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"The Trappings of Desire"

"The Trappings of Desire"

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Adina Doherty. Originally submitted for Shakespeare's Sonnets at University College Dublin, with lecturer Danielle Clarke in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Adina Doherty. Originally submitted for Shakespeare's Sonnets at University College Dublin, with lecturer Danielle Clarke in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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Mostly Shakespeare
The Trappings of Desire
When you look up the term “desire” in the dictionary it explains it as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”. It is an emotion we can all
relate to, having experienced it at one time or another and it can be felt over many differentthings. Some people desire money, popularity, fame; others crave love, friendship orhappiness. No matter what source triggers the feeling of desire, it always has the potential tobecome an all-consuming and absorbing mental state. Desire can drive us towardsconstructive, life-enhancing experiences, or it can lead us to vain and desolate ends.It is important to have longings and ambitions in life, as it is the first stage in achieving yourgoals, but what happens when you fail to attain your desire? Or what happens when you doobtain it and it is not what you hoped it would be? George Bernard Shaw once wrote that
“There are two tragedies in life: one is to lose your heart‟
s desire, t
he other is to gain it”
 (Shaw). The poet in these sonnets would be able to relate closely to this quote; he is clearly inlove but he is also deeply conflicted. He is tormented between the way love makes him feeland by how much power and control these emotions have over him. The poems seem to havetheir roots in experience rather than literary experimentation; they are a structured miscellanyof recurrent themes, passions and thoughts, rather than a story or a mathematically orderedsequence (Burrow 118). Infatuation and passion are strongly portrayed throughout
sonnets with sexuality and admiration being repetitive themes. The sequenceas a whole takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster that ends in paradox (Roberts 172).I will briefly look at how there is a question mark over the nature of the relationship betweenthe young man and the poet, but mainly this essay will examine what the downsides of thesefeelings of desire are and it will discuss how they create turmoil for the poet.
In the first line of the first sonnet the poet writes “From fairest creatures we desire increase, /That thereby beauty‟s rose might never die” (1.12).
Desire must be looked at in two ways; as
an abstract state of mind and as an active awareness. Desire is not the exclusive preserve of patriarchal heterosexuality, but it is articulated through a variety of potentially transgressivescenarios, to which literary precedents and conventions are jaggedly and creativelyappropriated (Clarke 182). The poet knows what it is that he desires, and he vigorouslypursues it, but it is important to note that one cannot control what entity it is that they desire.
In the poet‟s case he
is still attempting to gain the object of his yearning, the love of theyoung man. He is incredibly frustrated by his affection being unrequited but still seeks to
capture the young man‟s heart. He is
distressed as he attempts to reconcile his uncontrollable
urges with his mind‟s better judgement, all the while in a desperate race against time.
Desiremay embolden the speaker, but in the face of non-reciprocation it can lead to the collapse of the boundaries of the self (Clarke 182).Frequently the sonnets give compelling utterance to experiences everyone goes through inlove
anguish, elation, joy, dismay; and they realise with directness and fullness basicconditions of existence which love has to confront
the fact of mortality, the separateness of human beings, their need of each other, the graces that come unsought and deserved (Barber649). Considering how passionate these poems are it is clear that they were well thought out
and planned, as this „passion‟
is written in a rational and structured way. They are oftenwritten in iambic pentameter and the fourteen lines of the sonnet are usually organised as amovement from question to answer, problem to resolution, cause to effect (Roberts 175).Shakespeare was especially interested in using the final couplet (or occasionally a turningpoint in the third quatrain) to disrupt expectations and undermine the previous quatrains - andin doing so, the very authority of the
pronouncements (Roberts 175). To restrictsuch strong and amorous sensations with the rigid structure of the sonnet communicates to usthe time that must have been spent elaborating over each line. The sonnets carefully recordthe accommodations and comprises required to fulfil erotic and emotional desire, even as
they reveal these desires to be fleeting, and ultimately unsatisfying (Schoenfeldy 141). Theyare not unequivocally love poems, seeking instead to register the vagaries and agonies of states of desire for the delight or edification of readers who are envisaged as central to theprocess of making meaning (Clarke 199).In sonnets 1-
17 the immensity of the poet‟s love
for the young man is clear. He expresseshow he feels that the young man is so great that he needs to be immortalised, and to do so bypassing on his genes and having children. This is a stunning example of the sacrifices thepoet is willing to make for the young man; he wants him to procreate just so his beauty canlive on and be experienced by others. Henry David Thoreau wrote that
acrificing yourhappiness for the happiness of the one you love, is by far, the truest type of love
(Thoreau),and this is exactly what the poet is doing for the young man. In sonnet 29, the poet writes of 
the ability the young man possesses to alter the poet‟s mood and
 brighten his day; “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” (
12). Similarly in sonnet 30 he writes “But if the while Ithink on thee (dear friend) / All losses are restored, and sorrows end” (30.13
-14). It isapparent that the young man has a great influence on the poet as well as highlighting the
 praise theme in Shakespeare‟s sonnets.
The poet appears to be in awe of this “sweet boy”
(108.5); in the well-known line from sonnet 18 he ponders the perfection of the young man,
asking “Shall I compare
thee to a summer‟s day?” (18.1).
While the above paragraph discusses the poet‟s adoration of the young man,
we, as thereaders, can see the bigger picture. It is clear that the poet is emotionally reliant on his
and that that his moods are drastically altered by him. The poet feels that he needs theyoung man in his life in order for it to be complete, a staple characteristic of unrequited love;
“O, how thy worth with manners may I sing, / When thou art all the better part of me?” (39.1
-2). Love is multi-faceted, emotionally complex, and involves its sufferer in a complex, web

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