The nature of platonic love english literature essay

The world seems to have reached a consensus that love is a fickle and iridescent concept, subjective to one’s interpretation rather than faithful to a single, unaffected definition. While that may hold true for most, after studying D. H. Lawrence’s ‘ Sons & Lovers’ and Shakespeare’s ‘ Sonnets’, I have managed to draw remarkable parallels between the two texts with regards to the phenomenon of ‘ Platonic’ love as depicted by the writers. Formerly known as ‘ Socratic love’ until approximately the 15th century after the protagonist of Plato’s ‘ Symposium’, Platonic love asserts that by teaching the mind to contemplate the divine beauty in another, one can intuit the nature of the divine. While this can be quite evident in Lawrence’s work especially, both Lawrence and Shakespeare showcase Platonic love as an impassioned, all-consuming affair which vacillates between being favorable and being harmful to the giver of such love. This leads me to point out that there seem to be two types of Platonic affection – infatuated idolatry (particularly of beauty) and shared spiritual companionship. The former is best characterized by the poet’s admiration of the ” fair youth” in the ‘ Sonnets’, in which the narrator declares unrelenting affection for a young man and perpetually praises him for his beauty. The ” fair lord,” to whom these sonnets are addressed, has been subject to much literary speculation; the dedication to a ” Mr. W. H” has since been responsible for an avalanche of suggestions of candidates as the possible object of Shakespeare’s flattery – primarily spearheaded by those of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who would have been a young man fitting his description at the time the sonnets were written, and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare had already dedicated the narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece. Sonnets 1-126 are replete with homoerotic undertones and emotional ambiguity, though scholars are divided on what kind of desire Shakespeare is trying to express. Sonnet 20 epitomizes these sentiments well: the Fair Youth is attributed female traits in the first quatrain (” woman’s face” and ” woman’s gentle heart”). The sonnet is entirely made up of female rhymes – the only one of the collection to do so – perhaps to insinuate a femininity in sounds (i. e. his voice). He is also referred to as ” master-mistress” – this is very telling of the lord’s role as both his patron and his lover. By drawing attention to the femininity of the lord, Shakespeare may be excusing his own feelings and passing them as conventional ones for a woman. For those who believe this is indicative of same-sex desire, Shakespeare seems to criticise women’s love as ” shifting” and ” false”. On the other hand, he laments the fact that the fair lord is in fact a man so as to indicate he does not lust for him sexually (” And by addition me of thee defeated / By adding one thing to my purpose nothing”). Furthermore, Shakespeare clarifies his intentions by finally describing of what their relation is; in the sonnet’s closing couplet, he writes ” Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.” This unambiguously separates the concepts of platonic adoration and sexual activity, as he only expresses interest in his love and not in his sex. Shakespeare attitude to lust is less than favorable; he seems to share Plato’s notion that sex is a carnal desire whose satisfaction may blunt the insight into the divine, which Platonic love can facilitate. The Dark Lady’s character seems to have a fervent, lustful sexual relationship with Shakespeare and, in Sonnet 130, embodies the antithesis of the renaissance concept of ideal female beauty, such as fair complexion, rosy cheeks, red lips and golden hair. There seems to be a ruffian sexuality to her that attracts him without the need of archetypal qualities of female beauty. In Sonnet 147 however, he describes his lust for the Dark Lady as a sickness (” My love is as a fever”) and in the last two sonnets (153-4) endeavors to find a cure (by steaming in a hot tub of water, which in Elizabethan times was believed to cure sexually transmitted diseases). Shakespeare manifests his extreme distaste towards the frenzy and consequences of lustful sex in Sonnet 129. He looks darkly and clinically on a sexualized relationship, which is divorced from emotion. His tone is mimicked in his language as he is overcome by expectation and anticipation of the sexual act by use of intermittent, accusatory word ” perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame” and immediately followed by the guilt and self-loathing of retrospective, ” Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight”. In fact, he seems to think better of his Fair Lord outward purity, addressing him as his ” better angel” in Sonnet 144. With the Dark Lady sonnets, Shakespeare may, by counterexample, trying to propose Love’s emancipation from sex. But unfortunately for him, he finds there’s no use in criminalizing sex as it’s his own illusive infatuation that has deceived him. Shakespeare realizes that the Platonic love he has felt for the youth is no safe haven from anguish; he has suffers jealousy and fear of losing the Fair Youth (” For thee I watch, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere/ From me far off, with others all too near” -Sonnet 61). He seems to see a great spirituality in the Lord, stemming from how he is reassured emotionally by him (” But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)/ All losses are restored, and sorrows end.” –Sonnet 30), however the Sonnets record a story of mounting realization that the young man’s idealized, artificial exterior masks his corrupt nature. Appearance does not march reality, as seen in Sonnet 69 where he asks himself ” but why thy odour matcheth not thy show”. The poet continues to reflect on the true nature of his relationship with the young man in Sonnet 87 (” Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter/ In sleep a king, but in waking no such matter”) and poignantly depicts his disillusionment in the line ” Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” (Sonnet 94). In the end, the image we’re left with of the Fair Youth is that of unfaithfulness and lack of integrity – contrasting starkly with Sonnet 116 which defines the concept of ideal love (” Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/Or bends with the remover to remove/ O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/that looks on tempests and is never shaken”