William Shakespear and the Fair Youth: theme and relations in Sonnet 35

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 35 we delve deeply into Shakespeare’s thoughts, emotions and frustrations with his lover, the young man (the Fair Youth), which was brought about by an apparent betrayal through infidelity. Within this sonnet and those preceding it, we see the progression of a theme, which had begun in Sonnet 33, and then elaborated on in Sonnet 24, that alludes to the young man’s “treachery” and “betrayal” of Shakespeare. While reading this Sonnet, it is obvious that Shakespeare underwent an apparent internal dispute within himself regarding his feelings on the “fair youth’s” affair with another woman or man. It is imperative to note the duality of tone in this poem. One one side, Shakespeare is forgiving towards the fair youth because he loves him too much to continue resenting him, and is almost convincing himself that his behaviors are excusable. But on the other hand, Shakespeare is painfully aware that in justifying the actions of his beloved youth, he too is offending himself because such actions are usually disrespectful to the person who remained dutifully loyal.

In Sonnet 35, Shakespeare acts as both the defender of his fair youth’s disloyalty and the defendant that is guilty in the sense that he too is at fault for the Fair Youth’s “crimes”. Addressing his lover directly in this poem, Shakespeare begins by telling the Fair Youth that he does not have to feel bad about what he’s done any more. Because of Shakespeare’s profound love and faith in the Fair Youth, any wrongdoing could be forgiven, and every sin could be forgotten. Sonnet 35 opens by describing parallel objects that in a way could be compared to the Fair Youth. These objects, although beautiful, contain some sort of imperfection. For example, “roses have thorns”, “silver fountains have mud”, “clouds and eclipses conceal the light of the moon and sun”, and “cankers” are found in even the most beautiful buds.” If all these beautiful things have such imperfections, then surely even someone like the Fair Youth is allowed to have flaws. The poet therefore absolves the young man and goes so far as to defend the youth’s betrayal. This idea that nothing and no one is perfect becomes Shakespeare’s primary argument for the Fair Youth in a case against himself. It is almost as if this first stanza is Shakespeare’s defense for the accused in court. But then we see a sudden transition in tone from one of justification and vindication to one of bitter hurt and self blame.

With the next several lines, Shakespeare undoubtedly acknowledges that even he personally must take responsibility for this “infidelity” and that some of the blame belongs to him. Even his comparison of the Fair Youth’s sin to such beautiful images from nature is one example of allowing misconduct which in turn can enable the culprit’s bad behavior. Furthermore, Shakespeare continues on to allude to his own misgivings by stating ‘Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss’ which could possible be him referencing past poetry from a line in the previous Sonnet 34, that explained to the Fair Youth that ‘For no man well of such a salve can speak’. Shakespeare’s thoughts on love can be messy and the result for him personally is like an internal ‘civil war’ in which Shakespeare is warring within himself, torn apart emotionally. In the second stanza, Shakespeare makes the argument all more personal by stating that even he has faults and describes himself as an “accessary,” to his own betrayal by using poetry to defend the fair lord. Shakespeare continues on to say, “ Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss, Excusing these sins more than these sins are.” Even Shakespeare admits he knows that he is corrupting the Fair Youth as well, and excuses his “sins” out of love. As a prosecutor, he brings reason to his beloved’s “sensual” fault but simultaneously is, “Authórizing thy trespass with compare…”. Once again, I interpret this as Shakespeare tolerating intolerable behaviors. Shakespeare is clearly arguing within himself.

In the final verses, the narrator states that he is an accessory to the Fair Youth’s unlawful deeds which, by definition according to Shakespeare’s logic, also makes him an accessory to his own hurt and pain, because he enabled and allowed his love to hurt him so. “That sweet thief”, the Fair Youth, robbed Shakespeare of the proper love and companionship we think he deserved but at the same time, Shakespeare allowed him to do so. Although this relationship is toxic and both sides are behaving inexcusably, it would appear that love has won this particular war. In Sonnet 35, Shakespeare realizes his own contribution to the youth’s wrongdoing in the excuses that he has made for the youth over time. What is most striking in Sonnet 35 is not that Shakespeare forgives the youth but that he actually blames himself for the youth’s betrayal more than he does the young man, and that he finds himself guilty. It is also important to note that I do sense that Shakespeare knows that justifying and tolerating the Youth’s actions is wrong and blaming himself even more so because in the end he says “To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.” Using the terms “sourly robs”, it seems as though Shakespeare knows exactly the extent of the situation and that betrayal is not something that is permissible. If he did not think that he would have chosen another phrase such as “sweetly grants” or “pleasantly took”. The word choice here was deliberate and meant to bring attention to the fact that even though Shakespeare wrongfully allows this behavior, even while he knows that it is deplorable. The narrator’s resolve began as weakening towards his beloved and is even turned in to making excuses for his beloved’s action but we see a flip flop in tone all throughout sonnet 35 and even the poems preceding it. We can see that Shakespeare became immersed in an internal battle of self conflict through his contrasting thoughts on how love, although it has an appealing and beautiful side, also has a toxic and harmful side as well. By stating, “Such civil war is in my love and hate”, suggests the complexity of emotions felt by the man who was hurt deeply by love, yet completely powerless in the face of it.

The appeal of this poem lies in the fact that Shakespeare makes himself very vulnerable throughout the text but, at the same time, it is incredibly frustrating that Shakespeare’s blinding love tolerates the Youth’s poor actions. Shakespeare’s only two responses to this behavior is that (1) No one and nothing is perfect, so a few mistakes are permissible, and (2) the blame is partly his (Shakespeare’s) which confuses me. Part of him hates the Fair Youth for his transgression (whether it was actual physical cheating with another or just desiring someone else), and part of him feels the need to defend the young man because he is so infatuated with him. What he says of his innermost turmoil and internal conflict is something that many people undergo when it comes to love. How many times have we been hurt or betrayed by the ones we love? And how many times have we tried to justify our significant others’ actions and allow intolerable behaviors because of that love?

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