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Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

For many centuries, Shakespeare is viewed as one of the greatest writers of all time. His works are highly renowned around the globe, for both his plays, which have been re-enacted countless times and his vast collection of poetry. Shakespeare’s sonnets consist of a collection of 154 were published in 1609. It is unknown whether the 1609 publication comprises all the sonnets he wrote, but, likely, it does not.

Many sonnets are intensely personal, divulging sexual interests and indulgences, while others are deeply emotional, disclosing the author’s most private feelings and emotions. Sonnet 18 is an example of the latter and is perhaps the best known and most highly acclaimed, despite being quite simplistic in language and intent. The theme is lucid, the stability of love and its power to immortalize poetry through its infinite beauty. An English sonnet is a form of poetry consisting of 14 lines. The rhyming scheme is very complex yet subtle, while allowing definite flexibility in rhyme. It is as follows: abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

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This rhyme sequence sets the usual structure of the sonnet as three quatrains (sets of four lines), concluding with one couplet (a pair of lines). The first quatrain consists of an exposition of the main theme and central metaphor, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” enforcing the first metaphor of a person being a season. The second quatrain extends and complicates this metaphor. In the case of Sonnet 18, this consists of the faults of summer, for example, being “too hot.” It is usual for there to be a pause for thought in the sonnet’s message at the end of each quatrain, especially the second, to add tension or allow a provocative theory to make its full impact: “By chance, our nature’s changing course untrimmed.”

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The third quatrain contains a Peripeteia (twist or conflict); in this case, it is the shifting of the focus from the beauty of the poet’s muse to the immortality of the poem: “Thy eternal summer shall not fade.” The sonnet then resolves to its objective in the final couplet, usually allowing an emotional sentiment to end the poem; “this gives life to thee.” It reaffirms the poet’s hope that as long as there is breath in humanity, his poetry shall live on and ensure the immortality of his beloved muse. The second primary characteristic of Shakespeare’s sonnet is its reliance on an implicit underlying rhythm, called the Iambic Pentameter.

This is essentially a line of precisely ten syllables in alternating weak and strong beats. This technique gives the poem a natural flow and beat that is easy for the reader to follow. Sentiments of love and adoration, as well as the fear of the death of someone who represents true and infinite beauty, are continuously expressed through the use of figurative language. Shakespeare uses the weather and the characteristics of summer to illustrate the purpose of the sonnet and to enforce the emotions that are its inspiration. The poet personifies summer to allow the reader to relate to human characteristics: the “eye of heaven” with its “gold complexion.” This also allows the reader to draw contrasts between the season and the beloved.

The use of comparisons and figurative language is done to highlight the intensity of the poet’s emotions. Having established the characteristics of summer, the poet then elaborately differentiates between the beloved and the summer’s day. This enables him to illustrate that although summer is beautiful in specific ways, it has a fickle nature. Unlike his beloved, who has an unchanging and everlasting beauty, and is more beautiful than a perfect summer’s day: “Thou art more lovely and more temperate:” The beloved has an endless beauty. It becomes an “eternal summer,” which will never fade because it is forever embodied in the sonnet: “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

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Shakespeare has used a comparison with the season’s weather in creating simplicity and undeniable beauty in its praise of the recipient. Due to this beauty, the poem, and therefore the muse, will never die: “Nor shall death brag thou wanders in his shade.” As long as there is life in this world, the poem and beauty of his beloved who inspired it shall live on forever. The period over which this poem was written is unknown. However, we are aware that Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets was published in 1609. The style of the writing is contemporary to its time; there is constant use of certain vocabulary that is no longer regarded in the modern English language. For example, “thou”, which has over time been replaced by you.

Shakespeare’s use of language which is renowned for its individuality was not always used due to the language that was common at the time. In order to comply with the Iambic Pentameter to which he rigorously followed in all his sonnets, he often changed and adapted words. For example, “mayst” from Sonnet 73, which is actually an adaptation of the word may. However, to maintain the rhythm of the poem, the word was modified to allow two syllables. This technique is not used in Sonnet 18, which in my opinion, pays tribute to its natural flow and almost flawless nature.

To conclude, in my opinion, in order to fully understand the sonnet itself, there is a need to understand its purpose; why was it written? This question relates to the life and relationships of William Shakespeare. When his poetry is believed to have been written, several people were rumoured to have been romantically involved with, such as the Earl of Pembroke or the Earl of Southampton. However, the true muse who inspired so many masterpieces of literature is unknown to understand the sonnets’ actual content and meaning. An understanding of why they were written needs to be taken into account.

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I believe that they allowed him to admit his deepest fears and desires; this would explain why so many of them are based on themes that are so personal and deeply meaningful. So many of his poems are based on the ideals of love and time and sonnet 18 is no exception. This sonnet was written as an answer to such profound joy and beauty, to ensure that his most treasured lover is forever in human memory, saved from the ultimate oblivion associated with death.

William Shakespeare, who is widely acknowledged as the most excellent writer of all time, fell so deeply and passionately in love with an unknown beauty that he wrote Sonnet 18 in an attempt to keep their memory and, most importantly of all their beauty, alive forever.In my opinion, an attempt, has succeeded; a view that is supported by the popularity of his work today and the high esteem in which Sonnet 18 is primarily held.

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Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from