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Physicality and Emotional Attachment in Shakespeare's Sonnet 46

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Physicality and Emotional Attachment in Shakespeare's Sonnet 46

In "Sonnet 46" of his works about the blond young man, William Shakespeare presents a unique view on the classic debate about physical lust versus emotional love. The poet struggles to decide if his feelings are based upon superficial desire and infatuation, represented by the "eye" (1), or true love independent of the physical world, symbolized by the "heart" (1). With a deft movement from violent imagery in the first two lines to the civilized language of law, Shakespeare dismisses the commonly accepted view of a battle between the eye and the heart. The diction of warfare denotes two very separate alien sides clashing in destructive confrontation.
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He even chooses to modify "war" (1) with the word "mortal" (1), signifying a conflict to the death with no possibility for reconciliation or pacification. But in the next line he contradicts himself. Though the poet continues to utilize martial imagery such as "conquest" (2), his choice of verbs subtly changes the meaning. "[D]ivide" (2) suggests that both parties in the conflict will receive some portion of the prize, an unlikely occurrence if the eye and heart are truly in "mortal war" (1). Shakespeare underscores this change in direction by substituting a trochee for the standard iamb as the initial foot of the line. Already, the poet is shifting focus away from the idea of warfare and onto the image of a courtroom.

The second quatrain completes that movement and establishes equality between the two sides. Words of violence are conspicuously absent from this point on in the poem, replaced by legal vocabulary, such as "plead" (5), "deny" (7), and "lies" (8). No longer bitter enemies, the eye and the heart become the plaintiff and the "defendant" (7) in a civil dispute over the possession of Shakespeare's love. The diction in this section of the poem also serves to contradict the traditional negative connotations of infatuation. Physical attraction is often portrayed as course or unclean, but Shakespeare disagrees. He describes eyes, the tangible representation
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