Asked • 03/18/19

In the Sonnet 29 by Shakespeare, does the speaker pity himself over lack of skill as an artist or contentment?

Here is the "Sonnet 29" by 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. The book *SAT II Success: Literature* which I use to prepare for the SAT exam (a multiple-choice test for high school students in the US) asks the following question about the sonnet: > In lines 4 through 7, the speaker explains that he envies all of the > following aspects of others EXCEPT > > (A) hopefulness. (B) having many friends. (C) skill as an artist. (D) > a handsome appearance. (E) contentment. In my opinion, choices A, B, and D are definitely present (in phrases "[w]ishing me like to one more rich in hope," "like him with friends possessed," and "[f]eatured like him," respectively). I also thought that the choice C had been present in the poem in the phrase "[d]esiring this man’s art." This would leave only choice E, contentment. However, the book says otherwise. Here is an explanation for this question: > **The correct answer is (C).** This question is best approached by eliminating all the right answers. Check each phrase to see if it is > in the quatrain: hopefulness = “rich in hope,” choice (A); many > friends = “like him with friends possessed,” choice (B); handsome > appearance = “featured like him,” choice (D); and intellectual ability > = “that man’s scope,” choice (E). The phrase that is not in the quatrain is choice (C), skill as an artist, which is the correct > response. I've checked the analysis of the sonnet on multiple websites, and they had different explanations for the word "scope" in the poem, including "freedom" and "opportunity." However, I see how "scope" can mean intellectual ability: wide range of one's knowledge. Even so, the book indicates "contentment" in the answer choice E and "intellectual ability" in the answer choice E explanation. I personally cannot see how these can be one and the same thing. According to the Internet definition: > Contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction. Then, this is not connected to one's intellectual abilities. Could you help me see how the answer choice C can be correct? I can't be sure if it is some kind of mistake in a book which is why I want to make sure I don't miss or don't understand something. So if there any details that would make choice C sound correct (or "more correct"), please share.

Kent M.

To understand choice C, it's important to understand that the word "art" in Shakespeare means "what someone is good at" or simply, "skill." Thus, "art" was a much more general term in his day. "Art" does NOT refer only to "skill as an artist" which is a specific skill--much closer to the way we might use the word today. I agree with you that the SAT explanation/reasoning about choice E is a bit sketchy. But keep in mind that the overall tone of the poem (and line 8) keeps emphasizing the poet's discontentment with life and implied envy of everyone else's supposed contentment. Therefore E (contentment) is not as good an answer as C which is clearly wrong, given Shakespeare's definition of "art." Another case of SAT wanting you to choose the "most correct" answer. Also one of their trickier questions.


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Kent M. answered • 03/23/19

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