Within sonnet 20 and sonnet 144, Shakespeare attempts to describe two different types of love. One of which exemplifies deceit and lust, and the other which focuses on emotional connection. In doing so, he idealizes the love of men for other men and offers a misogynistic view on the role of women in society. Critics such as Stephen Orgel connect to this idea in saying that sonnets concerning the dark lady reveal that men must give up on fickle, promiscuous women in order to fulfill a greater desire for other men. While this conclusion seems plausible while looking at individual sonnets like those with the tone of sonnet 144, when we juxtapose sonnets concerning the dark lady with those concerning Shakespeare’s supposed lover, he does not necessarily suggest that men can gain happiness solely through the company of other men, but rather suggests that women can only be loved on a physical level while men can be loved on a deeper, more emotional level. By referring to men and women using opposing vocabulary, Shakespeare puts men and women on a spectrum, underscoring the difference in the view of love for each. Heavily relying on antithesis when comparing the two genders, Shakespeare conveys a misogynistic viewpoint indirectly in addition to explicit descriptions of his unconventional viewpoints.
In sonnet 20, Shakespeare describes in immense detail the beauty of the young man and in doing so, explains the dissimilarities between the love for a man and the love for a woman. The first five lines offer a description of the man in the context of how like or unlike he is to a woman:
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, (ll. 1-5)1
Shakespeare begins with a physical description of his “master-mistress” expressing that he mirrors naturally created beauty,...