Exploring Love In Shakespeare’s Sonnets Essay

4428 words - 18 pages

In Plato’s Symposium, the discussion on the nature of love between Socrates and his companions in the house of Agathon clearly discerns key ideas that Shakespeare uses in the sonnets. Beauty, youth, and love are all topics of discussion in the conversations, and Plato’s ideas show up again and again when the sonnets are explored. In Symposium, Aristophanes gives a detailed description of a time when humans were not in their present physical form (Plato 353). His tale posits that the original form of humankind differed from the present in that “sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number,” to which he adds, “there was man, woman and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature,” which is called androgynous (Plato 353). The physical nature of primeval man is discussed: "[Man] was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond" (Plato 354). Aristophanes goes on to explain that the gods split these beings in two so that primeval man would not be as powerful as them. Eventually, the halves are filled out to create symmetry. Plato says, “human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love” (Plato 357). Thus, the explanation of heterosexual and homosexual behavior can be delineated from this myth. The drive for love goes beyond the sexual into the spiritual. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, the poet persona battles feelings between a fair youth, who is often characterized as a young male, and the dark lady, who is a sensual female. Throughout the sonnets, the poet persona explores his inner feelings to find which counterpart represents the best match to the poet’s want of wholeness. The eye and the heart are a synecdoche to this concept of reunition to the whole. The juxtaposition of the eye and heart in relation to love is a reflection of this Platonic idea of the search for the true match. Does the eye or the heart hold the true key to unlocking the potential of the soul, as it seeks its other half? Similarly, if the eye and heart are two separate parts of a whole body, how must they work together to create an accurate portrayal of love? Considering the relationship between the heart and the eye within certain sonnets as conceits about love, a philosophy on the meaning of love outlined in Plato’s Symposium emerges as the sonnets move from those on the fair youth to the dark lady.

Continuing on the tangent of love, Symposium posits one more key idea that is central to understanding Shakespeare’s works, concerning the value of love to the mortal man. Plato describes the conversation between Diotima (a love goddess) and Socrates that reinforces Aristophanes’ creation myth. Diotima tells us, “lovers are seeking for their other half; but I say...

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