Essay: Analysis of Sonnet 95
Length: 1294 words (3.7 double-spaced pages)
Analysis of Sonnet 95
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
Oh, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise.
Naming thy name , blesses an ill report.
Oh what a mansion have those vices got
Which for thy habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty's veil doth cover every blot
And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
Take heed, dear heart, of this large privelege:
The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.
First of all, spot can mean two things: 'to discover' and also 'to stain'; therefore, the shame that "you" make can both (at the same time) point out the beauty of your name, that is possibly increasing in popularity; also 'to stain' the beauty of "your" name. Knowing this, we must read the poem twice, one for each possible reading (also notice the floral theme in the first stanza as well). Since he describeds "name" as budding, (and the fragrance of a rose as sweet), "in what sweets" can refer to the "name", and then of course, the person themself. Now, question: [first the analogy of canker being the sins; thus, as the canker destroys the rose, this person's sins destroy his name (and remember! only "name" at this point)] which one?
"Naming thy name": naming from the stories that have been told about this person, such as rumors. (For instance, not too far from this example, somebody you have never met, but the name is known by you, is regarded as a whore. Whether this rumor is true or not, this idea will be attached to the person who has this name. Same idea here). Line 8, depending on punctuation, can be read one of two ways (more duality!): if there is not punctuation, only a period, then "blesses" is a verb, "naming" is the action of the tongue; therefore, we can read "Naming thy name blesses and ill report" as 'the tongue that names you (rumors, or puts a background to this "name") gives blessings to "an ill report"; (of course, the comments of dispraise against your name).
Now, if we read it with "name, blesses", both verbs, "naming" and "blesses" become nouns. How, might you ask, can we have two clauses without a verb? well, there is an implied 'to be' acting as the verb, such as the 'understood you' we all learned back in grade school in imperative (eg. [you] Don't smoke.) If we retrace our studies back, or rather foward (in the course of time), we see this in Keats's "Ode to a Grecian Urn". In the fifth stanze we read "Beauty is truth; truth beauty, that is all / ye know on earth and all ye need to know". Part of the understanding of "Ode" is that truth IS beauty. The same in Shakespeare. (Now, I'm not going to go into a discussion of the similiarities between Shakespeare and Keats, but know they exist). Therefore, the act of naming IS "thy name" and blesses (though presently we would say 'blessings') are an ill report. Wow! So there could be MORE ambiguity? How we love Shakespeare.
And oh! what a mansion indeed! Yes, (I know) what possibly could this "mansion" symbolize. Certainly something. It could be the addressee's actual house, but...probably not. We've come to expect a little more creativity from Shakespeare than this simplicity. I concur with you on the mansion being the body, and quite a compliment to somebody, too. These sins of adultry, as we might believe, come from the advantage of having a good body. We know this to be true of present day society--we all know that good-looking somebody who has multiple sexual partners, guy or girl. We also may view "mansion" as the housing of these sins in the way we call our 'memory' the house of our past experiences. Viewing it this way, we know Shakespeare believes this person must have a vast store of sins/vices. A deeper insight to the house is it, as in dreams (and this is more far-off, myself believing Shakespeare could have meant three different meanings for "mansion"), the house represents everything about the person--a room for everything about oneself. [Mansions of the Mind; catchy, huh?] We then could suppose that Shakespeare finds a fault or vice in many different areas of this person's psyche. Not buying it? Well, here's even one more possibility, although quite weak (one must rule out all possibilities, even if they may not occur). "Chose out" equals 'pick out' or simply 'chose'. If we read it as a phrasal verb--to choose out--then we read this line as 'The sins chose you for their house'. If we read it as only 'to choose', a different meaning arises--possibly appealing to a base vernacular ("mansion" here would make a FOURTH meaning--the house of the vices, not necessarily inside the addressee!) as "out" equalling 'from'. (I think I always read too deep into Shakespeare, but remember--expose all possibilities or expect possible failure!; thus reading, 'those vices of yours have a very big mansion for their house that they took from you.' (I know this last one's not so clear, or perhaps completely off-base, but I believe in my philosophy. So, 'to choose' of 'to choose out'...you choose). 11-12: These sins and vices could perhaps make this person seem unattractive, but "beauty's veil" has covered the house of vices, "blot" seemingly familiar to the way "spot" is 'stain', and also covering "all things". We know that "turns" is the predicate of "beauty's veil" because of the conjugation (the plural "things" would take 'turn'). "To fair" is presented quite ambiguously, possibly having 3 meanings, one of which having "fair" as an adjective, such as 'from harsh to fair'. Another reading would suggest that it is an unrealy infinitive, "to fair" not being an actual verb, but the reader has an idea that it means if needed. My favorit is reading "to " aurally to render the sould of 'too' as well: "where beauty's veil turns [too] fair, [this] that eyes can see!" which, to me, makes the punctuation more biting, as to say 'beauty has overdone you, man, everybody know it's TOO good to be true!'
The couplet here offers a proverbial closing, and again we still find dual meanings. "Large privelege" for example, refers to both the ability to hide his adulterous sins by beauty and also back to the "mansion", having a built body is a privelege indeed. Now, here's a question: does "dear heart" refer to the addressee's heart or to Shakespeare's? Good question. I like to prefer the latter--and why wouldn't I? Shakespeare loves to twist the entire sonnet with the couplet and this one is fantastic having the possibility, and believability, of being both! If you read directed toward the person, then the preoverbial statement is for him stating his good looks may catch up with him later, so be careful (or even 'do as much as you can as quick as you can, while it lasts!') But if to himself, Shakespeare may be saying he himself better be careful. He knows this person's faults, but still the beauty could attract him beyond his own control and thus be a man full of vices and sins himself. I prefer to read the latter because of the insight, and twist, but both are perfectly acceptable. You choose one, both, or another you may think exists, hidden somewhere else between the lines of thought.