Genre-Based Perspective of Poem Analysis
Genre is one of the decisive factors in literature since it predetermines the use of structural, content-related, character-based, and thematic decisions. In this regard, the genre of the sonnet implies the adherence to strict structural rules that allow for the logical development of the message delivered by the poets. Following the conventional traditions of the sonnet, the authors create meticulously crafted poetry that aligns with the structure to develop classic themes. In this paper, Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18, entitled “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day,” is analyzed. The use of genre-related thematic principles in Shakespeare’s sonnet will be compared to Christina Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio.” Although Shakespeare wrote at the beginning of the 17th century, Rossetti created her sonnet in the middle of the 19th century. Although the two works were created in different periods of literary history, they resemble the same thematic features of the genre. This comparative essay will focus on how the two poets used the opportunities provided by the genre of the sonnet to deliver the themes of beauty, love, and obsession with the beloved.
Genre-Specific Structural Analysis Concerning Theme Development
The focus of this comparative work is on the unfolding of the traditional sonnet themes of love, beauty, and affection. However, illustrating how poets are capable of shaping this theme in their texts necessitates referring to structural particularities contributing to thematic rendition. Structurally, Shakespeare’s sonnet complies with the conventional rules for all types of the sonnet, including the English and Petrarchan ones. Indeed, the 14-line structure is universally used, which is demonstrated through the structure of both Shakespeare’s and Rossetti’s poems. However, the English sonnet structure followed by Shakespeare implies dividing the poem into three quatrains and one two-line stanza, which is different from the Petrarchan sonnet principles followed by Rossetti. Indeed, Rossetti’s sonnet is structured in a manner of two quatrains (the first eight lines) and a six-line stanza closing the poem.
Following such structural differences, the distinction in rhyming is observed. The rhyming scheme used by Shakespeare allows for emphasizing the last two-line stanza from the previous four lines of the six-line stanza. Indeed, AB AB, CD CD, EF EF, GG rhyming that Shakespeare uses in his sonnet distinguishes the complexity of the structure in its multiple stages of meaning development. As for Rossetti’s sonnet’s rhyming scheme, it might be illustrated as ABBA ABBA CDC CDC. Although such a difference in rhyming influences the display of the concluding points of sonnets’ themes, the overall subdivision into the opening 8-line stanza and the closing 6-line stanza is evident in both examples. Indeed, the first part allows for conveying the inquiry (Shakespeare) or visual description (Rossetti), and the second part provides a response (Shakespeare) or feelings (Rossetti). The feelings of love are introduced in the octave and reinforced or justified in the sestet. Thus, the genre-specific structural framework used by both poets helps the authors build their arguments by logically developing the themes of love, beauty, and affection.
The Use of Genre-Specific Themes of Love, Beauty, and Affection
Comparison of the character’s beloved with natural forces is an omnipresent feature of sonnets. In Shakespeare’s poem, the fundamental element of the expression of affection is the resemblance of the feelings toward the beloved and her appearance in nature. More specifically, these features are compared to the summer season due to its colors, freshness, and vibrant beauty. Shakespeare repeatedly refers to nature in his sonnet to emphasize the tenderness of her features that resemble the weather, the wind, and the warmth.
Indeed, this characteristic is apparent in both of the compared sonnets. For example, both poets refer to summer as the ultimate natural force resembling beauty and happiness. In “In an Artist’s Studio,” the protagonist’s beloved woman is described as “a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens” (Rossetti par. 1). Similarly, the very first line of Shakespeare’s sonnet presents the narrator’s question, “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Shakespeare par. 1). Both authors use the extremes of nature as the validation of the supreme manifestation of the beauty of the beloved women in both sonnets. Rossetti compares the girl’s character and appearance with the words “fair as the moon and joyful as the light” (par. 1). Similarly, Shakespeare states that “thou art more lovely and more temperate” than a perfect summer day (par. 1). Thus, the connections between nature and beauty are present in both examples of the sonnet, which demonstrates the adherence to the traditions of the genre expressed by Shakespeare and Rossetti.
The theme of love is rendered through the reference to the perfection of the beloved woman in Shakespeare’s sonnet, which is also apparent in Rossetti’s poem. Shakespeare emphasizes the perfection of his beloved by arguing that even the best features of nature are not perfect enough to be compared to her. Indeed, he states that summer might be “sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines” and “every fair from fair sometime declines,” while her “eternal summer shall not fade” (Shakespeare par. 1). Similarly, Rossetti states that “that mirror gave back all her loveliness, a queen in opal or ruby dress” (par. 1). The feelings of love are emphasized by the reference to the perfection of the women based on the perception of the characters.
Such elevation of the figures of the loved women in both sonnets demonstrates the worshiping of beauty and virtue. Indeed, the reason why the protagonist in “In an Artist’s Studio” so much cherishes the woman is “not as she is, but as she fills his dream” (Rossetti par. 1). This element is similarly displayed in Shakespeare’s sonnet, where the narrator states that “so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (par. 1). These lines justify the feelings of love as the ones that allow a person to live and continue dreaming.
Importantly, Shakespeare and Rossetti refer to eternity and holiness as the metaphorical resemblance of their affection toward the beloved. Indeed, “Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade, when in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st” are the lines from “Shal I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” (Shakespeare par. 1). Here, the poet hyperbolizes by extending the love and beauty to eternity. Similarly, Rossetti refers to the holiness of the loved girl by stating the following, “a saint, an angel — every canvas means The same one meaning, neither more nor less” (par. 1). Thus, the themes of love and affection are vividly unfolded through the use of metaphors and hyperbolization, which is characteristic of traditions of the sonnet as a genre.
In summation, the presented comparative essay allowed for exemplifying how Shakespeare and Rossetti mastered the genre of a sonnet in their rendition of the theme of love, beauty, and nature. They both used the structural frameworks of a sonnet and referred to the ultimate beauty of nature, perfection, eternity, and holiness to emphasize the expression of love and admiration. Thus, regardless of being created in different historical periods, both of the compared sonnets share the same thematic features allowing the poets to deliver strong messages about the power of love.
Rossetti, Christina. “In an Artist’s Studio.” Poetry Foundation.
Shakespeare, William. “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” Poets.