28 February 2001
Shakespeare‚s apostrophic „Sonnet 96,š one of the sonnets written to the blond young man, is arranged similar to a rebuttal in an argument or debate. In the first three quatrains, he describes several possibilities, such as the youth‚s winning nature and potential for mischief, only to refute them in the couplet. He begins with concise one-line points in the first quatrain, moves to a comparison utilizing the entire quatrain in the second, and transitions to two-line arguments in the final quatrain, evoking the idea of a logical, organized argument. Along with reason, however, are the romantic tones of the couplet, which refutes the statements made in the douzain. The conditional nature of the sonnet parallels the individual conditional statements made in the quatrains.
Shakespeare uses end-stopped lines in the first quatrain that mimic the brisk style of a debate or quarrel to establish the arguments for and against the blond young man. He explains, „Some say [his] fault is youthš (1), while others think that youth is his „graceš (2). The parallel structure of lines one and two deftly contrast the range of opinions on the subject‚s character. Along with youth, Shakespeare claims that some view „gentle sportš (2) as a grace as well, playing on the double meaning of „sportš as both „pleasant pastimeš and „amorous dalliance or intercourseš (OED). It appears that Shakespeare falls in this category, saying in line three that people of all stations and classes love the young man‚s graces and faults, because he „makest faults gracesš (4). Line four possesses a fault in being hypermetric, whichųlike the young man‚s faultsųcan be converted to a positive trait. By contracting „makestš to „mak‚st,š line four remains decasyllabic. Some editions use „mak‚st,š but the effect is lost, because the reader does not have to convert the flaw to charm, as the young man does.
The second quatrain adjusts from end-stopped lines to enjambed lines, with each idea occupying two lines, and the comparison of royalty‚s humble jewels to the young man‚s slight faults encompassing the entire quatrain. The quatrain becomes less like a simple argument and more like a well-developed line of reasoning as the ideas in the first and third lines spill over to the second and fourth. Shakespeare contrasts the concept that „[t]he basest jewel will be well esteem‚dš (6) by association on the hand of royalty as errors the young man commits are „[t]o truths translatedš (8). Although the technical pronunciation of „translatedš puts the stress on the second syllable, many people commonly stress the first syllable, which creates a trochee in the second foot of line eight. The change from iambic to trochaic emphasizes the change from error to truth in the opinion of those who know the blond young man.
The third quatrain differs again from the style of the second, shifting from enjambed lines two end-stopped lines. However, the end-stop is not as forceful as in the first quatrain, with each complete thought covering two lines, rather than one. As with the first quatrain, Shakespeare uses parallel structure to make his point apparent. He compares the full force of the young man‚s seductive powers to „lead awayš (11) his admirers and observers to the ability of a wolf disguised as a sheep to deceive the flock. Again, it can be argued that „translateš creates a trochee in the final foot of line ten to emphasize the change in appearance from a cunning wolf to an innocent sheep. Shakespeare comments on what the young man could do if he would „use the strength of all [his] stateš (12), implying both his looks and his noble position. The conditional statements demonstrate the subject‚s potential for misdoings, and seem almost to encourage it.
After the first three quatrains explaining the ability of the young man‚s ability to be loved for his faults and make his sins seem right, Shakespeare counsels him in the couplet to restrain himself. The poet explains that because he has such love and affection for the youth, their reputations are connected; therefore the „good reportš (14) of the young man is Shakespeare‚s as well. It is possible that an error occurred during publishing, because the feelings of the couplet seem so contradictory to the remainder of the sonnet, as well as the fact that the rhyme of the couplet returns to the b rhyme of the first quatrain. Perhaps this implies that Shakespeare is among the people who „say [his] grace is youth and gentle sportš (2). However, the amorous connotation of „sportš in line two fits well with the romantic couplet, which serves as a rejection of the suggestions of the rest of the sonnet, and instead seems to suggest that the young man be content to restrain himself for the love of the poet.
The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989. 26 Feb. 2001. http://www.asu.edu/lib/resources/db/oed.htm
Shakespeare, William. „Sonnet 96.š The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 2000. 1: 1031-32.