Sonnet 29:When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, And look upon myself and curse my fate, wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least; Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think on thee--and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
The speaker of the sonnet feels as if he has fallen out of favor with fortune and men. Fortune and men have turned their faces and the speaker is troubledbecause of his state as an outcast.
The speaker cries to heaven, but heaven is deaf. And with his bootless cries, this causes him to curse his fate. But what was the cause for Shakespeare to express so much hopelessness in his sonnet?
An examination of Shakespeare’s life around the time he wrote the sonnet reveals that in 1592 the London theatres closed due to a severe outbreak of plague. It is almost certain that he left the theatre entirely during this time to work on his sonnets and narrative poems. The closing of the theatres made it hard for Shakespeare and other actors of the day to earn a living, and with plague and poverty looming it is expected that he would feel “in disgrace with fortune”.
The speaker of the sonnet shows his jealousy and wishes to be someone that possesses friends.
Hope is weak at the beginning of the second quatrain, and it continues with some of the problems one without faith and hope would face. Going back to Shakespeare’s life, perhaps there was a lack of hope to find a cure for the plague or lack of hope to find work in order to earn a living.
In 1592, there was an attack on Shakespeare by dramatist Robert Greene, who, in a deathbed diary, warned three of his fellow university-educated playwrights that Shakespeare was a pompous, scheming, vicious ingrate riding the coattails of better writers. Greene also adds that Shakespeare was a conceited and insignificant jack of all trades. These comments coming from someone Shakespeare thought he could call his friend must have caused him a lot of grief.
Robert Greene’s attacks on Shakespeare may be the reason why there is so much jealousy and discomfort in the sonnet. But even though the speaker has so many negative thoughts, and despises himself, he happily thinks of his dear friend which quickly changes his outlook.
Thinking of his dear friend, the speaker is enlightened like the sun rising at the break of day. The realization that love abides and is indeed the greatest of the three biblical virtues raises him to sing hymns at heaven’s gate.
The speaker now comes to the realization that he still possesses the “sweet love” of his friend which makes him scorn to change his state with kings of earthly kingdoms. His love is a spiritual kingdom, not one from this world, and is more important than material wealth, measured by looks, number of friends, artistic talents, scope, and so on.
Transcript of "Shakespeare's Sonnet 29"
William ShakespeareSonnet XXIXOmar Lyman
“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state”
“And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries And look upon myself and curse my fate”