The Writing Styles of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser
From the words of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, it is clear that some similarities are apparent, however, the two poets encompass different writing styles, as well as different topics that relate to each other in their own unique way. William Shakespeare, known as the Bard of Avon, wrote a total of 154 sonnets. One of these sonnets is Sonnet 81 which is, because of the first line in a sonnet, usually called “Or I shall live your epitaph to make“. Edmund Spenser is called “the poet’s poet“ because of the very high quality of his poetry and because he enjoyed “the pure artistry of his craft“ so much. He is also called that because so many other poets thought that he was an extraordinary poet.
First thing I am going to write about in this essay is the vocabulary usage and the writing style. The way they write is very similar because Spenser was writing in an old-fashioned way by Shakespeare’s standards. In Sonnet 81 (lines 5-12), it is noticeable that the use of word “shall“ is extreme, underlining the fact that it is a sonnet that looks to the future, both to death and to immortality, the obsence of death. The word occurs five times in seven lines. The most noticeable vocabulary feature is the interplay between “I“ and “you“. This shows that the poet speaks directly to someone. There is almost no line in which the poet does not use these pronouns. It would be difficult to find out from the sonnet who is the person the poet speaks to but it is considered that it is a young man. Another sequence which strikes the eye of the mind is the alternation between life and death, and their respective trappings. This sequence gives-life, gone, die, grave, entombed, lie, monument, created, to be, being, breathers, dead. Only towards the end do the life-enhancing words begin to predominate. I do not believe that any poem is ever constructed solely on the principle of observing such patterns, but the unconscious mind probably helps to shape the underlying thought, and brings into play all the disperate elements. Anyway, there is so much to admire in the way Shakespeare handles language and imagery in this sonnet. E.g. rehearse and o’er-read do not simply suggest the idea of reading poetry, but of reciting it, as though in a play. Rehearse also buries a great pun on re-hearse, reminding us of the tomb and monument, which are mentioned in this sonnet (lines 5-12), and thus they carry an additional meaning of memorialising. Archaic, which is just a fancy word for old-fashioned, is the number one stylistic quality of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Love it or hate it, but Spenser was clearly up to something when he went seriously out of his way and out of his liguistic comfort zone. He wrote in a style that he thought sounded like the old middle ages style. While there is definitely no one answer for why Spenser would write this way, it’s clearly connected to Spenser’s interest in constructing a pre-history of Britain and transporting his readers to another, older world. His archaic style is why it’s a great idea to have an edition of The Faerie Queene with lots of footnotes.
Next thing I’m about to do is analyse these two quotations I was given. Your name from hence immortal life shall have, which means that from the time when the sonnet is written, the person’s name will get immortal life. This is the fisrt time that the poet talks about name, but the young man’s name has not been mentioned yet and it won’t be. Although the young man will die, because every single one of us has a future like that, his name will not be dead and it will not be forgotten. It is supremely ironic that the young man’s name is never mentioned, unless in some discrete way. The only immortality which acrues to anyone from the poems, is to the poet himself. We may ask ourselves how is it possible that his name will be immortal when a young man will no longer be alive. It is because the poet has the power and he knows how to make someone’s name immortal. So, it is obvious that Shakespeare connects two very powerful motifs: love and death. On the other hand, there is Spenser who uses the motif of love and if anything connects his otherwise massive, unwidely poem it is love. But the poem isn’t actually about real love at all. We never see characters form complex emotional relationships-they just see each other and decide to be in love. These two quotations differ one from the other also in tone. Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is not humorous but it has some silly moments: And her sowre breath abnominaly smeld… The reason why it’s not humurous is probably not because Spenser didin’t have a sense of humour. I would say that it is because he is writing in a tradition of epic poetry in which heroic actions were taken very seriously. However, the quotation that belongs to Sonnet 81 is not funny at all. It is a bit dark and scary because it predicts the future (even though we all know we are going to die one day). At one moment, the poet speaks about the time when both, him and his beloved person, will be dead and that time is also in future: Though I, once gone, to all the world must die/ The earth can yield me but a common grave… This means that he, the poet, will die and be forgotten by the world while the young man, by contrast, will be remembered. So, when the poet dies, he can be entombed in a common, ordinary grave, like every other person. The use of the earth, which is usually synonymous with the world, is here suggestive of humble burial in the earth, in a churchyard. The contrast is between that of the common grave which has no memorial, and that of the celebrated worthy whose memorial is his decorated tomb, his reputation, or poems written in his honour. On the contrary to his ordinary grave, the young man will be entonmbed in men’s eyes: When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie… Of course, the poet does not think about the body and where the body may lie, but about the memory of the young man. He will entomb him in men’s eyes which are connected with the present moment because if we see something (motif of the eyes), then we are sure that it is in front of us, and that it belongs to this very moment. The poet is sure no one will care about him being entombed in a grave, but on the other hand, he is as sure that the young man and the memory of him will live as long as people read this epitaph or sonnet. I would say that the poet probably thinks that better grave cannot exist than this one which he will provide for the young man. Each time when someone, far in the future, reads this sonnet, he will give the glory to this young man. There is no better monument than something what we can read.
In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 81 (lines 5-12) there is no evidence about young man’s appearance because the focus of the sonnet is on emotions and immortality. We don’t know what the person was like; the poet did not want us to know that. All that we know about the man Shakespeare is reffering to is that he is young and that he is a man in an elevated social position. Your monument shall be my gentle verse-perhaps it is gentle (mild) in contrast to the furious cruelty of time. This word, in days when Shakespeare wrote his sonnets, often had a similar meaning to the modern one, as the following example shows. But apart from that, there was a strong leaning to its original meaning of well born or belonging to a family of position in society, so gentle verse probably means that since only such would be fitting for a man who was important in society, such as that which the youth is implied to have. In Spenser’s The Faerie Queene appearances are tricky. There are many moments that connect romance and appearances but it’s hard to say if those moments are generally good or generally bad. Anyway, appearances seem to be a problem more associated with women than with men: her craftie head, her teeth, her sowre breath, her dried dugs… Edmund Spenser’s revolting description emotionally contrasts other poet’s glorifying descriptions of their lover’s appearances. It is obvious that Spenser was influenced by a society whose images of women and love were products of male imagination. Yet upon closer examination it becomes clear that Spenser seems to be struggling to portray women more honestly; to show the complex reality of a woman.
In quotations by Edmund Spenser, everything is about presence and appearance, as I already explained. It’s about things that can be seen with the eye, while on the other hand, Shakespeare’s quotation is all about future: Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,/ And tongues to be your being shall rehears/ When all the breathers of this world are dead… Eyes not yet created and tongues to be are future generations which are figuratively represented by the parts that are involved in reading and declaiming the verses, and the breathers, also figuratively described, are those who are alive now.
To conclude, Sonnet 81 shows us Shakespeare’s power; the power of a great poet to make anything immortal. Even though we cannot be sure that this sonnet is about Shakespeare’s love towards someone, it is definitely a sonnet dedicated to someone who was very important to him. More than once the poet stresses how unimportant he is, while the young man is the only object of admiration. As I showed above, the poet wanted to make the young man immortal-and he succeded. However, although Shakespeare approached himself in an insignificant matter (because the focuse was on the young man), he was undoubtedly wrong when he thought that his being will be forgotten. Not only this sonnet serves as a memory to a young man, but it also evokes the momory of Shakespeare himself. On the other hand, Spenser is more focused on physical appearance, presence and something that is visible than on future. Quotations from The Faerie Queene are full of allegory, combined with this serious and elevated style, but also a bit of silliness. They allow Spenser to investigate and describe in great detail (the head, breath, teeth, skin) the inner workings of concepts that we otherwise might take for granted. Personally, I think that these two poets are not very similar. What connects them is the archaic languge, but on the other hand, they don’t use it in same manner; Shakespeare creates a melancolic atmosphere, while Spenser creates a serious one with elements of humour.
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