Collateral Beauty In The Poems Of Surrey And Shakespeare

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

We can read in William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost that “Beauty is bought by the judgement of the eye”. It is not something that we, as a society, could properly define or fully comprehend, due to it being a subjective experience. Something will be beautiful as long as we can find beauty in it, no matter what others will think. E. F. Carritt states in an article describing our perceiving of true beauty, “Pure delight in a sunset or a symphony and our value for such experiences are unimpaired by the discovery that other people find no beauty in them or by the admission that there may be no objective beauty in them at all”. Furthermore, it is written in Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, which strengthens the idea that beauty cannot be grasped, “We have lost the abstract sense of beauty”. It does not exist physically because, as individuals, we will see beauty and think of it in different ways. Just like Shakespeare in Sonnet 54 or Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in The Frailty and Hurtfulness of Beauty express different views about it.

Shakespeare says that beauty can be more than just an outward appearance because truth and inner qualities are what give it the essence. In the first two lines of the sonnet, Shakespeare writes, ‘O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,/By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!”, that is, an already beautiful thing can be even more beautiful when accompanied by honesty and truth. On the other hand, Surrey, as foreshadowed in the title, wants to convince us that beauty is frail and hurtful. Reading further into the sonnet we can see how he considers the transitory nature of beauty and its illusive and deceiving temperament.

Shakespeare’s sonnet can be divided into three quatrains and a final couplet, which he uses to talk about two flowers: the fragrant rose in the first quatrain and the canker-bloom in the second. In the first quatrain, after declaring that beauty can be made more beautiful, Shakespeare reinforces this with an example in lines three and four of sweet roses. He expresses that roses can be inherently beautiful but we deem them even more so because of their sweet scent. In contrast, though the canker-blooms or wild roses “have full as deep a dye as the perfumed tincture of the roses”, they lack the scent that give roses the increased beauty. He continues his comparison between the two roses in the third quatrain. The canker-blooms’ beauty is in their appearance, “…for their virtue only is their show,” and so, not having inner beauty, they “die to themselves” because nobody loves them. However, the roses’ fragrance give it extra necessity and value as we can extract their beauty by making rosewater and perfumes, giving their perceived beauty prolonged life. In the final couplet we can see the sonnet’s message, that is, just like fragrant roses live after death, the beauty in Shakespeare’s words will never fade. This idea coexists with that of outward beauty passing away after youth, while also being commonly explored through literature. As it was said in Dorian Gray “When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it…”. But Shakespeare distills what remained, the truth, the inner beauty, and makes them immortal in his poetry; just as John Keats says in his poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Surrey’s poem, like Shakespeare’s sonnet, can also be divided into three quatrains and a couplet, though he doesn’t utilise these sections like Shakespeare does. There are no separable quatrains or themes and he keeps the illustration of beauty as evil and deceitful throughout the poem. Surrey starts the poem with an example of alliteration, which appears in almost every line afterwards. By doing this, Surrey sets the image of beauty’s weakness in the opening words, “brittle beauty”. It was made so frail by nature, so nature, which is changeable, affects beauty and makes beauty changeable in turn. The end of the second line “…short the season;” also hints that beauty, similar to seasons, is short and will inevitably come to an end. It is a transitory state, “flow’ring today, tomorrow apt to fail”. Moreover, in the seventh line with a simile, Surrey uses a moving image and the suggestion of onomatopoeia to show how temporary beauty is, “Slipper in sliding, as is an eel’s tail”.

From the fifth line Surrey starts to enumerate the negative attributions of beauty. It is “dangerous to deal with”, “vain”, and “costly in keeping”. We can see the costly nature of beauty explored in films and books – again referring back to Dorian Gray, who sells his own soul to keep his beauty; or the Evil Queen from Snow White, who is ready to kill in order to be the most beautiful in the land; or Mother Gothel from Tangled, who steals a baby to keep her youth and beauty. Surrey also writes, using an oxymoron, that it is “bitter sweet”. It can seem wonderful but it does not last forever and will eventually disappear. This again refers to the link between beauty’s transitory state and the concurring variability of the seasons.

In the final couplet Surrey further expresses his view on beauty’s impermanence with a closing example comparing beauty to fruit, “Thou farest as fruit that with the frost is taken,/Today ready ripe, tomorrow all to-shaken”. It is fair like fruit but, once frozen by the seasonal shift, is spoiled. This relates to the last line where there is another contrast between today and tomorrow with Surrey once again musing on beauty’s temporary state – something can be beautiful today, yet damaged tomorrow.

While Shakespeare and Surrey agree the effect time has on beauty, they both have different outlooks on the state of beauty. While Shakespeare finds beauty in the truthful interior, Surrey sees only the negative side of it, judging it for its transitoriness. These pieces are classic reflections on society’s perception and understanding of beauty, Shakespeare with an optimistic attitude and Surrey with heavy pessimism. Shakespeare and Surrey help lead us to discovering the subjectivity of beauty and the idea that the conception of beauty is something that will continually allude our understanding.

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