28 February 2001
He's Only Kidding, Right?: Warnings in Shakespeare's "Sonnet 95."
William Shakespeare is the master of subtle humor and sexual puns. In
his "Sonnet 95," a poem to a blond young man, both are seen while pointing
out a couple of realities about sexual sin. He speaks directly to a young
man whose physical beauty compensates for his lack of sexual morality.
Shakespeare would like for this young man to realize that his handsomeness is
the sole aspect of his person that prevents absolute disapproval of his
behavior in other people, and he also wants him to be aware of the ultimate
consequences of his actions. ...view middle of the document...
This signifies the irony that is
produced when these two qualities of the young man, beauty and sin, clash.
This gives the poem a more realistic edge when compared to the exaggerated
ideals found in much of English poetry. The meter, iambic pentameter,
expresses the generalities of the first quatrain; sex is not actually
specified, but one usually assumes sex when speaking of physical beauty and
sin. There is one initial trochee in the fourth line, which emphasizes the
exclamation of "O" (4).
The second quatrain focuses on the manner in which others view this young
man. Shakespeare speaks of "that tongue" (5) that talks about him behind his
back. This implies that there is a specific way in which he is discussed
amongst others, and Shakespeare witnesses this time after time; the "that" in
front of "tongue" intimates a mode of speech that is familiar. He lets the
young man know that the "tongue" speaks of him in a "story" (5) which
suggests that there is much more to this young gentleman than a pretty face.
It also might hint at the idea of gossip which tends to center on a person's
less desirable qualities and, as in this case, specific instances in support
of those qualities. Shakespeare informs his young blond friend that people
make "lascivious comments" (6) on his sexual adventures. This might be
telling him that others know details of his escapades, which are surely lewd.
These escapades are the man's recreational past times, or his "sport" (6).
But despite everything that is said of his sexual immorality, he is somehow
forgiven because of his boyish good looks. After knowing his flaws, his
beauty offers a "kind of praise" (7) which seems to excuse him from any
concrete labeling. His young charm casts an angelic-like image to his "name"
(8) which "blesses an ill report" (8). By this, Shakespeare means to infer
that any slander of him is taken with a grain of salt. Shakespeare continues
to push these opposing images on the mind of the reader. For example, the
concepts of lewdness and recreation, "blessing" slander, and "praise" (7) and
"dispraise" (7) are brought together to add to the opposing forces of this
man's persona. This middle quatrain follows a pattern in meter that reflects
the pattern in the cyclical rhythm of people's gossip. The first and third
lines of the quatrain are in even iambic pentameter, while the second and
fourth begin with an initial trochee; this emphasizes the action of the
In the third quatrain, Shakespeare returns to his emphasis of the idea
that the young man's elegance covers his sins. He speaks of the young man's
body as a "mansion" (9) in which his sins can dwell comfortably and hidden
from the world. He talks as though the sins "chose out" (10) this man, which...