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Explication on William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87

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In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87, Shakespeare appears to be bidding goodbye to the mysterious young man whom he writes so much about. The opening word of ‘Farewell’ could almost stand as a sufficient summary to the entire poem. As in Shakespeare’s previous sonnets about the young man, it is in Sonnet 87 when the poet realizes the relationship has collapsed and that he needs to bid farewell to his young love. Shakespeare himself appears to be the speaker in the poem, whereas the young man is to whom Shakespeare is conveying his message.

In the first quatrain, the poet unmistakably bids farewell to the young man. “Farewell, thou are too dear for my possession, And like enough thou know’st thy estimate. The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing; My bonds in thee are all determinate.” The word dear can be interpreted as he young man being too precious, too costly, and perhaps too damaging for the poet to continue to love. Lines 2-4 convey the idea that Shakespeare’s love wasn’t good enough for the young man and that all “bonds”, or contracts, whether they be legal, financial, or emotional, are terminated.

The first quatrain also presents several symbolic images. Line 1 almost seems paradoxical, something Shakespeare used very often his is poems and plays. The paradox can been see as if Shakespeare were saying that his love is so strong for the young man that he would not be able to have the young man if given the opportunity. The third and fourth lines revert to a legal impression, where Shakespeare uses the words “charter” and “bonds.”

The second quatrain further explains Shakespeare reasons for saying goodbye to the young man. “For how do I hold thee but thy granting, And for that riches where is my deserving? The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting, And so my patent back again is swerving.” Shakespeare is essentially questions his own worth and questions if he ever deserved the young man’s affection. In this quatrain, Shakespeare introduces a financial aspect in his question of his love as seen in line 6, “And for that riches where is my deserving?”, as well as keeping with a legal characteristic evident in line 5, “For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?” The legality lingo is kept by the word “granting,” implying Shakespeare needs the young man’s permission to love him. It is also interesting how Shakespeare ends each of the lines in this quatrain, along with most lines in the poem, with an -ing ending.

In the third quatrain, Shakespeare’s eyes are apparently opened up to the reality of his relationship with the young man. “Thy self thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing, Or me to whom thou gav’st it else mistaking; So thy great gift, upon misprision growing, Comes home again, on better judgement making.” Lines 9 and 10 have Shakespeare putting the blame of their failed relationship on both himself and the young man. Lines 11 and 12 appear to be the most relevant and key lines in the entire poem, partly indicated by the word “So” in the beginning of line 11. In these lines, Shakespeare is saying that his great gift of love to the young man was given by mistake. Then, in line 12, Shakespeare affirms that his love “comes home again”, or reverts back to himself and that his decision to do this was the correct and only right decision to make.

The couplet reaffirms the poem, as seen by the opening word of “Thus” in the first line of the couplet. “Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter, In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.” This couplet leaves little uncertainty that Shakespeare no longer tries to fool himself about his relationship with the young man. Shakespeare then concludes there are two paths, fantasy and reality, and neither sufficed with the feelings he experienced for the boy, for fantasy isn’t real, and reality illustrates the abyss that exists between himself and the young man. The final line explains how in sleep, Shakespeare can possess all the royalties of the young man, but upon waking up, the privileges cease and reality sets in.

It is difficult to determine if this is one of Shakespeare’s more advanced sonnets. Since this sonnet comes at the end of Shakespeare’s relationship with the young man, it could be argued this poem was written when Shakespeare was more developed in his writing. However, as is the case is several of Shakespeare’s other sonnets, this particular sonnet does not include Shakespeare’s typical use of repeating words in the same line. One reason as to why this sonnet may appear to not be as developed as Shakespeare’s other sonnets is based upon Shakespeare’s realization that he must bid farewell to the young man, Shakespeare found it difficult to convey his message clearly, or sleuth-like as his usually does.

On the other hand, it can be said that Shakespeare’s use of -ing endings exhibit this as a more developed sonnet. Regardless of whether or not this is one of Shakespeare’s more developed sonnets, Sonnet 87 is arguably one of the easiest to understand. Aforementioned, instead of writing fourteen lines of poetry, Shakespeare could have easily just used the opening word of the sonnet, “Farewell”, to convey his message to the young man. However, that just wouldn’t be Shakespeare’s style. Then again, it may have been Shakespeare’s intent to do just that. One can never be sure when it comes to Shakespeare’s original intent.

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