Monday, 22 August 2016

Sonnet 20

Is the Fair Youth male or female? Describing a man as a woman or woman as a man? If ever there as a mind boggling maybe even bizarre Sonnet yet, this is the one. The one sure case is whatever sort of love or relationship this is, it isn't sexual or superficial depending on how literally, figuratively or connotatively one wants to interpret the final line of the Sonnet.
The opening phrase, "A woman's face," immediately prompts the reader to make a mental image of what is to come ( an endearing description of the Fair Youth) based mostly on the attractive features of a woman. Also loaded in this phrase is the allusion that the Fair Youth is a man even though that is open for debate later on in the Sonnet. Shakespeare also then calls on the connotations of natural elegance in this first line by asserting that the subject of his Sonnet is nature own fabrication. The same nature he willed Time to ravage in Sonnet 19.
Line two oozes with metaphoric significance as it shrouds this and possibly every other Sonnet in mystery. This seems to be the one point where one could be able to conclusively establish the gender of the Fair Youth and yet the juxtaposition of "master-mistress" serves only to incite more debate and extensively conflicting theories. On the face of it, it seems as if the persona is trying to establish doubt and confusion in the reader as the Youth is both master and mistress. Biologically impossible, so one is forced to conclude that maybe on an entirely emotional or psychological level, Shakespeare seeks to think of the Fair Youth as possessing female and male inclined characteristics or possibly mannerisms concurrently. A concept which may seem complex and rare yet is very much a common and pivotal part of our daily lives.
The afore-mentioned theory is all but confirmed in lines 3,4 and 5 as the Youth is said to have the heart of a woman but not as fleeting as the typical lady's heart is. Entwined in this fairly obvious dig at the love of women is the emergence of the fact that Shakespeare has seen the need for a particular gentleness only a woman can provide and has adorned the Fair Youth with it (the Fair Youth he has shown to us. A picture seeming a bit too good to be true). The continued 'trolling' of women and their behaviour in love or when feigning love, " is false woman's fashion...less false in rolling," hints at an inbred misogyny, possibly explaining such a strong love for another man or a moment of great emotional torture at the hands of some lady. If the latter is to be considered as the true source of this critical nature, this 'love', these Sonnets would then be the result or culmination of some sort of catharsis. Surely a 154 Sonnet catharsis is as good as any.
Greek mythology makes a bit of an appearance as the Youth's gaze apparently has in a literal sense, the Midas Touch, "Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth." Undoubtedly, the various abilities of the Greek Gods were pretty impressive but none had any quite as awe-inspiring as a 'magical gaze'; Shakespeare's Youth has that and to be placed on a higher level than the likes of Zeus, Athena, Apollo and Artemis  is quite something, something incredible, something beyond the realms of reality. Is this Youth some sort of god?
As has already been mentioned, the ending of the third quatrain stresses that Shakespeare has no sexual thoughts or plans when it comes to the Fair Youth as he implies that Nature's adorning him with male genitals was of no use to him; needless to say what he would have preferred to have instead. Unless of course he meant to make use of only the Fair Youth's posterior but that's an analysis for another day.

The final couplet seems to point to Shakespeare's knowledge and approval of an open relationship. He gets the love and the ladies get the Youth's body. How could he be willing to share something he adores so much, something so valuable, so rare. Does he not fear it will be marred? Apparently no, simply inexplicable.