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Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

  • Date Submitted: 11/15/2014 07:47 AM
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Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
Sonnet 18 is among the most famous of Shakespeare’s works and is believed by many to be one of the greatest love poems of all time. Like other sonnets, it is written in iambic pentameter form, consisting of four quatrains and a rhyming couplet. It deals with the theme of beauty and the way it is affected by time. In this sonnet, Shakespeare also boasts to have the power to preserve his love’s beauty through poetry which has lead critics such as James Boyd-White to claim that it is actually ‘one long exercise in self-glorification’ rather than a love poem.

The sonnet begins with conveying the beauty of Shakespeare’s love. It is notable that their physical features are not actually described – we are told nothing specific of how they look – instead Shakespeare compares his love to a summer’s day and concludes that their beauty is greater than that of summer and the sun. The poem opens with the famous complimentary question:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
This question is flattering in itself as a summer’s day is often associated with beauty. Shakespeare, however, explains that his love’s beauty exceeds that of the summer and does not have its tendency towards unpleasant extremes:

“Thou art more lovely and more temperate:”

Shakespeare makes specific criticisms of the summer: its beauty is spoiled by strong winds and it disappoints us by being too short:

“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”
It should be noted that at the time the sonnet was written, England had not yet adopted the Gregorian calendar and May was considered a summer month. In the above quote, Shakespeare describes the fragility and short duration of summer’s beauty. The use of the word ‘lease’ reminds us of the fact that everything beautiful remains so for a limited time only and after a while its beauty will be forcibly taken away.

In the second quatrain, Shakespeare continues his criticisms...


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