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Shakespeare Sonnet 24

Updated on October 17, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

"the real Shakespeare"
"the real Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 24

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 24 deeply loves his art; therefore, he not only employs it to express his emotions, but he also employs it to feel those emotions even more strongly. This speaker appreciates his talent, which rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart. He disdains artists whose works remain superficial, speaking only about that which they can see and hear with the physical senses.

This deeply talented speaker lives a spiritual life, exploring not only the heart and mind, but also the soul. It is, after all, the soul that offers the artist the greatest insights. This sonneteer urges poets, painters, and other artists to live more deeply, in order to express more than decorated beauty.

Sonnet 24

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 24

Commentary

The speaker in Sonnet 24 compares the art of poetry to the art of painting, revealing the importance of heart-felt love in the creation of art.

First Quatrain: The Poetic Form

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.

In the first quatrain, the speaker informs his poem that like a painter he has captured the poem’s beautiful form and now keeps it locked in his heart. With that image placed in the central location of the heart, his body functions as a picture "frame" to hold that form.

The speaker further makes the claim that "perspective it is best painter’s art." This point of view reveals that the best artist has a deeply felt "perspective" or attitude toward his subject and that "perspective" or attitude is the force that propels his creativity.

Second Quatrain: Skill and Comprehension

For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.

Also continuing his comparison of the poet to the painter, the speaker insists that the viewer for, reader of, or audience to the artist can comprehend the artist’s creations only by taking note of "his skill."

This speaker is inviting criticism of his art, and he portrays a confidence that his skill can win over any audience. He not only knows he has talent, but he also loves his talent and is grateful to God for granting him that talent. The speaker explains, "To find where your true image pictur’d lies," you must realize that the creations are in the artist’s heart—at least the artist, whose eyes are cast lovingly upon his own works, as the speaker/poet insists his are.

Third Quatrain: Love of Art

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;

Then the speaker reveals that the artist’s eyes can do marvelous creations when they are lovingly cast upon his works. His works look back at him and reflect the love the artist feels for his creations.

They do each other "good turns" because each is brightened by that love, as if "where-through the sun / Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee."

The Couplet: Art of the Profound

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

This speaker demonstrates that he is interested in art that expresses more than mere superficialities. He complains that too many intelligent poets, painters and artists of all stripes merely offer decorated products that do little more than show off egotistically motivated urges.

This speaker lives and breathes on a more spiritual level; thus he insists on filling his own poetry with spiritual truths, truths that live in the deep heart, not merely on the surface. This speaker urges poets to write from depth of being, not simply parrot surface findings. He also urges painters to concentrate on more substantial fare than only "draw what they see."

This speaker is deeply in love with his art, and therefore he not only uses it to express his emotions, but he also uses it to feel them more abundantly. The speaker lives deeply in his talent, and his talent rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart.

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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