Sonnets analysis of william shakespeare


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Sonnets analysis of william shakespeare

  1. 1. As the opening sonnet of the sequence, this one obviously has especial importance. It contracted = being contracted to, under obligation to (in a legal sense). It also conveys theappears to look both before and after, into the future and the past. It sets the tone for the sense of compressed, curtailed, restricted. Cf. Ham.I.ii.3-4.following group of so called procreation sonnets 1-17. In addition, many of the compelling ...and our whole kingdomideas of the later sonnets are first sketched out here - the youths beauty, his vulnerability in To be contracted in one brow of woe,the face of times cruel processes, his potential for harm, to the world, and to himself, However it is difficult to see exactly what contracted to thine own bright eyes means,(perhaps also to his lovers), natures beauty, which is dull in comparison to his, the threat of although the glossarists cite the example of Narcissus from classical literature, who dieddisease and cankers, the folly of being miserly, the need to see the world in a larger sense having fallen in love with his own beauteous reflection in water. The general sense seems tothan through ones own restricted vision. be that of one who is perpetually pre-occupied with his own concerns, looking upon himself, and being under contract to pursue his own interests. See further discussions Sonnet 1Fair youth, be not churlish, be not self-centred, but go forth and fill the world with images of 6. Feedst thy lights flame with self-substantial fuel,yourself, with heirs to replace you. Because of your beauty you owe the world a recompense, Feedst thy lights flame = provides sustenance for the flame that gives light. Candles, taperswhich now you are devouring as if you were an enemy to yourself. Take pity on the world, and oil lamps were the only source of light in Shakespeares day.and do not, in utter selfish miserliness, allow yourself to become a perverted and self self-substantial fuel = fuel from its own body. Although the general sense of this line seems todestructive object who eats up his own posterity. be that of a fire or lamp burning up fuel, there are difficulties of interpretation. After all, how is a candle meant to feed itself, other than with itself? The suggestion is that the fuel should1. From fairest creatures we desire increase, be renewable. It implies a criticism of the youth, who is intent on devouring himself and hisfairest creatures = all living things that are beautiful. future hope. See further discussions Sonnet 1increase = procreation, offspring. A reference also to the increase of the harvest, by which 7. Making a famine where abundance lies,one seed of corn becomes many. There is a general presumption in husbandry that the best famine - emptiness, starvation, lack of provision for posterity.stock must always be used in breeding, otherwise there is an overall decline and failure in abundance - presumably a reference to the youths rich qualities, in contrast to the famineproductivity. The fairest creatures are therefore the fairest cattle, the best plants, the most which he threatens to create. Famines and glut were part of the usual cycle of life in theexcellent poultry, and so on. Whatever in fact is as good as, or an improvement on the Elizabethan world. A poor harvest could mean starvation for many, as the storage facilitiesprevious generation. Basically this is a farming or agricultarist metaphor. In his later years which we take for granted were unknown in those times.Shakespeare seems to have been interested in the nature/nurture discussion. There is the 8. Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:famous passage in Winters Tale, which is probably relevant here, in which Polixenes instructs Thy self thy foe = being an enemy to yourself.Perdita on the science of breeding flowers. WT.IV.4.79-103. (See the end of this page). to thy sweet self too cruel - by refusing to procreate, hence denying a future to yourself. You are being cruel to yourself in seeking your own extinction.2. That thereby beautys rose might never die, 9. Thou that art now the worlds fresh ornament,thereby = in that way, by that means. the worlds fresh ornament = a fresh and youthful glory to the world.beautys rose The rose was symbolic of all things beautiful. By reproducing itself it could, in a 10. And only herald to the gaudy spring,sense, become immortal. only = most important, chief, unique. herald = one who announces, a messenger. Shakespeare elsewhere calls the lark the herald of3. But as the riper should by time decease, the morn, and the owl the herald of night.riper = older, more mature, (person, plant, thing) more ready for harvesting. It was the lark, the herald of the morn,by time decease = die in the course of time. No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east: RJ.III.5.6-8.4. His tender heir might bear his memory:tender = young, delicate, soft. (Often applied to young animals). gaudy = bright, colourful (not necessarily vulgar).bear his memory - as an imprint taken from a seal; also with the sense of bearing a child, so 11. Within thine own bud buriest thy content,that the heir carries on the memory of parents through the generations. content = substance. Also, probably, pleasure. GBE suggests that content also = semen, and5. But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes, probably there is here a secondary meaning of masturbation, self-pleasure, as opposed to the 1
  2. 2. pleasure of procreation. SB mentions that Shakespeare exploits the possibility that rosebudswere phallic in appearance. (p.324. note to 12-13). Content(s) even today has the double 3. Thy youths proud livery so gazed on now,meaning of a) happiness, pleasure, and b) that which is contained in something. livery = uniform worn by servants in a noblemans house. It could be quite sumptuous, if the12. And, tender churl, makst waste in niggarding: nobleman wished to make a show of wealth.tender churl - probably a phrase indicating affection, rather than criticism, rather like sillyfool, or yer daft idiot. The context makes all the difference to such forms, which spoken 4. Will be a totterd weed of small worth held:angrily can be insulting, spoken tenderly are terms of endearment. churl countryman, rustic; totterd weed = a tattered garment. Tottered is an old spelling of tattered. weeds - oftenmakst waste = creates waste; lays waste, makes a desert; spills semen. refers to clothing in Shakespeare.niggarding = being miserly, stingy.13. Pity the world, or else this glutton be, 5. Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,this glutton = a glutton like this, i.e, such as I am about to describe, one who eats his own being asked = if you were to be asked; in the future, when you might be asked.share as well as the worlds. lies = is; is buried; is hidden.14. To eat the worlds due, by the grave and thee. 6. Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;by the grave and thee. Presumably, a duty owed to the world because the grave is all lusty days = the days of youthful exuberance; days of lustful behaviour. Note that treasuredevouring, and therefore to be fought; and a duty owed also to yourself, because it is in the contains a sexual innuendo, implying sexual parts, or semen, depending on context. Compare:nature of things that beauty should procreate, otherwise three score years will bear the .....................treasure thou some placeworld away, and so on. You purpose to be such a glutton as to consume both what the world With beautys treasure, ere it be self-killd. 6and you yourself should have as a right. The construction is not noticeably opaque until one Will will fulfil the treasure of thy love, 136starts to analyse it.The poet looks ahead to the time when the youth will have aged, and uses this as an 7. To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,argument to urge him to waste no time, and to have a child who will replicate his father and to say = to reply (to the question posed in the two lines above).preserve his beauty. The imagery of ageing used is that of siege warfare, forty winters being within thine own deep sunken eyes - the treasure of days long gone would show nothingthe besieging army, which digs trenches in the fields before the threatened city. The trenches surviving other than hollow eyes, caused by the process of ageing. Possibly also a hintedcorrespond to the furrows and lines which will mark the young mans forehead as he ages. He reference to the supposed effect of sexual excess (too much masturbation?).is urged not to throw away all his beauty by devoting himself to self-pleasure, but to havechildren, thus satisfying the world, and Nature, which will keep an account of what he does 8. Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.with his life. all-eating shame = a shame which devours all sense of right and decorum. thriftless praise = praise which produces no result or advantage. A praise of yourself which is clearly misplacedThe 1609 Quarto Version and damaging to you.1. When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, thriftless = showing no sense of thrift, or economy.besiege = lay siege to. A term from warfare. Forty winters (forty years) when added to theyoung mans present age, would make him about 60. At such an age he would have many 9. How much more praise deservd thy beautys use,wrinkles, although it is generally reckoned that in Elizabethan times, owing to dietary thy beautys use = the use which you make of your beauty, the profit you derive from it.inadequacies and disease, people aged much more rapidly, and even a forty year old could bedeemed to have reached old age. So the poet could be referring to the youth as he might be 6-9. Undoubtedly a sexual meaning to these lines, especially in treasure of thy lusty days, thywhen he reaches forty. beautys use. (See notes above) The youth is accused of expending his sexual energy upon himself, with the concomitant result of shame, exhaustion, sunken eyes and failure to point2. And dig deep trenches in thy beautys field, to any lasting result. See extended discussion of SonnetIdig deep trenches The besieging army would dig trenches to undermine the citys walls. Butthe reference may also be to furrows dug in a field when ploughing. 10. If thou couldst answer This fair child of mine 2
  3. 3. If you could reply in response to their questions, This child of mine, etc., etc. beguile = cheat; deprive of its due rights. unbless = make unhappy, deprive of fruitfulness, and the pleasure of being married to you. some mother = some woman whom you might marry and cause to be a mother. 5. For where is she so fair whose uneared womb11. Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse, For where is she so fair = what woman is so beautiful that; where is the woman in the worldsum my count = add up the balance sheet of my life; probably a bawdy pun on count, that (would be too proud to sleep with you).pronounced cunt. Hence, give a reckoning for all the cunts I have enjoyed. uneared = unploughed. To ear is the old term for to plough, and often it is usedmake my old excuse = justify my life when I am an old man; or, satisfy the arguments meatphorically. As e.g. in Antony and Cleopatra:advanced of old, that I should produce heirs; or make my habitual, frequently repeated Caesar, I bring thee word,excuse. Shakespeare uses old in this sense in Macbeth: Menecrates and Menas, famous pirates,If a man were a porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. Mac.II.3.2-3. Make the sea serve them, which they ear and wound With keels of every kind. AC.I.4.47-50.12. Proving his beauty by succession thine! where the keels are visualised as ploughing the sea.Proving, by his beauty, that he succeeds you as an heir to your beauty. proving also has the uneared womb - The reference here is to sexual intercourse. Ploughing the womb, (as themeaning of testing, trying out which may be relevant here. plough enters into the soil so does the man enter into the woman), and sowing it with seed (semen) leads to children, as ploughing and sowing the land leads to crops. According to the13. This were to be new made when thou art old, physiology of the time, the male seed was the substance which created a child, and theThis were to be new made = this would be as if you were being newly created. woman was simply a carrier of the developing embryo. The biological details of reproduction were not understood. For the ploughing imagery compare:14. And see thy blood warm when thou feelst it cold. He ploughed her and she cropped A.C. II.2.228Cold and freezing blood was thought to be the traditional accompaniment of old age. The which is Agrippas description of Julius Caesars liaison with Cleopatra, which resulted in themessage of the couplet is that a child made in his image would invigorate and effectively birth of Caesarion.renew him when he reached old age. His blood would flow warm in his veins again. 6. Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?The youth is urged once more to look to posterity and to bless the world by begetting Disdains = is contemptuous of.children. No woman, however beautiful, would disdain to have him as a mate. Just as he tillage of thy husbandry The farming and ploughing metaphor continues. Tillage is cultivation,reflects his mothers beauty, showing how lovely she was in her prime, so a child of his would working of the land; husbandry is farm and estate management, with a pun on being abe a record of his own beauty. In his old age he could look on this child and see an image of husband.what he once was. But if he chooses to remain single, everything will perish with him. 7. Or who is he so fond will be the tomb fond = foolish1. Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest 7-8 the tomb of his self-love in this context self-love leads to death, since there is no issue (i.eglass = mirror; glass in the Sonnets usually means mirror. no children).the face thou viewest = your reflection. I.e. speak to yourself and tell yourself that Now is the to stop posterity = to ensure that there are no descendants, to bring an end to futuretime etc. generations. The sentence has an additional sexual meaning, relating to masturbation. Onan2. Now is the time that face should form another; was the biblical figure who was destroyed by God for spilling the seed that he might not haveI.e. by having a child. children. See further commentary on SonnetI3. Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,If you do not undertake now the repair and renewal of your face, since it is fast decaying. 8. Of his self-love, to stop posterity?whose refers back to the face thou viewest. See above. 9. Thou art thy mothers glass and she in thee4. Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother. 3
  4. 4. Thou art thy mothers glass = you are effectively a mirror in which your mother can look to Which should sustain the bound and high curvet AW.II.3.272-5.see a reflection of herself as she was in her youth. 2. Upon thy self thy beautys legacy?10. Calls back the lovely April of her prime; upon thy self - see the note above. The implication is that all his pleasure is wasted uponCalls back = recalls, remembers, brings back to mind. himself.the lovely April of her prime = her springtime, when she was most beautiful. April was the thy beautys legacy = the riches that your beauty should leave to the world when you arebeginning of Spring, and was thought to be the most colourful of the months. Compare: gone (your children). The legacy of beauteous children should be created by his semen which he is wasting instead in frivolous self pleasure.With Aprils first-born flowers, and all things rareThat heavens air in this huge rondure hems. 21 3. Natures bequest gives nothing, but doth lend, Natures bequest = the qualities, talents, attributes, which are provided by Nature at birth.11. So thou through windows of thine age shalt see, Nature, however, does not give outright, but only makes a loan. She expects repayment ofthrough windows of thine age - This suggests not only looking back from old age, upon the the loan with interest (in the form of gifts to the world).past, as if through a window, but also looking at a child, ones own, as if seeing it through a 4. And being frank she lends to those are free:window. The window can be both a barrier to and a point of contact with the world beyond. frank = generous, liberal;12. Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time. to those are free = to those who are open hearted, free spirited. Nature expects a reciprocalDespite = in spite of. response to her gift.thy golden time = the time of your golden youth, the time of your glory. 5. Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse13. But if thou live, remembered not to be, niggard = miserly person; stingy and selfish individual.remembered not to be = determined not to be remembered, not being remembered. It ties in abuse = ill treat. Also with a suggestion of self-abuse, masturbation. The use of niggard(ing)with the theme that the consequence of dying childless is to be erased from the book of here and in I.12 in a similar context suggests a slang meaning of tosser, wanker.memory. 6. The bounteous largess given thee to give? The inheritance (of beauty etc.) which was given to you so that you might pass it on. largess =14. Die single and thine image dies with thee. generous bestowal of good qualities.If you die, as a single man, with no children, there will be no image to carry on your memory. 7. Profitless usurer, why dost thou useThe line could be read as a sort of tetchy imperative - Die as a single person then, if you must The comparison of the youth with a usurer (money-lender), albeit a profitless (unsuccessful)be so stubbornly inclined!. one, is not very flattering. Perhaps it was meant to stir him into action which would remedyThe youth is urged once again not to throw away without regard the beauty which is his to the situation. use is intended both in the technical sense of lending money as a usurer, as wellperfection. It is Natures gift, but only given on condition that it is used to profit the world, as that of making use of (his beauty) by procreating.that is, by handing it on to future generations. An analogy is drawn from money-lending: the 8. So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?usurer should use his money wisely. Yet the young man has dealings with himself alone, and So great a sum of sums - Usurers had large sums of money at their disposal. They performedcannot give a satisfactory account of time well spent. If he continues to behave in such a way, financial services which are nowadays done by banks.his beauty will die with him, whereas he could leave inheritors to benefit from his legacy. yet canst not live - the poet here compares the usurer who makes a comfortable living from the interest he charges, with the youth who has so much wealth of beauty, yet cannot live1. Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend (survive) into the future.Unthrifty = Unsaving, wasteful., prodigal.loveliness - this is personified as the youth. The youth is beauty itself. 9. For having traffic with thy self alone,1-2. Why dost thou spend/ upon thyself - As well as the financial sense of squandering wealth i.e by not dealing in the commodities which nature has bestowed upon you (nobility, beauty,and resources, this also has a secondary sexual reference of emitting semen . Compare : wealth). The sexual meaning of masturbation is fairly explicit.He wears his honour in a box unseen 10. Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:That hugs his kicky wicky here at home, You deprive yourself of children, who are, in a sense, yourself; you deceive, cheat yourself.Spending his manly marrow in her arms, of thy self could mean by your own action. deceive = cheat. 4
  5. 5. 11. Then how when nature calls thee to be gone, 2. The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,Then how - the question is taken over by What acceptable audit in the next line. The where = whereon, on which. The youths beauty is typified by his gaze, which perhaps standscompound question may be read as How will you give an account of yourself and your for his eyes, or his appearance, or his manner of looking at the world. See Mirandasbehaviour to Nature when she calls (when you die) and what audited record of yourself will exclamation on seeing Ferdinand:you provide? What ist? A spirit? Lord how it looks about! Tem.I.ii.412 3. Will play the tyrants to the very same12. What acceptable audit canst thou leave? play the tyrant = will be tyrannical, will be like a tyrant. Possibly with a reference to the emptyTaken together the two lines seem to mean How is it that, when your time of death comes, bragging of a stage tyrant. See Hamlets speech to the players Ham.III.2.1-14. Tyrantsyou will not be able to render a satisfactory account of yourself? (See note to line above). traditionally behaved with cruelty.Strictly speaking the term audit is applied to a check which is made on accounts after they the very same must refer to the lovely gaze.have been presented, but also, by extension, it appears to mean the accounts themselves. It 4. And that unfair which fairly doth excel;is based on the Latin Audite, (and spelt thus in 49 and 126), and is the imperative of the verb unfair = make ugly. Unfair is used here as a verb.audire, to hear. Hence Hear! Listen! Be heard! is the implied translation, and it indicates the which fairly doth excel = which excels in beauty, fairness.hearing of accounts presented before a court, or tribunal, or in some such official setting. 5. For never-resting time leads summer on13. Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee, leads summer on - this suggests duplicity, as for example in the modern phrases to lead upHere there is also a secondary (primary?) sexual meaning. Your beauty (seed) should be used the garden path, to lead by the nose.for procreation. If used in such a way, it would create progeny, a child who would be theinheritor of that beauty. But if unused, by being spilt and wasted then etc. 6. To hideous winter, and confounds him there;must be tombed = cannot avoid being entombed. (Your seed would be buried uselessly in hideous winter - Winter was often depicted as a hag dressed in filthy clothing.your lap). Your children would be unborn, forever entombed. and confounds him there = and destroys him (summer) there, where winter reigns.14. Which, used, lives th executor to be. Confounds = destroys. Also suggests thwarts, reduces to perplexity. From the LatinWhich refers to thy beauty. If it is used, it creates children, who would interpret and present confundere - to pour together, mix as you were to the world. 7. Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,lives thexecutor to be = lives in the future as your children, as the inheritor and administrator checked = stopped, held back; Frost prevents the sap from rising. lusty = vigorous, full ofof your beauty. growth and energy. 8. Beauty oer-snowed and bareness every where:This and the following sonnet are written as a pair. oer-snowed = covered with snow. 9. Then were not summers distillation left,The poet laments the progress of the years, which will play havoc with the young mans were not = If (summers distillation) had not been preserved. This refers to the distillation ofbeauty. Human life is like the seasons, spring, summer, autumns maturity and fruition, perfume from fragrant flowers, such as roses. Rosewater was much in demand forfollowed by hideous winter. Nothing is left of summers beauty except for that which the sweetmeats, confections and kissing-comfits.careful housewife preserves, the essence of roses and other flowers distilled for their 10. A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,perfume. Other than that there is no remembrance of things beautiful. But once distilled, the The distillate would be kept in a glass vessel, a vial. See the next sonnet.substance of beauty is always preserved. therefore the youth should consider how his beauty 11. Beautys effect with beauty were bereft,might be best distilled. Beautys effect = the action or force beauty exerts on the world. with = at the same time as, together with.1. Those hours, that with gentle work did frame were bereft = would be lost. We may paraphrase, If beauty were to die, the beneficial effectsThe time of your growing up, which made you what you are. of beauty would die with it (if we did not save them by distillation).with gentle work - Nature is portrayed as a gentle artificer, making things with kindness, butlater becoming tyrannous and harsh. 12. Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:frame = make, but contains the suggestion of making into a structure, or scaffolding. 5
  6. 6. A verb is understood here, such as would survive. Neither the thing itself (beauty), nor any were not placed in a womb. The mans seed was considered to be the essential substance forremembrance of what it was like, would survive. the generation of new life. Womens function in the reproductive process was notNor it, nor no = neither it, nor any. understood. The woman was thought to be no more than the vehicle for carrying the mans13. But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet, progeny.distilled - see line 9. 5. That use is not forbidden usury,though they with winter meet = although winter overtakes and destroys them. A return to the money lending imagery of Sonnet 4. 7-8. use in the technical sense of usufruct, interest, making money by lending it out. Usury was14. Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet. considered sinful, but a ten percent return on money was legally permitted. The usurersLeese = loosen, release. performed the function of modern day banks. See GBE, p.120 Note on VI.5.but = only.their show = their outward appearance (with a suggestion of showiness, frivolity). 6. Which happies those that pay the willing loan;substance = essence, essential being. Neo-Platonic philosophy made much of the distinction happies = makes happy. those refers to the borrowers.between shadow and substance. the willing loan = a loan given (and taken?) willingly. The implication is that beauty could bestill = always, ever. lent out and repaid with interest, by the mother and by the children she bore to the man.The theme of the previous sonnet, that summers beauty must be distilled and preserved, is 7. Thats for thy self to breed another thee,here continued. The youth is encouraged to defeat the threatened ravages of winter by Thats for thy self = which would be the case if you bred a copy of yourself, (as the usurershaving children. Ten children would increase his happiness tenfold, since there would be ten breed copies of their money).faces to mirror his. Death therefore would be defeated, since he would live for ever through 8. Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;his posterity, even if he should himself die. He is much too beautiful to be merely food for happier = more fortunate, as well as happier.worms, and must be encouraged not to be selfish, but to outwit death and deaths be it ten for one = should you have ten children rather than one.conquering hand. 9. Ten times thy self were happier than thou art, Having ten children would make you ten times happier than if you only had one child, or1. Then let not winters ragged hand deface, certainly happier than you are in your present childless situation.winters ragged hand: winter was often depicted as wearing rags. Also, being destructive, itwould make the things it touched look ragged. 10. If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:deface - in addition to the general sense of disfigurement, it refers also to the wrinkles of old If ten children of yours existed, making ten images of you. But with a suggestion that the tenage which deface the visage of youth. children could also breed, thus refiguring him still further with grandchildren. The repetition of ten, five times in three lines, seems to hammer the point home. He would be at least aSee also the further commentary on Sonnet64 hundred thousand times happier than he is in his present state.2. In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled: 11. Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,Spring and summer seem to refer interchangeably to the youth at his best. Evidently this line has biblical overtones. Oh death where is thy sting? Oh grave thy victory?ere thou be distilld = before a distillation is made of your essence. Before you have children. if thou shouldst depart = if you should die.The petals of flowers were boiled and distilled to extract the perfume. The distillate wasstored to be used in cosmetics and in the making of confectionery. 12. Leaving thee living in posterity?3. Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place Since you would still be alive hereafter. Leave has the meanings of depart, die, and bequeath.vial = phial, a small vessel for liquids, usually made of glass. treasure thou some place = enrich So that the youth would bequeath himself to posterity through his children. Posterity also hadsome place, some maidens womb with your treasure (seed, children). the meaning of perpetuity.4. With beautys treasure ere it be self-killed. 13. Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fairbeautys treasure = the treasure of your own beauty. Also, semen. ere = before. His beautywould be self-killed by his refusing to have children, and his seed would be destroyed if it 6
  7. 7. self-willed = obstinate, but it also echoes self-killed of line 4. There is a sexual innuendo sound, which is actually made up of many sounds, so the family is a unit comprised of singlederived from will (= sexual desire, passion; see 135, 136). Hence do not devote yourself to members who function best — and most naturally — when working in tandem with oneself-pleasure, masturbation. another.14. To be deaths conquest and make worms thine heir. Summarydeaths conquest = that which is conquered, overthrown, by death. One who dies (or who hasan orgasm). Also apparently there is a legal meaning of conquest: (OED.6) - property acquired The poet imagines that the young man objects to the bliss of marriage on the grounds that heby means other than inheritance (usually by force of arms). might die young anyway or that he might die and leave a bereaved widow and an orphanedmake worms thine heir: instead of leaving an heir in the normal way, he would leave worms child. To these arguments, the poet replies that should the young man marry, have a child,breeding from his corpse. Only worms would profit from his death. and then die, at least his widow will be consoled by the child whom the young man fathered;___________________________________________________________________________ in this way, his image will not be destroyed with his death. Furthermore, by not marrying, the young man makes the whole world his widow. Shakespeare continues the business imagery so prevalent in the previous sonnets. TheSummary concept of love is not entirely distinguished from commercial wealth, for Shakespeare relates those who traffic in love to the world at large. When an unthrifty person makes ill use of hisSonnet 7 compares human life to the passage of the sun ("gracious light") from sunrise to inherited wealth, only those among whom he squanders it benefit. The paradox lies in thesunset. The suns rising in the morning symbolizes the young mans youthful years: Just as we fact that the hoarding of loves beauty is the surest way of squandering it: Such consumingwatch the "sacred majesty" of the ever-higher sun, so too does the poet view the youth. The self-love unnaturally turns life inward, a waste felt by all.suns highest point in the sky resembles "strong youth in his middle age." However, after thesun reaches it apex, its only direction is down. This downward movement represents "feeble Glossaryage" in the youth, and what is worse than mere physical appearance is that the people wholooked in awe at the youths beauty will "look another way" when he has become old. Indeath, he will not be remembered. makeless mateless.As usual, the poet argues that the only way for the youth to ensure that he is remembered Summaryafter he dies is to have a child, making it clear that this child should be a son. Two possiblereasons why the poet wants the young man to have a son and not a daughter are that, first, a Sonnet 10 repeats and extends the argument of Sonnet 9, with the added suggestion that theson would carry on the youths last name, whereas traditionally a daughter would assume the youth really loves no one. Clearly, the poet does not seriously believe the young man to belast name of her husband, and second, the word "son" is a play on the word "sun" — it is not incapable of affection, for then there would be no point in the poets trying to maintain acoincidental that in this sonnet, which incorporates the image of the sun, the poet makes relationship with him. However, underneath the mock-serious tone is the poets suggestionclear for the first time that the young mans child should be a son. that the youths self-love wastes himself. Narcissism means infatuation with ones own appearance, but the youths absorption with his own image is really an attachment toSummary nobody. He therefore loses the power of returning the creative force of love in a relationship. The poet considers the youths unwillingness to marry a form of homicide against his potential progeny, which he suggested in Sonnet 9: "The world will wail thee like a makelessIn this sonnet, the poet compares a single musical note to the young man and a chord made wife;/ The world will be thy widow, and still weep . . ." And in Sonnet 10, the poet writes, "Forup of many notes to a family. The marriage of sounds in a chord symbolizes the union of thou art so possessed with murdrous hate/ that gainst thyself thou stickst not to conspire."father, mother, and child. Here, Sonnet 10 creates the image of marriage as a house with a roof falling in decay that the youth should seek to repair, but the poet uses the house imagery less to indicate marriageThe first twelve lines elaborate a comparison between music and the youth, who, should he than to suggest the youths beauty would reside in his offspring: "Make thee another self formarry and have a child, would then be the very embodiment of harmony. But music, "the true love of me,/ That beauty still may live in thine or thee."concord of well-tuned sounds," scolds him because he remains single — a single note, not achord. By refusing to marry, the youth destroys the harmony that he should make as part ofan ensemble, a family. Just as the strings of a lute when struck simultaneously produce one 7
  8. 8. Summary structure of such sonnets is periodic (consisting of a series of repeated stages), making for tightness of organization, logical progression, and avoidance of a tacked-on couplet,The poet now argues that the young man needs to have a child in order to maintain a balancein nature, for as the youth grows old and wanes, his childs "fresh blood" will act as a balance Summaryto his own old age. The young man is irresponsible not to have a child, for if others acted ashe does, within one generation the entire human population would die out. The young mansactions are not onlyirresponsible; they are also unnatural. Nature, according to the poet, Sonnet 13 furthers Sonnet 12s theme of death by again stating that death will foreverintended people who are able to have children to have them. Those people who refuse to vanquish the young mans beauty if he dies without leaving a child. Some significance may liehave children are unnatural and upset natures balance. in the fact that the poet refers to the youth as "you" in Sonnet 13 for the first time. "Thou" expresses respectful homage in Elizabethan parlance, but "you" expresses intimate affection. In any case, Sonnet 13 begins with the heartfelt wish, "O, that you were yourself," and theEncouraging the youth to reproduce, the poet draws an analogy between procreation and warning, ". . . but, love, you are / No longer yours than you yourself here live." This secondwriting poetry. The images of Sonnet 11 suggest that procreation and posterity reflect art and line reminds the youth that at death, he will cease to possess himself because he has nocraftsmanship: "She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby / Thou shouldst print more, offspring to perpetuate his name and his beauty.not let that copy die." The young man, should he die childless, effectively kills any lastingimage of himself through his children. The poets proposal to his friend in Sonnet 13 contains ambiguities. Indeed, the young man may choose either to have a son or to remain only an image of himself when he looks in aSummary mirror. Substance (a son) or form (the youths image in a mirror) is the only choice presented. The young man seems so completely immersed in his own personality that his entire being is in doubt. Already the poet hints of deceit, which now the youth unwittingly uses againstSonnet 12 again speaks of the sterility of bachelorhood and recommends marriage and himself and later deliberately uses against the poet. By refusing to marry, the youth cheatschildren as a means of immortality. Additionally, the sonnet gathers the themes of Sonnets 5, himself of happiness and denies his continuation in a child.6, and 7 in a restatement of the idea of using procreation to defeat time. Sonnet 12establishes a parallel way of measuring the passage of time, the passage of nature, and thepassage of youth through life — decay. Lines 1 and 2 focus on day becoming night (the The concluding couplet presents a new argument on the poets part in persuading the youngpassage of time); lines 3 and 4 link nature to humankind, for the poet first evokes a flowers man to marry and procreate. Earlier in the sonnets (Sonnets 3 and 8), the poet invoked thewilting stage (the passage of nature). Then, in line 4, the poet juxtaposes this image with young mans mother as a persuasive tool. Here, the poet asks why the youth would deny ablack hair naturally aging and turning gray (the passage of youth) — an allusion perhaps son the pleasure of having the young man as his father, just as the young man foundmeant to frighten the young man about turning old without having created a child. The poet happiness in being the son of his father. And perhaps even more important, the poetthen discusses the progression of the seasons, from "summers green" to "the bier with white questions why the young man would deny himself the rapture of fatherhood when he hasand bristly beard," which is an image of snow and winter. By stressing these different ways to plainly observed the joy of his own fathers being a parent to him.measure times decay, the poet hopes that the young man will finally realize that time stopsfor no one; the only way the young man will ensure the survival of his beauty is throughoffspring. This final point, that having children is the single means of gaining immortality, is Summarymost strongly stated in the sonnets concluding couplet: "And nothing gainst Times scythecan make defense / Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence." In these lines, Sonnet 13 depends on an intimate relationship between the poet and the young man that is"Times scythe," a traditional image of death, is unstoppable "save breed," meaning except by symbolized in the use of the more affectionate "you"; Sonnet 14 discards — at leasthaving children. The fast pace of time, or the loss of it, remains a major theme in the sonnets. temporarily — this intimate "you" and focuses on the poets own stake in the relationship between the two men. In fact, this sonnet is more about the poet — the "I" — than about theSonnet 12 is notable for its musical quality, thanks largely to the effective use of alliteration young man. Ironically, the poet appears to be as infatuated with the young man as he claimsand attractive vowel runs, which are of unusual merit. This sonnet, along with Sonnet 15, the young man is infatuated with his own reflection in a mirror.which is also notable for its musical quality, is almost always included in anthologies of lyricpoetry. Note the striking concluding lines and how they convey the sense of sorrow and Sonnet 14 contains one dominant image, that of the young mans eyes as stars, from whichpoignancy at the thought that youth and beauty must be cut down by times scythe. The the poet attains his knowledge. Stylistically, this sonnet is a good example of a typicalcontrast of "brave day" with "hideous night" is particularly good. And, as one critic has Shakespearean sonnet: The first eight lines establish an argument, and then line 9 turns thispointed out, the sonnets beginning with "When" are especially noteworthy because the argument upside down with its first word, "But." The concluding couplet, lines 13 and 14, declares some outcome or effect of the young mans behavior. Typically, this concluding 8
  9. 9. image is of death, as in Sonnet 14s "Thy end is truths and beautys doom and date." In other life") will keep the young mans beauty alive and youthful in a form more substantial than artwords, should the young man die without fathering a son, not only will he suffer from the lack can create.of an heir, but the world, too, will suffer from the youths selfishness. SummarySummary In the earlier sonnets, the poets main concern was to persuade the youth to marry andIn Sonnet 15s first eight lines, the poet surveys how objects mutate — decay — over time: ". . reproduce his beauty in the creation of a child. That purpose changes here in Sonnet 17, in. every thing that grows / Holds in perfection but a little moment." In other words, life is which the poet fears that his praise will be remembered merely as a "poets rage" that falselytransitory and ever-changing. Even the youths beauty will fade over time, but because the gave the youth more beauty than the youth actually possessed, thus expressing an insecuritypoet knows that this metamorphosis is inevitable, he gains an even stronger appreciation of about his poetic creations that began in the preceding sonnet.the young mans beautiful appearance in the present time — at least in the present timewithin the sonnet. Ironically, then, the youths beauty is both transitory and permanent — This disparaging tone concerning the sonnets is most evident in line 3, in which the poettransitory because all things in nature mutate and decay over time, and permanent because characterizes his poetry as a "tomb." Such death imagery is appropriate given the frequentthe inevitable aging process, which the poet is wholly aware of as inevitable, intensifies the incorporation of time, death, and decay images throughout the first seventeen sonnets.young mans present beauty: Generally, the more momentary an object lasts, the more Ironically, the poet, who has been so concerned about the young mans leaving behind avibrant and intense is its short life span. legacy at death to remind others of his priceless beauty, is now worried about his own future reputation. Will his poems be ridiculed by readers who disbelieve the poets laudatory praiseSonnet 15 also introduces another major theme that will be more greatly developed in later of the young mans beauty? Not, says the poet, if the youth has a child by which people cansonnets: the power of the poets verse to memorialize forever the young mans beauty. "I then compare the poets descriptions of the youths beauty to the beauty of the youths childingraft you new," the poet says at the end of the sonnet, by which the poet means that, — now asking the youth to have a child in order to confirm the poets worthiness.however steady is the charge of decay, his verses about the young man will keep the youthsbeauty always fresh, always new; the sonnets immortalize this beauty. Ironically, the poets The sonnets concluding couplet links sexual procreation and versification as parallelsonnets serve the same purpose as a son whom the poet wants the young man to father: activities: "But were some child of yours alive that time, / You should live twice — in it and inThey perpetuate the youths beauty just as a son would. In fact, the sonnets are even more my rime." The poets task is an endless struggle against time, whose destructive purpose canimmortal than a son. The sonnets continue to be read even today, whereas the young mans only be frustrated by the creation of fresh beauty or art, which holds life suspended.progeny may have completely died out.Glossary Summaryvaunt boast. One of the best known of Shakespeares sonnets, Sonnet 18 is memorable for the skillful and varied presentation of subject matter, in which the poets feelings reach a level of rapture unseen in the previous sonnets. The poet here abandons his quest for the youth to have aSummary child, and instead glories in the youths beauty.Sonnet 16 continues the arguments for the youth to marry and at the same time now Initially, the poet poses a question — "Shall I compare thee to a summers day?" — and thendisparages the poets own poetic labors, for the poet concedes that children will ensure the reflects on it, remarking that the youths beauty far surpasses summers delights. The imageryyoung man immortality more surely than will his verses because neither verse nor painting is the very essence of simplicity: "wind" and "buds." In the fourth line, legal terminology —can provide a true reproduction of the "inward worth" or the "outward fair" of youth. "summers lease" — is introduced in contrast to the commonplace images in the first three lines. Note also the poets use of extremes in the phrases "more lovely," "all too short," and "too hot"; these phrases emphasize the young mans beauty.Although the poet has tried to immortalize the youths beauty in his sonnets, the youthssexual power is, as line 4 states, endowed "With means more blessed than my barren rhyme."The poet concedes that his poetry ("painted counterfeit") is "barren"because it is a mere Although lines 9 through 12 are marked by a more expansive tone and deeper feeling, thereplica of the young mans beauty and not the real thing itself, whereas a child ("the lines of poet returns to the simplicity of the opening images. As one expects in Shakespeares sonnets, the proposition that the poet sets up in the first eight lines — that all nature is 9
  10. 10. subject to imperfection — is now contrasted in these next four lines beginning with "But." In this crucial, sensual sonnet, the young man becomes the "master-mistress" of the poetsAlthough beauty naturally declines at some point — "And every fair from fair sometime passion. The young mans double nature and character, however, present a problem ofdeclines" — the youths beauty will not; his unchanging appearance is atypical of natures description: Although to the poet he possesses a womans gentleness and charm, the youthsteady progression. Even death is impotent against the youths beauty. Note the ambiguity in bears the genitalia ("one thing") of a man, and despite having a womans physicalthe phrase "eternal lines": Are these "lines" the poets verses or the youths hoped-for attractiveness, the young man has none of a womans fickle and flirtatious character — achildren? Or are they simply wrinkles meant to represent the process of aging? Whatever the condescending view of women, if not flat out misogynistic.answer, the poet is jubilant in this sonnet because nothing threatens the young mansbeautiful appearance. The youths double sexuality, as portrayed by the poet, accentuates the youths challenge for the poet. As a man with the beauty of a woman, the youth is designed to be partnered withThen follows the concluding couplet: "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long women but attracts men as well, being unsurpassed in looks and more faithful than anylives this, and this gives life to thee." The poet is describing not what the youth is but what he woman.will be ages hence, as captured in the poets eternal verse — or again, in a hoped-for child.Whatever one may feel about the sentiment expressed in the sonnet and especially in these Sonnet 20 is the first sonnet not concerned in one way or another with the defeat of time orlast two lines, one cannot help but notice an abrupt change in the poets own estimate of his with the young mans fathering a child. Rather, the poets interest is in discovering the naturepoetic writing. Following the poets disparaging reference to his "pupil pen" and "barren of their relationship. Yet even as the poet acknowledges an erotic attraction to the youth, herhyme" in Sonnet 16, it comes as a surprise in Sonnet 18 to find him boasting that his poetry does not entertain the possibility of a physical consummation of his love.will be eternal. Of all the sonnets, Sonnet 20 stirs the most critical controversy, particularly among thoseSummary critics who read the sonnets as autobiography. But the issue here is not what could have happened, but what the poets feelings are. Ambiguity characterizes his feelings but not hisIn Sonnet 19, the poet addresses Time and, using vivid animal imagery, comments on Times language. The poet does not want to possess the youth physically. But the sonnet is the firstnormal effects on nature. The poet then commands Time not to age the young man and ends one to evoke bawdiness. The poet "fell a-doting" and waxes in a dreamlike repine of hisby boldly asserting that the poets own creative talent will make the youth permanently creation until, in the last line, the dreamer wakes to the youths true sexual reality: "Mine beyoung and beautiful. However uninspired the sonnet as a whole might seem, the imagery of thy love, and thy loves use their treasure." We are assured then that the relation of poet toanimals is particularly vivid. youth is based on love rather than sex; according to some critics, even if the possibility existed that the poet could have a sexual relationship with the young man, he doesnt show that he would be tempted. Other critics, of course, disagree with this interpretation.The sonnets first seven lines address the ravages of nature that "Devouring Time" can wreak.Then, in line 8, the poet inserts the counter-statement, one line earlier than usual: "But Iforbid thee one most heinous crime." The poet wants time to leave the young mans beautyuntouched. Note that the word "lines" in line 10 unquestionably means wrinkles; in theprevious sonnet, "lines" had at least three possible meanings.Although the poet begs time not to ravish the young mans beauty, to leave it "untainted" asan example of perfection ("beautys pattern") upon which all can gaze, the concludingcouplet, especially line 13s beginning "Yet," underscores the poets insecurity of what he asksfor. However, natures threatening the youths beauty does not matter, for the poetconfidently asserts that the youth will gain immortality as the subject of the sonnets. Becausepoetry, according to the poet, is eternal, it only stands to reason that his poetry about theyoung man will ensure the youths immortality. The youth as the physical subject of thesonnets will age and eventually die, but in the sonnets themselves he will remain young andbeautiful.Summary 10
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