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Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

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Sonnets are known by their structure. A sonnet is a 14 lined poem that most of the time has a rhyme scheme. William Shakespeare wrote over 100 sonnets, but they are not known for their sonnet-like structure, they are known for their moving themes or underlying messages. A large amount of Shakespeare’s sonnet portrays obsessive love. The most known sonnet written by William Shakespeare out of the over 100 would have to be Sonnet #18. Specifically, in “Sonnet #18” William Shakespeare uses metaphors, imagery, allegory, and comparison to show the main ideas of love, time, and true beauty.

It is believed that William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, the United Kingdom on April 23, 1554, to his parents John and Mary Shakespeare. Three days later on April 26th, he was baptized. He attended school at the Stratford schoolhouse. When Shakespeare was about 14 years old his father’s finances began to suffer. At this point, some people believe that he was pulled out of school but there is no firm proof that this is what happened. At the age of 18, he met Anne Hathaway, got her pregnant, but obtained permission to marry her under special circumstances. They had three children Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. In the 1580’s Shakespeare left everything he knew, his home and family to go to London to launch his play career. By 1592 he had become a success in London playwriting, writing poems, sonnets, plays, etc. His name and work continue to gain popularity, and in 1599 The Globe Theater was constructed and opened. The Globe Theater is the reason Shakespeare made a lot of money. He didn’t care where his family was and started whoring around. In the 1600’s he wrote the major plays that we know today such as Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. At this point in life, he has reinvented himself in building a relationship with his children. By the summer of 1613 The Globe Theater burned down and he decided to retire back to Stratford, but he still had a fortune. William Shakespeare died on his birthday, April 23, 1616.

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The theme that is conveyed in Sonnet #18 is love, time, and true beauty. Let’s start with the theme of love. As soon as you read the first two lines you see the poet describing the person as lovely. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate:” (ln. 1-2) A summer’s day is hot and dreadful and the poet is saying that this person is much better than a summer day. The time aspect comes into play when the poet says “And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed” (ln. 7-8) Here we also see the connection that is made between time and the theme of true beauty. “The opening lines of the sonnet play on the proverbial formula ‘as good as one shall see in a summer’s day, meaning ‘as good as the best there is’ (Booth 1977: 161). However, it goes on to refer to how time affects beauty.” (Crews) Time goes on no matter what, there’s no stopping it, and as time goes on we age and our looks will not remain the same as this happens. “Nor lose possession of the fair thou ow’st” (ln. 9). Shakespeare is trying to convey that even though people’s age and physical beauty may not be visible their true beauty lies within them.

This poem talks a lot about seasons, descriptively. It is filled with imagery to help to reader feel what the poet feels. Literary critic Joanne Woolway says this “The “darling buds of May” and the “gold complexion” of summer days transport the reader to an idyllic pastoral world where the sun always shines and where nature is always renewing itself.” (Woolway) “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” (ln 3) The winds are described as rough and the buds are darling, this provides the reader with a sense of touch and sight. “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often his gold complexion dimmed” (ln 5-6) Here the poet is referring to the sun, as the poet appeals to the reader’s senses, in this case, touch and sight, we can understand that the hot sun shines sometimes, but quite often it’s bright hot beaming rays are blocked.

As stated earlier one of the themes of Sonnet 18 is love but the tone of the poem could be described as endearing. We see the revelation of this tone right off the bat when Shakespeare opens the sonnet with the question “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (ln. 1) When discussing the theme I used this quote to display the poet’s love for whomever the sonnet was written for, but now I want to take it a step further and apply it to the tone of the poem. Shakespeare poses this question and then does exactly what he just asked. This provokes the reader to dwell on this thought of love, and as the poem goes on he continues doing this by keeping their attention drawn to this idea of love.

Sonnet #18 is focused on true beauty the words Shakespeare chose perfectly displayed this such as “eternal”, “possession”, “nature’s”, and “heaven”. Throughout the poem Shakespeare is trying to get across that true beauty lies within and it doesn’t fade. These words play perfectly into that. “Nor lose possession of the fair thou ow’st” (ln. 9) This line literally says not lose possession of the beauty you own. If Shakespeare had chosen to use a different word instead of “possession” here the phrase wouldn’t have had the same meaning. The word “eternal” is also a big one for this poem because one of the main ideas is that beauty lasts forever, and eternal literally means forever. Shakespeare hit the nail right on the head with this one, eternal is probably the most moving word he could’ve chosen to use. “In no other sonnet does the speaker quite equal the untroubled confidence, even cockiness, with which the poet-lover in Sonnet 18 boasts of his power in rivalry with death’s “brag.”(Ferry). Everything stems back down to diction. As for the rhyme scheme, all Shakespearean poems are written with iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter has five rules or guidelines which are: “1. Monosyllabic content words and the primary stressed syllables of polysyllabic content words on the metrical beat, 2. A monosyllabic function (grammatical) word off the beat and unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words will be reduced., 3. A monosyllabic content word of the metrical beat will be stressed., 4. A normally unstressed monosyllabic function word on the beat and a secondary stressed syllable of a polysyllabic word on the beat and following a reduced syllable will be stressed but not accented., 5. A syllable on the beat and following a stressed syllable of the beat will be accepted. (Cooper) Along with those rules, Shakespeare always writes his sonnets in the format of abab cdcd efef gg. Although this sonnet is a little different according to literary critics “Some of the lines of this sonnet are irregular, but a totally regular one is line 3 where the stress falls on “winds,” “shake,” “darl-,” “buds,” and “May.” (Woolway)

In writing, literary devices are so important to make each piece diverse, without them every piece would have no substance. Sonnet #18 has metaphors, hyperboles, and allegory, etc. When analyzing the sonnet I found that almost every line is an example and that the poem is molded around hyperboles and allegory. Along with those two Shakespeare also gives nature some human traits, adding personification to the list. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;” (ln. 3-4) Examples of a metaphor would be “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,” (ln. 5) really “the eye of heaven” is the metaphor because Shakespeare is referencing the sun and the sun is definitely not literally the eye of heaven.

Overall, the 17th-century poet William Shakespeare captured the essence of love, time, and true beauty in the most perfect endearing way he could in Sonnet #18. It is quite surprising that a person with his childhood background could pull something this amazing off so well, but he had incorporated all the perfect elements. Shakespeare flooded the 14 lines of sonnet 18 with imagery, allegory, personification, metaphors, and hyperboles, etc. Along with the literary devices, he also used the best vocabulary for the theme in the time he was in. There isn’t much that could’ve made this sonnet a better poem, except the irregularities in the rhyme scheme. 

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