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Mahony, P. (1979). Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 20: Its Symbolic Gestalt. Am. Imago, 36(1):69-79.

(1979). American Imago, 36(1):69-79

Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 20: Its Symbolic Gestalt

Patrick Mahony, M.D.

With a surprising amount of certitude we can infer the developmental line of continuity of Shakespeare's Sonnet Number 20 from its nuclear conception to its final existence as an elaborated fusion of content and form in a Symbolic Gestalt. The matrix of the poem, a certain nucleus of ego control, symptom and defence, issues out to determine the development of the poem. More particularly, a homosexually motivated castration anxiety gives rise to linguistically expressed derivatives of absence and overcompensating excess; the upshot is a beautiful Symbolic Gestalt manifest in the poem's lexical, syntactical, logical and prosodical structures.

Sonnet 20 reads as follows:

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,

Hast thou the master mistress of my passion,

A woman's gentle heart but not acquainted

With shifting change as is false women's fashion,

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:

Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,

A man in hue all hues in his controlling,

Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.

And for a woman wert thou first created,

Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,

And by addition me of thee defeated,

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,

Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

The surface plot of the poem is simple enough. Dame Nature fell in love with one of her female creatures, and to overcome her own frustration turns that creature into a man.

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