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Sonnet 29 By William Shakespeare
Sonnet 29 also named as “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence. In the sonnet William Shakespeare creates a depressed and despairing speaker who serendipitously reflects upon the love of a close friend in order to prove to the reader that no matter how difficult life becomes, we can be content in the blessings of love.
Background of Sonnet 29
- Written to the Earl of Southampton (the Young man)
- This sonnet shows Shakespeare at his lowest point.
- He feels insecure, troubled, and jealous of the people around him
- No one knows what caused Shakespeare’s depressing times. However, Sonnet 29 reveals two traumatic events that may have impacted this sonnet.
The first event occurred in 1592 when the London theatres closed due to the outbreak of the plague. The closing of the playhouses made it hard for Shakespeare to earn a living. With this, it made him feel “in disgrace with fortune” (line 1).
The second event also occurred in 1592 when dramatist, Robert Greene, verbally attacked Shakespeare. He described Shakespeare as pompous, scheming, and vicious.
Shakespeare feels that he is out of luck and that the public sees him as an unfavorable person.
Shakespeare is implying that his “state” is a state of loneliness and is cast out from society.
Line 3 – 4
These lines are making an allusion to the book of Job found in the Old Testament of the Bible. Job was cast out and called to a God who did not listen. Shakespeare relates to this in that he felt useless.
Line 5 – 9
In lines 5-9, Shakespeare finds himself envying others. He feels that everyone has something that he lacks. For example, Shakespeare wishes he was wealthier, better looking, and popular.
Line 10 -12
In line 10, Shakespeare reflects on the effects that love has on his “state”. In line 11 he implies that he prefers the day rather than the night because he is much happier then. Line 12 talks about how there seems to be hope when he thinks of the young man.
Line 13 -14
In the final couplet, Shakespeare writes that he is better off than being wealthy and royal. The word “state” used in line 14 still exemplifies his emotional well-being like in lines 2 and 10. The love Shakespeare has for the young man is far more greater than the wealth of a king.
Sonnet 29 shows the poet at his most insecure and troubled situation. He feels unlucky, shamed, and fiercely jealous of those around him. What causes the poet’s anguish will remain a mystery. The speaker presents himself in a despicable state of mind, “an outcaste state”. Such a designation does not suggest a clear autobiographical narrative, it helps in focusing on the mood in which the outcast, lonely speaker seeks solace in remembrance of the love he experienced in the past. In the sonnet we must first note how the speaker of the sonnets is socially situated and that his relation to the addressee has both personal and worldly dimensions. The speaker feels alone and in disgrace, while desiring the “art” and “scope” of other men. In the opening nine lines, he desires worldly success and recognition of self-worth that seem to elude him.
In the first segment of self-exploration, the speaker deploys the emotive of pain almost as a kind of self-fashioning, describing his identity in expressions of scarcity, jealousy, and self-hate: “I . . . beweep my outcast state,” “curse my fate,” “trouble heav’n with . . . my bootless cries,” “myself almost despising.” The source of his suffering seems diffuse and all-encompassing, whereby “sadness” casts its shadow on desired pleasure; but suffering here also implies a religious, Christian connotation of the “sin of despair,” extending a metaphor between “material and spiritual well-being” From line 10 onwards, the speaker attempts to transform his wide-ranging feelings of despair by harnessing them to the remembrance of the “sweet love” of his friend.
Haply I think on thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love rememb’red such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Analysis of Sonnet 29
• Sequence: Sonnet 29 is part of the Fair Youth Sonnets
• Key Themes: Self-pity, self-hatred, love overcoming feelings of self-deprecation.
• Style: Sonnet 29 is written in iambic pentameter and follows the traditional sonnet form
• Rhyme Scheme: ababcdcdefef gg
The speaker is a middle-aged man who has recently been passed over for a promotion at work in a job that he does not particularly enjoy.
He is lamenting his station in life, his choices, and his possessions. As he looks around him, he sees so many men who have accomplished greater deeds and have accumulated more power and wealth.
The year is 1850. The time of year is November just after fall and before a long winter will set in. It is a foggy Friday evening. The hour is right before midnight.
He is his flat in the city of London, England.
The gentleman, feeling desperate and depressed expresses his feelings of disappointment almost to the point of self-loathing; however, he censures himself once he glances at a picture of a beloved friend and realizes his misplaced priorities.
In the first eight lines of the poem, the speaker grows increasingly despondent as he reflects upon his situation in life. He begins with a description of his state of “disgrace” and his laments of being “outcast” and “all alone.” His frustration builds as he complains that his laments are “bootless” and that “deaf heaven” will not respond to his urgings. This frustration grows to desperate self-loathing when the speaker lists his shortcomings until he reaches what seems to be his breaking point admitting he is “contented least” by what he would customarily enjoy the most. The volta occurs in line nine when the seemingly rock bottom speaker “haply” thinks on a loved one. Although the word “haply” literally means by chance, it sounds like the more pleasant word “happily” which suggests the mood is changing to a positive one. Now the speaker’s state is “arising” and “[singing] hymns” as he remembers the “wealth” of his “sweet love.” The now blissfully content speaker can look upon his “state” with contentment rather than the regret expressed in the first eight lines.
Alliteration / repetition
“Featured like him, like him with friends possessed.”
Aside from completing a line of iambic pentameter, Shakespeare repeats the words “like him, like him” in line 6 to emphasize the speaker’s obsession with what others have and what he lacks. In the middle of a list of shortcomings, the speaker reveals his insecurities by focusing on his greatest desires. These desires unfortunately are qualities and possessions the speaker may never have. He acknowledges that he is not “rich in
hope,” handsome, popular, talented, or wise, and these feelings of inadequacy lead him to despise himself. All he wants is to be “like him.” The key then is his inability to focus on what he does have. Once he is able to see the blessing “haply,” he no longer desires to have what others have, even kings.
Repetition of the word “state” In the sonnet, the word “state” can be seen in three separate contexts. In line 2, the speaker focuses on his state of being alienated from society or the world. With this revelation, we learn that he is disgraced and perhaps even destitute. In line 10, we see that with the thought of a loved one, the speaker’s “state” begins to change. This again would refer to a state of being; however, the reference is in direct contrast to the state described in the first eight lines of the sonnet. Finally, in line 14, the speaker reveals that he would not change his “state” with kings. This clever play on words helps the reader see that the speaker may be referring to an “estate” with riches and power or again a state of well being.
“…my state / Like to the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate,”
Traditionally, the lark is used to symbolize happiness, joy, or even a new day or new beginning. By comparing the speaker’s state to a “lark at break of arising from sullen earth, Shakespeare completes the transformation of this once depressed man to one who sees the blessing of love. This image is the only figurative language in the poem. All of the other details from his original state focus on what the speaker is lacking in life. Only when he thinks of his true love is he able to transcend the earthly priorities and expectations and find true contentment.
In his “Sonnet 29,” Shakespeare employs a traditional rhyme scheme for the English sonnet. The basic pattern has lines ending with masculine
rhyme, mostly single-syllable words. However, to frame the turn of the sonnet, he ends lines nine and eleven with the words “despising” and “arising.” The sudden switch to feminine rhyme places a natural emphasis on these words, words that encompass the change in the speaker’s attitude about himself and his “state.” At the height of his despair, the speaker is “despising” himself; however, with one thought of his loved one, his soul begins “arising” to a state of contentment.
Questions and Answers
Q. What is the message of Sonnet 29?
Ans. Major Themes in “Sonnet 29”: Anxiety, love, and jealousy are the major themes of this sonnet. The poet discusses his miserable plight and the impact of love. The poem also explains how love brings optimism and hope for people who feel lonely and oppressed. In short, sonnet 29 is also about self-motivation.
Q. What is the tone of Sonnet 29?
Ans. The tone of “Sonnet 29” shifts from depression to elation. The poem begins with sad remembrance and dejection, when the speaker is weeping. He bewails himself, and feels alone and dejected. There has to be a dramatic shift for him to be so excited by the end of the poem.
Q. What brings wealth to the Speaker of Sonnet 29?
Ans. From Shakespeare’s point of view according to Sonnet 29, the significance of love is that it can bring wealth and songs and hope.
Q. What type of poem is Sonnet 29?
Ans. Sonnet 29 is written in the typical Shakespearean sonnet form, having 14 lines of iambic pentameter ending in a rhymed couplet.
Q. Why is God not mentioned in Sonnet 29?
Ans. The speaker never says God’s name (and instead refers to “heaven”) in this sonnet because he’s angry. By the end of the sonnet, the speaker decides that the “sweet love” of a human being is more spiritually satisfying than a close relationship with God.
Q. What changes the speaker’s mood in Sonnet 29?
Ans. You could say that the speaker’s mood changes twice. In the early portion of the poem, the speaker spirals into a low and dark mood. In the early lines, he becomes depressed due to failure and shame (or what he perceives to be failure)
Q. What two moods are contrasted in Sonnet 29?
Ans. In Sonnet 29 by Shakespeare, two moods are contrasted: outcast and depressed with loving and hopeful.
Q. What does the first quatrain of Sonnet 29 mean?
Ans. In the first two quatrains, the speaker talks of how terrible his life is: his has bad luck and gets no respect (“When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes”); he is lonely and depressed (“I all alone I beweep my outcast state”); heaven won’t listen to him (“and trouble deaf heaven…”).
Answer the following Questions
1. Shakespeare has written ———- number of plays and ———- sonnets.
Ans. 37 plays (More than 30) and 154 sonnets
2. What is tragic flaw?
Ans. The fundamental tragic traitof the Shakespearean hero, his interest, passion or particular habit of mind that leads to his downfall.
3. Rhyme scheme of Shakespearean sonnet.
4. Two major types of sonnets.
Ans. Shakespearean or English sonnets and Petrarchan or Italian sonnets.
5. Figure of speech used in the line “Like to the lark at break of day”
6. Name any four tragedies written by Shakespeare.
Ans. King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello
Answer the following questions in a paragraph not exceeding 100 words.
1. Evaluate the poem as a sonnet
Ans: A sonnet is a poem consisting of 14 lines. Derived from the Italian word “sonnetto”, the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines. Sonnet 29 is one of 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare. It shows the poet as vulnerable and dismayed. He feels unlucky, shamed, and fiercely jealous of those around him but feels better upon thinking of his beloved. The reason for the poet’s anguish is still an enigma and there are doubts whether this sonnet is autobiographical. The sorrow quoted here might be more rhetorical than real, being part of the sonnet tradition, in which many misfortunes contrive to make the lover unhappy. It also serves to highlight the great joy which ends the poem, when he thinks once more on his beloved, as in the psalms, and rises above the clouds.
2. The word “state” occurs thrice in the poem. How does the meaning of this word change with each occurrence?
Ans: Shakespeare repeats the word “state’ playing on its ambiguity in meaning i.e “kingdom” and “situation”. In the second line “my outcaste state” means the poet is being shunned by the society .In 1592, the poets were jobless due to the closing down of the theatres after the outbreak of plague. Another reason for his outcaste state is his bitter rivalry with Robert Greene, a fellow playwright. In line 10, it is a little obvious that the “state” is used as pun because it does neatly anticipate the meaning of that final couplet, namely that the Bard’s humble but blessed state of being loved is wealthier than the “state with king” which stands for kingdom or nation.
3. This sonnet was composed in around 1592. If we assume that the speaker is poet himself, find out the possible reasons for the speaker to be out of favour with “Fortune and men’s eye.”
Ans: In 1592 there was a vehement attack on Shakespeare by dramatist Robert Greene, who, in A Groatsworth of Wit described him as “… an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers”. One can only imagine what grief this deathbed assault must have caused Shakespeare. Moreover, the poets were jobless as the London theatres were closed due to a severe outbreak of plague. The closing of the playhouses made it hard for Shakespeare and other actors of the day to earn a living. These were probably the reasons for the speaker to be out of favour with “Fortune and men’s eye.”
1. Comment on the theme of the poem.
Ans: Sonnet 29 is one of the sonnets of William Shakespeare’s Fair Youth sequence. It focuses on the speaker’s initial state of depression, hopelessness and unhappiness in life and the subsequent recovery through happier thoughts of love. It starts off with self-pity and negative impressions as the poet feels jealousy towards the more advantageous men in the world. He wants the life that they are living at the beginning of the sonnet. The poet has his own form of possessions, but they are not good enough for him. It becomes evident that the source of the speaker’s despondency is that he is not with a friend whom he loves. The bad mood is therefore driven by loneliness.
But then the speaker’s mood starts to change. This is brought on by thoughts of the man he loves. As to who Shakespeare was in love with is a moot point. He starts to feel happy and this then moves on to feelings of hope. Shakespeare is able to incorporate a small piece of personification into Sonnet 29 around lines 12-13. “From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;” meaning that personification is being applied to heaven by giving it the human quality of sound and allowing it alone to hear the poet’s cries of unhappiness with what he owns now. The conclusion of the speaker is that despite his feelings of loneliness because his friend is not around, just thinking of him makes him feel good again. He even goes as far as to say that he would not change anything in his life: “I scorn to change my state with kings” because he is richer than those “states”.
Sonnet 29 speaks to all those who have felt that they are worthless or overshadowed by others they deem to be superior but who can overcome dark feelings by thinking of someone they love, who loves them in return.
2. Describe the changes brought over the mind of the speaker by the “sweet memories”.
Ans. In Sonnet 29, the poet is full of self-accusation and inner turmoil. He is at the verge of an existential crisis and his self-loathing is even having an effect on Fortune. He feels cursed, destiny has been cruel to him. He spends time alone, delving deep in negative feelings and desiring for “this man’s art and that man’s scope.”
Historically it could have been an uncertain time for William Shakespeare. If this sonnet was written around 1592 then the playwright and poet may well have been feeling a bit down. The plague outbreak had caused all theatres to close down, so he would have been unable to perform his plays. Plus, a certain older rival, Robert Greene, had written an insulting deathbed notice, warning all playwrights to beware of the ‘upstart crow’ who had taken London and the theatre world by storm.
As negativity seeps into him, the Bard thinks of his beloved, and this alters his state.
He is filled with exuberance and, rather than wanting to cry to heaven he now sings hymns at heaven’s gate like the lark at the “break of day”. His beloved’s sweet memories bring a ‘wealth’ far greater than anything owned by a king. The former dark and nefarious world wanes away, life is refreshed and made to realise that “love” makes a man “richer” than all the gold that kings can own.