Dramatic Elements or Elements of Drama in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Mordern criticism of Shakespeare’s sonnets tends to give more and more emphasis on the dramatic qualities that the sonnets share than on the autobiographical issues.In fact, it seems plausible to suggest that it is Shakespeare’s dramatic talent that must shine throughout his 154 sonnets.These 154 sonnets show Shakespeare’s dramatic talent clearly.The main dramatic qualities of his sonnets are that of the abrupt beginning,the conversational style,the dramatic tension,plot and the themes of loyalty and disloyalty.

Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets begin abruptly in the middle of an action.A drama usually breaks into the middle of an action.The sonnet 2, for example, also begins abruptly in the middle of an action.

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,

The way speaker starts the conversation makes us that his argument has a link with his previous arguments. The sonnet 131 also begins abruptly

Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel.

Here the speaker calls the lady tyrannous without refering to her past misdeeds. Many of Skakespeare’s sonnets begin in such a abrupt way.
A drama has dialogue and arguments.In this respect Shakespeare’s sonnets are very dramatic.Reference can be made to such sonnets as sonnets 18,34 and 149.The sonnet 18 begins with these following two lines.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

The whole poem is based on a conversation between the speaker and his friend.This conversational style makes the sonnets lively and interesting too.


In his essay The Dramatic techniques of Shakespeare’s Sonnets G. k Hunter points out that the sonnets of Shakespeare have ’plots’.He is of the view that the Elizabethan sonnets had the plot like a drama,but Shaespeare’s sonnets have better plot that the other sonnets of the age.In fact how his sonnets are supreme in dramatic effectiveness will be seen ,if we consider the plots he developed through the sonnets.In his 154 sonnets he mainly talks about his male friend and the dark lady.The two sets of sonnets concerning these two persons make two suspensful tragi-comediesor problem plays.

Plot concerning the young friend

The first sequence bigins with the good advice to his friend.First 17 sonnets are devoted to asking his friend to marry fro procreation and give permanance to his beauty. Then the narrator abandons it in favor of an alternative plan to eternalize the fair lord's beauty in his verse. The narrator grows increasingly enamored with the fair lord, eventually becoming emotionally dependent upon him and plagued by the inability to win his heart. After that the speaker becomes so close and entimate with his friend and feels contenment.But then suddenly comes the separation between them.The poet misses his friend greatly.But this suddenly turns to a bitter cold war between him and his friend over a woman. The narrator's emotions fluctuate between love and anger, envy and greed. We find poignant examples of the narrator's jealousy in the rival poet sonnets (79-86), where the fair lord's attention has been caught by another. The narrator's fragile psyche collapses in bouts of self-deprecation as he agonizes over the thought of forever losing the object of his affection. In sonnet 87, the narrator bids the fair lord farewell - but his heartache long persists. Finally, in sonnet 126, his love matured and yet still beautiful, the narrator points out that the fair lord too will one day meet his doom.

Plot concerning the dark lady

The second sequence namely the sonnets from 127-152 give us another plot concerning a dark lady. The following sonnet begins the dark lady sequence, the group of sonnets dealing with the narrator's irresistible attraction to a dark and beautiful woman. Here the allure is not of love but of lust, and the narrator is torn between his hunger for the woman and his disgust at the sinfulness of carnal desire.
The dark lady is described as freely promiscuous, the epitome of lustful endeavor. Drawn by and at the same time repelled by her darkness, the narrator once again reverts to meditative mind-wandering to cope with his situation. In the end, the narrator's lust is expressed as an incurable disease, a burning sensation that can only be quenched, if temporarily, by the eyes of the dark lady.

Dramatic tension

One of the most important elements in creating the “soul” of a drama is dramatic tension. “Tension” essentially means that something or someone is being pulled in opposite directions with fairly equal force.In drama, tension is used to keep the audience engaged in the story that is unfolding. The audience keeps up with what is being presented, wondering which side will eventually pull with greater force: good or evil? hope or despair? jealousy or faith? The critic Michael Cameron Andrews maintains that many of Shakespeare’s sonnets are dramatic in the sense that they are profoundly dynamic depictions of a mind at war with itself. In fact there is a lot of conflict in many of the sonnets and the conflict takes place in Sjakespeare’s own mind.The conflict is seen between his love and admiration for his friend and his grievance against his friend and similarly , a conflict is seen between his passion for the dark lady and his resentment against her for her deceitfulness and disloaylty.

One beautiful example is sonnet 29.The drama builds throughout the poem. The first stanza shows the speaker’s self-worth under attack. The second has him floundering around, trying to regain his self-esteem with wishes and anger, doing whatever it takes to consider himself a worthy human. The poem reaches a climax with the ninth line, with the speaker almost despising himself — this is the high point of the poem’s tension, where the forces pulling in opposite directions have stretched him as far as they can. Something has to give. In the tenth line, there is relief: the thought of that special other person comes flooding into the speaker’s mind. The struggle between two conflicting ideas had been closely balanced up to this point, but once he has added the influx of self-worth that comes from this “sweet love remembered,” the competition is not even close.

Dramatic situation

In his essay The Dramatic techniques of Shakespeare’s Sonnets G. k Hunter talks about another dramatic quality.It is the quality to create a dramatic situation.One should be able to find a dramatic situation in many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.Dramas have scenes: they involve characters in a place where they can voice their emotions. It is not enough to have an inner life. That inner life must be put in a place where it can be played out for the entire audience to understand and appreciate. In most of the sonnets one person is talking and the other is listening silently.Though the sonnets are not as dramatic as Donne’s poems or Browning’s dramatic monologues ,but still we can imagine a dramatic situation around the speaker.Hunter says that Skakespeare describes a series of emotional situations between persons in a series of separate short poems.

Major themes

But it is not only the style that makes the sonnets dramatic but their themes also have great similarities with the themes of Skakespeare’s major dramas.So,the sonnets are also dramatic as per as the central themes are concerned.In his essay Love’s Confined Doom M. M Mahood draws our attention to the themes of bitrayal and loyalty.Most of Shakespeare’s dramas are about bitrayal and loyalty.Such plays as Hamlet,Macbeth,King Lear,Othello,The Tempest etc are about the themes of betrayal and loyalty.Like Shakespeare’s dramas the Shakespearean sonnets also develop the thems of betrayal and loyalty.Most of the case the speaker is loyal both to the male friend and also to the dark lady.On the other hand both of them are disloyal to the speaker.In this way we can say that his sonnets are dramatic as per as the central tensions are concerned.

William Shakespeare is often recognized as the greatest dramatist who ever lived. His talent for drama can also be found in the dramatic qualities of his sonnets.