Term Paper: Shakespeare Wordsworth Shakespeare

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Shakespeare Wordsworth

Shakespeare and Wordsworth on the Human Experience

Two hundred years and a vast chasm of experiential differences separate two of England's greatest poets. And yet, the unabashedly romantic overtones of their respective works suggest a telling continuity between William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth. A consideration of their respective talents in the mode of poetry demonstrates that for both, honest attention to human emotion distinguish their works as universal and timeless. So is this the case with Shakespeare's 1609 published Sonnet 116 and with Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, which was first released to the public in 1807. For the latter, this is widely considered to be among his loveliest and most accurate demonstrations of this aim. For the former, this is a more prominently known part of a larger collection which is often singled out for its stark and concise evaluation of love.

To consider Shakespeare's poem first, the readers attention is drawn immediately Its focus is on the notion of true love, an entity which the speaker considers so powerful that he subjects it to personification. This is a device, in fact, which ties together the two works considered in the following discussion. For Shakespeare, this serves as a way to construct love as a knowing force compelled by its beholders but governed by a higher awareness that "is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken." William Shakespeare evokes here some of the themes that eventually find their way into the philosophy of the romantics. Indeed, he is often seen as the towering figure to which all romantics paid literary homage. In this particular sonnet, there is a prying interest in better understanding the way that love relates to the human experience. More specifically, Shakespeare evokes suffering in the form of a 'tempest' and touches on mortality in describing 'the edge of doom,' remarking on several themes of great importance to the introspective romantics. This very influence is apparent in the selected work of William Wordsworth.

Wordsworth was one of the leading catalysts for the romantic age of literature in which poets and prose writers used their craft to provide evocative considerations of the natural world and of the human condition there within. In many ways a spiritual counterpoint to the thrust toward industrialization and modernity which dominated the 19th century, the movement of romance poetry trained its focus on the relationship between man and the natural world. Quite to this point, the Wordsworth poem in question is driven by this theme and appeals to such devices as the personification which is also evident in Shakespeare's selected work. Just as Shakespeare gives human attributes to an abstract entity such as love, so does Wordsworth go to particular and recurrent lengths to suggest the human attributes of a tremendous expanse of daffodils lining a lakeshore.

Here, Wordsworth calls the daffodils a 'crowd,' and describes them as dancing. He describes them as moving in 'glee' as might only a throng of people. In the second stanza, Wordsworth is moved to tell that the daffodils "stretched in a never-ending line / Along the margin of a bay: / Ten thousand saw I at a glance, / Tossing their heads in sprightly dance." This image of a sea of daffodils 'tossing their heads' truly conjures the impression of this kinetic and chromatically stunning movement, invoking the impression of some euphoric human celebration.

There is yet another dimension of the Wordsworth poem though that distinguishes it as a work emblematic of the romantic era. It is a useful point to note that this movement was not alone concerned with describing nature and capturing its beauty in words. More than that, romantic poets such as Wordsworth were forever preoccupied by the notion that man was alienated from nature and that it was incumbent upon him to reconnect for the sake of his own spiritual wholeness. It is here that Wordsworth's piece takes on an added dimension, not just giving human attributes to a natural landscape but conversely given elemental attributes to the human observer. The opening lines of the poem report, "I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o'er vales and hills / When all at once I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils." Here, it is as if the speaker has become ensconced in the natural surroundings as another interwoven element while the daffodils stand apart for their beautiful conspicuousness. That the speaker views himself as less conspicuous underscores the romantic perspective which eschewed the arrogant view held by the industrial man as a master of the domain of nature. As a passive observer -- the cloud -- Wordsworth approaches nature as something of which he is inherently and humbly a part. For their beauty, he seems to imply that the daffodils can be forgiven for being less humble.

It is interesting to note that Shakespeare, like Wordsworth, seems to cast himself as an outside observer to the affairs which he describes, such that even when he assesses something of great beauty and depth such as love, he does so with a certain air of distance. Much like Wordsworth, who sees his speaker as 'lonely as a cloud,' Shakespeare casts his speaker as a third party witness to true love. Accordingly, he proclaims, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds, Admit impediments." The speaker in this poem seems to regard himself as an objective outsider, perhaps therefore best possessed in the capacity to define and explicate the concept of love. It is this adopted vantage that also allows Shakespeare to speak with a certain hyperbole that distinguishes his work from that of Wordsworth. Where the romantic perspective is deferential to nature, Shakespeare's approach is to actually challenge nature, which is perhaps best identified through the description of Time. Incidentally, Time is also personified, with the appellation of a 'his' and the capital 'T' to suggest it as a proper noun.

Here, Shakespeare compares love's permanence to the fleeting character of Time, claiming "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle's compass come: / Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even to the edge of doom." Shakespeare attributes to the decidedly human institution of love a greater power than even the all-encompassing and inexorable march of time. It is in this conceit that the Bard differs considerably from the romanticists of Wordsworth's England. The ambition to be as one with nature that seems so preeminent to Lonely as a Cloud is instead here the ambition to defy nature. This is perhaps the best demonstration of the way that the passage of time might have impacted the perspective of each poet. In Shakespeare's time, there was no sense of nature as endangered or perhaps either of man's alienation there from. This is rather a premise instigated by the effects of modernity. So much is this the case that the reader experiences the desire to be removed from the mechanized impact of this change in Wordsworth's poem in a way that is not true in Shakespeare's work.

That said, the two poems seem to be of one mind where the human experience is concerned. For both, the experience observed in nature ultimately is a function of human perception and human perspective. Therefore, both poets seem to reinforce this notion by returning to the primacy of the speakers' role within nature. Wordsworth, for his part, withdraws from the immersion implied by his stroll on the lakeshore and, the reader may presume, returns to his everyday life in the modern world. It is here that he reports "For oft, when on my couch I lie / In vacant or in pensive mood, / They flash upon that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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