Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Truth needs no collour…beautie no pensell”: Couplets and sententia in Shakespeare's sonnets
by Petersen, Michael, Ph.D., Northern Illinois University, 2010, 212; 3404948
Abstract (Summary)

In Shakespeare's Sonnets, the speaker's ideas are often complicated by couplets and sententia that do not necessarily reinforce the poems’ lyrical expression. In this study we find that the generic and modal aspects of the poems are often destabilized by two related formal factors that contribute to our understanding of the poems' content: quatrain/couplet structure and interaction of lyric with sententia.

In these poems couplets and sententia can provide a sense of certainty and comfort. The reader might expect that the quatrain/couplet structure of couplet closure and the lyric context “reinforced” by sententious statements will help organize the representation of otherwise unstable emotions. However, the consequent uncertainty produced in Shakespeare's Sonnets by complication of the speaker's voice can undermine the certainty produced by such structures and indicate instead the speaker's insecurity and vulnerability, particularly when he appears to be unsure, frightened, threatened, or confused.

Shakespeare seems purposefully to complicate his speaker's voice through destabilization of the sonnet structure form. Although the couplet typically concludes and resolves the poem in some way, or simply repeats the sense of the quatrains, if new material is added or if the content is irrelevant or contradictory, the reader's expectations of the couplet's function are undermined. Also, sonnet content can be made uncertain through the generic shift from lyric to sententia, a movement from the subjective expression of the poet to a seemingly objective expression as represented by the community’s collective voice. In each case, the sonnet is destabilized. Furthermore, these structural changes demonstrate that the speaker’s responses vary from poem to poem and within individual sonnets themselves. As a result, in Shakespeare's Sonnets we often see a seemingly deliberate structural instability, demonstrating an intriguing mirror of the speaker’s various and conflicting emotional experiences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Johnson, Jeffrey, Johnson, William C.
Commitee: Dubrow, Heather
School: Northern Illinois University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 71/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Keywords: Couplet, Epigram, Proverb, Sententia, Shakespeare, William, Sonnets
Publication Number: 3404948
ISBN: 978-1-124-02616-9
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