting (“murdrous, blouddy”); it is “full of blame:” it carries with it deep guilt or leads to recrimination. Lust before its physical enactment is “Sauage,” wild, without reason and reckless; “extreame,” not moderate; “rude,” lacking civility, even violent; “cruell,” inflicting hurt and suffering; lust is “not to trust,” not to be trusted. As soon as lust is indulged (“Inioyd;” to enjoy a woman was to have one’s will of her), it brings directly with it loathing, of the act, of the self, of the other (“dispised straight”). Lust is to be by “Past reason hunted,” sought by earlier justification or pursued beyond (“Past”) reason (lust is not governed by reason). But once “had,” as one might ‘have’ sexually, it brings disgust of any earlier justification (“Past reason”) or disgust beyond reasonableness and hinting at madness. Such disgust is like a swallowed bait – continuing the hunting phrase, ‘to take the bait’ – laid down with specific purpose “to make the taker mad.” Lust seemingly is not solitary, but requires the collaboration of a futher agent. (Note the alternating consonants of “make the taker mad” and compare the similar structure used of infected reason in Sonnet 137.9-11, “Past cure I am, now Reason is past care, /And frantick madde with euer-more vnrest, / My thoughts and my discourse as mad mens are.”)

The “mad” of the octet’s conclusion is repeated at the start of the sestet in the inaccurate quarto printing, “Made In pursuit.” Lust in the pursuit of its object is reckless and blind to reason. It is uncontrolled “in possession so,” evoking the frenzy of dogs in the moment of capture and pointing to the frenzy of physical orgasm. “Had, hauing, and in quest, to haue,” is an example of the Latin figure, compressio: whether a past possession, or a present or future one, lust is “extreame,” immoderate and without right reason (a “quest” was used of dogs in a hunt). Lust is an ecstasy in the experiencing of it (“blisse in proofe”) and, having been experienced (“proud” = ‘prov’d’), turns to a “very woe.” (The quarto’s “and” should be amended to ‘a;’ the spelling of ‘prov’d’ as “proud” is common in the sequence, compare Sonnets 67.12 and 75.5.) Lust before its enactment is a blissful prospect (“a ioy proposed”) and in retrospect a mirage, the subject of phantasy and reliving. The couplet turns from definition to lament: “All this the world well knowes.” But no one will heed the lesson (“yet none knowes well”) to loathe or avoid (“shun”) the paradox: the “heauen that leads men to this hell.” The heaven is the paradise or garden of bliss that lust affords; the “hell” is both the torment that is its consequence and the female pudenda, Lear’s “waste,” about which he exclaims, “There’s hell.”


129.1. Lr. 4.6.124 ff.

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