Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sonnet 4

The fourth of the procreation Sonnets. Shakespeare’s approach has changed distinctly. Instead of pleading, begging, encouraging and imploring. It is now accusations, naming and shaming, ultimatums and cultivating  a considerable sense of guilt in the Fair Youth’s mind.

The first line immediately sets the tone, accusations and interrogation take centre stage in what seems to be the most emotive Sonnet thus far. One can also sense a degree of anger from the onset. It seems a lack of generosity has developed into wastefulness, “why dost thou spend,” a situation which the persona seems to simply loathe.

As if to diminish the worth of the Fair Youth, Line 3 makes clear that it is not by his own workings that he became what he is but just a gift of nature loaned to him for him to pass on to someone else. The pedestal which the Fair Youth had been on before is swept away by the call for humility as it is made clear that the Fair Youth is naught but Nature’s vessel. A worthy lesson to all that our talents are just but gifts which we gave or did nothing to get. We are to share with others as they were shared with us.

Line 4 augments the entire mood of the poem, through the words “ And being frank” which make clear the categorical nature of the poem. Where the sweet tongue seems to have failed, William Shakespeare seems to tell it as it is.

The first accusation comes in Line 5 a “ beauteous niggard” some may say a miser of his good looks to be interpreted in an entirely negative way. The Fair Youth’s selfish nature is made to look even more dastardly when he abuses what is meant to be shared. He is supposed to be a custodian “usurer” in the very least ensuring none of nature’s gifts go to waste and yet he is the one making sure all of nature’s efforts are in vain.

Line 9 serves to quantify  ( though actually in vain ) the gift of beauty nature has bestowed upon the Fair Youth. “Sum of sums,” seems to insinuate the greatest amount fathomable and to think that is just how much the Fair Youth is keen to keep for himself. He so easily passes for the most selfish individual ever.

Even in anger, confrontation or judgement, Shakespeare cannot bear to utter a negative against such beauty. Just as in the Sonnet before it continues to be, “ thy sweet self,” even as anger pervades the atmosphere. Is the beauty to be so religiously venerated? Or is it the ‘love’ Shakespeare has for the Fair Youth as it would be unwise to insult one’s lover.

Ironically for the Fair Youth, in a bid to out-fox the world and rob it of what is rightfully its own, he is in turn plundering from his own coffers by not bearing offspring. A legacy which might have sprouted, he unknowingly nips in the bud. A happiness which might have blossomed is hindered within. Or maybe the persona is attempting to fool us all ( the readers and the Fair Youth). Maybe there needn’t be offspring except if the persona is to gain from any such. But how?

The theme of death’s certainty is alluded to in Line 11 yet in not so much of a grim manner, rather a categorical one where death is not the actual point to note but rather what is left after death, an abyss where beauty once was. Shakespeare gives the Fair Youth an opportunity to offer justification, “ what acceptable audit canst thou leave?” though in the actual sense it may pass as a rhetorical question as there quite simply can be no justification for such selfishness.

The final couplet acts as a prediction of the end. The wasted beauty will be buried and wiped off the face of the earth forever with no successor to continue the cycle which nature intended.

Shakespeare’s use of financial diction sticks out in Sonnet 4 as if to allude that the Fair Youth would understand better . Or the Sonnet would have a greater general appeal with that sort of language.