Shakespeare's Sonnets

"A Lover’s Complaint"

"A Lover’s Complaint" is part two of the quarto. It was a normal feature of the two-part poetic form for the first part to express the male point of view, and the second part to contrast or complement the first part with the female’s point of view. The sonnet sequence considers frustrated male desire, and the second part expresses the misery of a woman victimized by male desire. The earliest Elizabethan example of this two-part structure is Samuel Daniel’s Delia … with the Complaint of Rosamund (1592) — a sonnet sequence that tells the story of a woman being threatened by a man of higher rank, followed by the woman’s complaint. This was imitated by other poets, including Shakespeare with his Rape of Lucrece, the last lines of which contain Lucrece’s complaint. Other examples are found in the works of Michael Drayton, Thomas Lodge, Richard Barnfield, and others.[55]

The young man of the sonnets and the young man of “A Lover’s Complaint” provide a thematic link between the two parts. In each part the young man is handsome, wealthy and promiscuous, unreliable and admired by all.[56]

"A Lover's Complaint", is not written in the sonnet form, but is composed of 47 seven-line stanzas written in rhyme royal. Like the sonnets, it also has a possessive form in its title, which is followed by its own assertion of the author’s name. This time the possessive word, "Lover's", refers to a woman, who becomes the primary "speaker" of the work.[57]

Story

"A Lover’s Complaint" begins with a young woman weeping at the edge of a river, into which she throws torn-up letters, rings, and other tokens of love. An old man nearby approaches her and asks the reason for her sorrow. She responds by telling him of a former lover who pursued, seduced, and finally abandoned her. She recounts in detail the speech her lover gave to her which seduced her. She concludes her story by conceding that she would fall for the young man's false charms again.


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