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Evolution of Envy in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Grades 9-12 | Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: NP

Learning Standards




Prompt: Universal experiences - those direct events or feelings that occur for most people, regardless of time, place, or environment - are the foundation of many pieces of literature, especially those sometimes described as “classics.” Famous playwright and poet, William Shakespeare often centered his writing around universal experiences or emotions, and many literary critics claim that this is why his works have continued to be widely produced and studied for centuries after their original writing and publication.


One idea that appears frequently in Shakespeare’s work is insecurity, and as a result, jealousy or envy. One way to approach understanding these universal ideas is to analyze how they are presented over the course of time or across major works, such as the overall collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Read Sonnet 29 and then read Sonnet 78, which both address the concept of envy.  


Write an essay analyzing how the speaker of each poem uses figurative language and imagery to create a specific tone toward insecurity and envy in each poem and how the tone changes across the poems. Be sure to include details from both poems about tone and the effect the shift has on the reader, especially in regard to envy.




Source 1

Sonnet 29: "When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes" by William Shakespeare


When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.



Source 2

Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse" by William Shakespeare


So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,

And found such fair assistance in my verse

As every alien pen hath got my use

And under thee their poesy disperse.

Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing

And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,

Have added feathers to the learned's wing

And given grace a double majesty.

Yet be most proud of that which I compile,

Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:

In others' works thou dost but mend the style,

And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;

But thou art all my art, and dost advance

As high as learning, my rude ignorance.









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