365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

295. Sonnet 8

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William Shakespeare, known mostly for his vast body of masterful theatrical works, proved himself to be no less skilled at crafting a short poem or two. Or 154. These poems, known as sonnets, are only fourteen lines long – and yet they are some of the most effective at expressing quite a number of ideas to be found in literature.

The sonnets are mostly romantic in nature, addressed to an unknown subject whose gender and personage have been up for debate for centuries. Despite the mysterious addressee, these sonnets translate well to just about anyone’s beloved, hence their popularity even to this day.

One of Shakespeare’s favorite things was to include music in his plays, and he wrote a number of songs, especially for his comedies. One character, Orsino of “Twelfth Night”, even begins his role by proclaiming ‘If music be the food of love, play on”. It seems that Shakespeare was very fond of music – and one of his sonnets, Sonnet 8, makes this quite clear:

“Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lovest thou that which thou receivest not gladly,
Or else receivest with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: ‘thou single wilt prove none.”

Shakespeare here implies that a good tune is like a family: terms like “unions married”, “sweet husband to another”, and “resembling sire and child and happy mother” all make it seem that a harmonious song is like a loving family. It is a romantic view of music, to think that notes can be in love and create child tunes. Shakespeare insists that people not listen to music that they do not like, but must listen to what uplifts them, no matter what it may be. He also seems to imply that if whomever the sonnet is addressed to does not marry and create his own family, he will not be a part of the “harmony” of life.

In just fourteen lines, Shakespeare’s eighth sonnet communicates a worshipful respect of music, advice for contributing to the happiness of the world and to oneself, and creates a new way of regarding music and the family unit. It is things like this sonnet that prove Shakespeare’s power and genius will outlast us all.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 23, 2010 at 12:24 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , ,

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