Sonnet 91

            Shakespeare wrote several sonnets that have come together to be known as the Fair Youth sequence. Within this sequence, the poet tells of his love for a young man. Sonnet ninety-one is a particularly interesting addition in this sequence that shows just how great the poet considers his love for the youth to be. The sonnet begins with the poet describing several different activities wherein people find glory. These activities are meant to represent things that people purposely chose to gain delight or happiness. This idea is furthered with the first half of the second quatrain, from which the poet tells, “And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure, Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.” These two lines express the idea that out of all the many things in the world that we can find joy from, everybody has one they prefer over all the rest. The poet describes all of these different activities and things so that he can ultimately declare his love for the young man to be better than all them. The poet even goes so far to say that if he had the young man’s love, he would boast of it enough to equal all men’s pride.

            Instead of continuing to express the joy that the young man’s love brings him, the poet takes a darker tone with the ending couplet. The poet tells of the single fault that comes with his love when he expresses, “Wretched in this alone, that thou may’st take All this away and me most wretched make.” Here he reveals that the young man has the power to completely cripple the poet’s spirit by removing his love. In this light, the love for the young man could easily be seen as an unhealthy obsession. The couplet also reveals the poet to have at least some form of doubt that his love for the young man will be realized, as he fancies the notion that it will not work out between the two.

            Whether it be of his own love for some man is his life or something else, Shakespeare makes an interesting connection between love and its power to make us either extremely happy or extremely destitute. It almost kind of describes a high risk, high reward type of situation. Love offers the chance to obtain perhaps life’s greatest happiness, yet also has the potential to make one as miserable as possible.

-Justin Kemp

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