Loving Reflections: The Effects of Mirroring in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Plato’s Phaedrus College

Though they were written centuries apart and in completely different societal conditions, Plato’s Phaedrus and several of William Shakespeare’s sonnets share distinct similarities. The more obvious, surface correlation is that they each describes a relationship (sexual or otherwise, depending on one’s reading of Shakespeare) between a young boy and an older man. The type of bond described in Phaedrus falls under the category of ancient Grecian pederasty: put simply, pederasty was a mutually beneficial relationship between an older man and a young boy, in which the boy is intellectually mentored by the man in exchange for sexual compliance. Though it may seem outlandish today, this practice was surprisingly common among Athenian scholars like Plato and his peers. While Shakespeare’s depicted relationship would not be considered pederasty, it is important to note that in its own way it involved an older, learned man and a young boy.

Setting aside the fact that both pieces partially revolve around same-sex relations, a second similarity arises. Both Shakespeare and Plato utilize the image of the mirror (or “glass,” in Shakespeare) to aid in portraying their relationships. While this may initially seem like a positive, romantic...

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