Essay Example on Sonnet XX: A Young Man's Dual Nature and Character

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1632 Words
Date:  2023-04-24

William Shakespeare's sonnet xx is one of his most famous poems after sonnet 18. This sensual sonnet talks of a young man that is dealing with his dual nature and character in the sense that he becomes both the master and the mistress of the poet's passion. However, the quality of the young man presents a problem for the poet considering the muscular and feminine nature of the young man. The problem encountered is that of description, considering the young man possesses the gentle quality and physical attractiveness of a woman at the same time, he bears the masculine attributes of a man. Besides, the young man in the poem lacks the coquettish and pretentious nature of a woman- which can be seen as a misogynistic view on women. "A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted With shifting change as is false women's fashion" (Shakespeare, Line3-4).

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The dual nature of the young man, as portrayed by Shakespeare, highlights the challenge of the youth for the poet. As a man that possesses the qualities of a man, the youth is designed to be partnered by a woman; however, he attracts men as much as he attracts women. "A man in hue, all 'hues' in his controlling, much steals men's eyes and women's souls' amazement" (Shakespeare 7-8). Shakespeare's main interest in this poem is in discovering the nature of their relationship; regardless of acknowledging a physical attraction towards the youth, he does not entertain the possibility of the consummation of this attraction. The powerful emotions that Shakespeare expresses in the sonnet are indicative of deep love. Shakespeare's sonnet is seen to have some striking similarities to Marlowe's poem, Hero and Leander. "For his looks were all that men desire" (Marlowe 1598).

Sonnet xx, of all sonnets, is provocative in a way that it stirs controversy among critics who tend to read sonnets autobiographically. The sonnet has instigated heated debate among critics, many of whom believe that it is a poetic admission of Shakespeare's homosexuality. The main concern in this poem is not about the possibility of what could have happened; rather, it is more concerned with the feelings of the poet. Shakespeare uses ambiguity to characterize his feelings but not the language used, he does not want to possess the youth physically, and he does not show that he would be tempted.

The language and tone in Shakespeare's sonnet 20 is used to signify a range of human sensual emotions and conditions that tend to be timeless of different eras. Through Sonnet xx, Shakespeare explores the boundaries that exist between male and female sexuality. Sonnet 20 intensely highlights the dual nature of the character of the youth in question. The sonnet countersigns gender categories while at the same time presenting a hermaphroditic young man. In this sonnet, Shakespeare carefully uses puns that apply to both the male and female or both sexualities at the same time, which are all suitable in praising the youth who possesses both characters (Kolin, 10)

The tone of the sonnet is set off by a mesmerizing description of a beautiful young man that he loves making the tone of the sonnet predominantly complex and intimate. In sonnet 20, the poet uses varying tones in the lines to express the intimate and passionate feeling that he harbors towards the youth while at the same time, his view of the female gender. Generally, the sonnet clearly shows that the poet is in awe of the youth he is describing, an admiring tone is prevalent in the poem from the first line of the poem. "A woman's face, colored by nature's hand" (Shakespeare, line 1). His detailed description of the youth is nothing short of a deep passion and admiration for the young man. Besides, Shakespeare does not hide the intimate feeling that he harbors for the youth through the way he addresses him in the poem. Inline two of the sonnet, the poet says, "Hast thou master- mistress of my passion." Reading through the sonnet an intimate tone becomes apparent to the reader that the poet is intimately describing the attributes of a young man that has a certain feminine appeal that appeals to both genders. It is easy for the reader to interpret that the sonnet expresses the homoerotic interest of the poet directly to the real or imagined young man being described.

However, the poet is evasive in his description and desires of the young man; through ambiguity, the poets masks his feelings for the youth but not his language. The poet does not clearly state his intent of physically possessing the young man. It becomes apparent that the poem is based on a spiritual kind of love rather than lust. Regardless of the conventional interpretation by critics regarding sexuality in the sonnet over time, the poet makes it clear that even if a possibility existed, he would never be tempted.

Sonnet 20 presents the reader with a considerable number of themes that the poet addresses several issues that have prompted varying analyses of the poem. The most prominent theme in the sonnet is the exploration of the boundaries between male and female sexuality. Shakespeare presents a young man that possesses the attractive attributes that a considered feminine the masculine. The fair youth somehow has a combination of the male and female sexual attributes that Shakespeare profoundly admires. Individual vs. the society. Oscar Wilde, in his short story, "The Portrait of Mr. W.H," attempts to describe the puns used throughout the sonnet, especially line seven "A man in hue, all hues in his controlling. Wilde tries to break these puns in an attempt to decode who the mysterious young man is. The theme of sexuality in the sonnet opens it for multiple interpretations, Kolin C. interprets the first lines of the sonnet as those written by a homosexual poet.

Another theme that is apparent in the sonnet is the dilemma between society and the individual. Going by the general interpretation of the sonnet, it is clear that the poet has powerful and deep feelings for the young man. However, the period in which the sonnet was written was one that was not tolerant of homosexuality. Therefore, the poet needed to make a clear disclaimer that he would not be tempted to physically possess the young man. Spender, in his book The Riddle of Shakespeare's Sonnets, notes that the disclaimer was essential to clear Shakespeare of any severe offense (Spender, 99).

The prominent thematic concern in the sonnet has led many critics to believe that the poem is an open admission of Shakespeare's homosexuality; however, the period in which the sonnet was written in which male friendships were openly affectionate.

The interpretation of this poem is based on language and style used by the poet in communicating his message. Shakespeare personifies nature; he says that nature fell in love with one of her female creations, and decided to turn that creature into a man. Though personifying nature, the poet emphasizes the beauty of his beloved.

Shakespeare uses imagery as a stylistic device to present the physical attributes of the young man. The sonnet begins with the first line displaying the image of a woman, followed by a close description that is meant to convey the beauty of the face being described is attributed to nature. Through the intimate portrayal of the young man, there is a clear image created of the beauty of the beloved. Eye imagery used by the poet emphasizes the young man's physical attributes and what attributes are more appealing to the eye of people.

Also, the poet juxtaposes the two genders, by placing Mater-Mistress t0ogether, he brings about the gender ambiguity of the young man and thus enabling the reader to understand the female attributes that he possesses and the masculine qualities that appeal to the poet. The male qualities that the young man has can be seen in line seven when the poet talks of the young man controlling hues, particularly the power he has over the poet. In this sonnet, Shakespeare uses imagery that relates strongly to the physical appearance that aids in the construction of a mental image of a beautiful young man. The poet juxtaposes the two loves where one is arguably very deep and intimate and the other one more sexual where there is a reward.

The image of the young helps the reader see how he can elicit desire from everyone that he came across regardless of gender. Additionally, the poet uses literary devices such as alliteration, puns, and repetition with sexual connotations to convey the poets' powerful attraction towards the young man. Feminine endings used throughout the poem are used to emphasize the fact that although the man has all feminine qualities physically, he has been pricked out for women, and therefore he is meant for the pleasure of the women and not for the speaker. The speaker discusses that his relationship with the young man can only be plutonic.

The sonnet has brought out the fact that the poet is directly addressing the young man that he finds feminine. Through reading the poem, it is apparent that the poet is describing a man that has a certain feminine appeal that attracts both genders. However, he concludes that their relationship can only be plutonic. As much as the poem has a lot of literary interpretation, there are aspects of the poem that will remain elusive to the readers. Nonetheless, the general meaning of the poem can easily be understood, and its message is simple and understandable.

Works Cited

Marlowe, Christopher. Hero and Leander. London: E Matthews & J. Lane. 1894.

Spender, Stephen. The Riddle of Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Basic Books. 1962

Shakespeare William. Sonnet 20. Ed. Amanda Mabbilard. Shakespeare Online. 2008

Philip. C Kolin. Shakespeare's Sonnet 20. Published Online. 2015.

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Essay Example on Sonnet XX: A Young Man's Dual Nature and Character. (2023, Apr 24). Retrieved from

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