Themes and Variations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

By J B Leishman | Go to book overview

III
‘HYPERBOLE’ AND ‘RELIGIOUSNESS’ IN
SHAKESPEARE’S EXPRESSIONS OF
HIS LOVE

For the matters which I propose to discuss in this Third Part of my study I have been unable to discover any obviously correct order of procedure, and I fear it will be impossible to avoid some appearance of both repetition and digression. Consider, for example, some of Shakespeare’s sonnets written during absence from his friend. As I shall attempt to show, it is possible to distinguish in Classical and Renaissance poetry at least four varieties of, or variations upon, the general topic of ‘The Solitary Lover recalling the Beloved’. Two of these variations do not occur in Shakespeare’s sonnets, while the two that do occur do so in close association both with the peculiarly Shakespearean conception of the beloved as the archetype and pattern of all other beauty and also with a topic which, though characteristically Shakespearean and developed by Shakespeare with a fullness not to be found elsewhere, is not without certain parallels and analogues in Classical and Renaissance poetry: the topic, namely, of compensation, or, rather, a special variety of it which may be termed ‘the catalogue of uncompensating delights’, of delights, that is to say, which are no compensation for one that is withheld. And, again, the characteristic conception of the beloved as the archetype of all beauty is also a characteristic manifestation of that ‘religiousness’ (some might say ‘idolatrousness’) which distinguishes Shakespeare’s sonnets from most other love-poetry; and so too is the catalogue of uncompensating delights, for it is, after all, but the obverse and corollary of Shakespeare’s characteristic conception of love as a compensation for all the evils of life, for all his own deficiencies, and for all he has supposed lost. In a sense, therefore, it is not really possible for me to say what I think worth saying about even these sonnets written during absence except in relation to almost everything else that I propose to discuss, and without either anticipating something I have still to say or repeating

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