An Analysis of Sonnet 29, Shakespeare

Updated on October 5, 2017

Wonder of Poetry

For all time, there is something terrifically remarkable on poetry—whether one is the seasoned scanner or curious reader—that is equally enriching, awe-breathing, and haply transforming. You may not ever heard of sonnets, Shakespeare, thee thou, then I welcome you to the language and medium noted1 to come from the dawn of mankind.

Design of Sonnet 29

Throughout Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, the first 126 account to the love of a male youth and the final 28 to a mistress. The Sonnet 29 gives to the former portion, and indeed immortalizes—although contextually unbeknownst—a young man. In etymology, a sonnet derives from Italian sonetto, literally rendered as little song, and the tacit overtone is correct: sounds and music are powerfully inducted in Sonnet 29, every sonnet even, in a single highly structured complex. (A complete text is provided by Sparknotes2, alongside a handy modern English translation, embedded in the Interests and References section)

Behold, the iambic pentameter, employed frequently during the breadth of Shakespeare’s work. Sonnet 29 is no exception, evident in the form of accents, or emphasis, on each syllable on each word. Naturally, English speakers speak in such a way as the following: can Iemphasis help youemphasis. The iamb is a term calling for a unit of one unaccented, non-emphatic, syllable and another accented and emphatic syllable. The pentameter denotes the number of iambs, in this case five, from the Latin penta or five. Particular to a sonnet, an alternating rhyme scheme is used—used spectacularly for melody and love. The very first line of Sonnet 29 epitomizes the iambic pentameter:

Line One

When inemphasis dis gracee with fore tune ande men’s eyese

The sonnet follows a low-high, unaccent-accent format in the remaining entirety. Already, by the first line, the speaker moans and grieves over a presupposed ill and trouble—abutted in the words “in disgrace". The speaker is shamed, and the cause of which is revealed immediately after: “with fortune and men’s eyes". Or, alternatively, why am I downcast and red-blushed? I am disgraced without fortune and acclaim; in the moment I lack funds and the praises of man to arise from poverty, barbarism, and disgrace. Insightfully, for a writer and poet to miss both, it is quite disdainful.

Line Two

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

No one is here to sympathize with my current disgraced and downtrodden condition, denoted by “I all alone”. A rather significant distinction is created in the second line: that the world favors fortune and glory, while the speaker is “outcast” and in a being of “outcast” from the world. None of fortune, fame does the speaker possess, hence the world is identified as a key antagonist of the poem rather than lack of mere wealth and attention. The speaker cries out against his state, more affirmed in the alliteration of “all alone.” A poignant sense or image is evoked, and Shakespeare relates and humanizes his sonnet. Have you lost, have you hardship? Have you cursed yourself in grief, been scorned and shunned? In Elizabethan England, the era of Shakespeare’s writing, many would have.

Line Three

And trouble deaf heav'n with my bootless cries,

The initial instance of rhyme is in the third line. The end rhyme from the first line of “eyes” will here resound with the end rhyme of “cries”. This line introduces another aspect into the overriding conflict of the sonnet: “heav’n” (Notice the omission of an e to preserve the structure of the iambic pentameter, relegating heaven to a single syllable). The speaker insists to “trouble” an unmoving heaven, or a divine entity or fate—and fate is clarified to be in the fourth line. A lonely death struggle, surely death in face of abandonment by world and heaven, does the speaker labor under. Heaven does not hear (“bootless” means useless), nor the world to care.

Line Four

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

The end rhymes of this line and the second line are reconciled (“fate” and “state”). After sorrows after the world and heaven, the speaker looks upon self and applies cruel critique: contrary to self-pity, utter and objective derision is far more likely, as “curse” is simply overwhelming the line. Not only does “curse” partake of an accented syllable, it also instinctually lends to a deep natural scowl. It is likened to an Elizabethan swear word, i.e.: “curse you!” or “curse the demon!” or “curse my fate!” The speaker reflects on the being, psyche, of one’s own and concludes nothing is worthy and nothing is blessed within.

Line Five

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

By the first four lines of the sonnet, a quatrain was produced. The rhyme scheme breaks off, and a new quatrain emerges with the fifth line. In addition a drastic shift in tone occurs, from a condemning and anguished outlook to desires and “hope”. The speaker does not diminish the brokenness of the previous four verses, rather adding truly to the all human ache. A clear and forlorn dream is shown: to gain hope to resolve despair. The attribution of hope is on “one more rich”, conceding desperate envy, nay admiration of a stronger individual. Shakespeare again lays bare what feelings others surely experience—thereby personalizing the sonnet further—with admiration as central.

Line Six

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

With the recent theme presented, the concurrent theme continues into line six. Although hope is disguised than outright mentioned as during line five, the concept is prevalent regardless in line six. The twofold repetition of “like him” keenly builds for longing and yearning in order to remove the speaker’s shame and “outcast state”. Reasonably placed, to be “[f]eatured like him” uncovers a will to appear as the speaker’s lover appears (recall the first 128 Sonnets are directed toward a boy), which is, of course, to indicate beauty. The latter segment of line six, seeking companionship and love, hints previously to the second line, whence the speaker is “outcast” and “all alone”. For light and hope, for intimacy and friendship, Shakespeare describes otherwise hidden covets of human lives.

Line Seven

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

In line seven, the original verb of “Wishing”, incidentally providing the construction of line six, is superseded now with “Desiring”. Besides for purposes of fulfilling the Sonnet composition, the difference between the words are fine and blurred. Wish derives from two Germanic terms—ween and wont—bringing an impression of should and thinking. Desire proceeds from desiderare, a term connected to the heavens, and from Latin, a historically institutionalized language reserved for scholars and the elite—connoting authority and expressing need. For a poet, Shakespeare perhaps posits the arts greater than any hope and allies. With distinguish, he characterizes poetry to the power of immortality in Sonnet 183. In line seven, “like him” is aptly generically substituted for another holding taller mastery over creation and wiser wisdom (founded on the prepositions “this” and “that”). The speaker demeans self, exposing self’s imposed standards and exhibiting better dreams amidst tremendous agony.


Next time, we will examine the seven other remaining lines of Sonnet 29, by William Shakespeare.

Thanks for joining me, and I hope to see you then!


Who is your favorite poet? I would love to read your response.

Interests and References

1. "...poetry is connate with the origin of man." -- Percy Bysshe Shelley.

2. No Fear Shakespeare.

3. Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?


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