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Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

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Brittany Planty

on 4 March 2014

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Transcript of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
Shakespeare's eighteen poem in his 1609 collection of sonnets reflects on man's relationship with love, nature, fate, and poetry.

The speaker of Sonnet 18 compares his beloved to summer, commencing to reveal summer's flaws to the other's perfection, then accredits the "eternal lines" of poetry (line 12) as the ultimate preserver of such beauty. Sonnet 18 is made up of fourteen lines that adhere to the iambic pentameter format.
Form & Meter
Sonnet 18 is your classic Shakespearean sonnet made up of three quatrains concluded with a rhyming couplet (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhythm scheme). The first two quatrains express how the speaker's beloved and summer are different, while the final quatrain and couplet discuss the beloved's immortality.

This "eternal summer," (9) unlike the eventual passing of summer to fall, makes the speaker's beloved beautiful regardless of time. This shift in focus is seen in line 9, and creates a contrast to the first two quatrains as the speaker becomes successfully occupied with the himself.
Major Themes
Nature - The narrator of Sonnet 18 declares his beloved is superior to a summer's day and wishes to immortalize his beauty in poetry. To do this, the narrator must personify nature and simplify it through critical figurative language so it may be compared to human life (4).

Time - To preserve his beloved through poetry, the narrator wishes (just like so many Shakespearean characters before him) to stop time (12 - 14), so his own desires are fulfilled.

Love - The speaker begins his sonnet in praise of his lover's beauty, leaving the reader to infer such beauty is the cause of the speaker's infatuation. The speaker's passion for his lover is expressed in vivid comparison to summer that ironically better describes nature's beautiful features rather than those of the supposed beloved.
Minor Themes
Writing - By the time Sonnet 18 was published, Shakespeare was well aware of his own popularity. The "eternal lines" (12) of poetry were his greatest gifts and thus, are perceived by Sonnet 18's speaker as powerful enough to stop forces such as time and death.

Ego - By line 9, it becomes apparent the speaker believes whatever eternal beauty his beloved maintains is because of
his
own efforts to preserve such beauty. The speaker addresses his poetry as the source of his beloved's immortality and a force even greater than death (11).
Lines 1 - 4
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Analysis (lines 1 - 4)

The speaker contemplates comparing his lover to a summer's day, and concludes his beloved is actually much more "lovely" (2) and temperate" (2), because his beloved does not violently shake spring's "darling buds" (3), nor has beauty as short as summer's "lease" (4).
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 1- 4)
Shakespeare's use of the iambic pentameter in lines 1 - 2 ironically emphasizes "I" (1) in comparison to his beloved's antecedent, "thou" (2). This device already makes the reader automatically assume the speaker to be the focus of the sonnet instead of his referred beloved.

Summer, a manifestation of nature, is also personified by having a "lease" (3) that, unlike the beloved, must regularly be re-paid in relation to changing seasons, thus making summer's beauty only a temporary affair. By having to pay a "lease," it is also implied that a such a concept as eternal beauty can never be truly attained.
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 1- 4)

The use of the word "temperate" (2) refers to "humours," a manner of measuring one's health. Such terminology is a product of Shakespeare's society. However, in true Shakespearean manner "temperate" could also refer to summer's weather, thus making the word's meaning ambiguous. The ambiguous meanings of "temperate" - definitions that may either apply to humans or nature - suggests that both may actually be interchangeable in regards to their significance to the speaker.

The tone for lines 1 - 4 is also full of impatient flattery - the speaker does not wait for "thee" (1) to reply to his request and instead, begins to passionately list why "thee" is far superior to summer without hesitation.
Lines ( 5 - 8)
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
Lines 5 -8 Analysis
The speaker continues to personify summer and describe its shortcomings by pointing out how summer is too hot, how clouds can easily block the sunlight, and that such "fairness," or beauty, is not invincible from nature or chance.
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 5 - 8)
Like lines 1 - 4, the narrator continues to personify summer, and ironically ends up describing it in more attentive detail than his apparent beloved. This focus implies that the speaker views summer, a form of nature, as even
more
important than his lover.

The iambic pentameter also places emphasis on the word "eye," "his," and "complexion," vocabulary that would otherwise be used to describe another person rather than a season. Because of this careful emphasis of vocabulary, summer is actually characterized in a more empathic manner than the speaker's lover.
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 5 - 8)
The tone for lines 5 -8 still seem relatively passionate, however these four lines focus primarily on summer as a person so it's flaws may be described as a
person's
flaws. The speaker utilizes this personification of summer to create a proper basis in which to compare his beloved to.

The speaker also uses the word "untrimm'd" to describe that even "chance or nature's changing course" can quickly end summer's beauty. The word can refer to the "trimming," or loss of beautiful features over time due to age, or in better reference to Shakespeare's time, refer to the "trimming" of a boat's sail to better meet weather conditions. This analogy re-enforces the sonnet's theme of nature versus man.
Lines 9 - 12
But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
Lines 9 - 12 Analysis
The speaker claims his lover's "eternal summer" aka their "temperament" and beauty will not be subject to time. However, the narrator further emphasises that his beloved will also remain beyond death's reach. Why? Because of his "eternal lines" aka poetry, the speaker takes full credit for allowing his lover's beauty to "grow," and therefore remain "eternal."
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 9 - 12)
As with the Shakespearean sonnet, line 9 indicates a significant shift in tone. At this point the speaker changes his focus from summer's flaws to his own beloved's immortality. The speaker uses the word "fade" to emphasis that time is the factor that afflicts both his beloved and summer. Again, the usage of vocabulary that relates to the impermanence of beauty between men and nature implies their significance to the narrator is interchangeable.

By revealing that both summer and his beloved can indeed "fade," the narrator places himself in a higher role of importance because of his "eternal lines" aka poetry. With the iambic pentameter, the word "eternal" is also emphasized in the first and last lines of the quatrain, highlighting the immortalizing properties of the narrator's poetry. This attention to the speaker's poetry suggests he is in fact attempting to prove his own self-importance among man and nature, implying that the speaker - rather than his lover - is the true focus of this sonnet.
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
(lines 9 - 12)
Death is also personified by the narrator as a figure that can be stopped by the halting of time. Shakespeare uses the word "shade," which is a biblical allusion to the valley of shadow of death. Noted with the word "fade," time is an enemy to both man and nature that, according to the narrator, can only be fought with his "eternal lines."

Also notable is the usage of the word "possession" of the beloved's own fairness. Does the beloved truly
own
their beauty - or are they supposedly beautiful only because the narrator decides so? The narrator even compares his "eternal lines" of poetry to be the reason why such fairness would even "grow" from the beloved. The use of an increasingly narcissistic tone within the last quatrain of Sonnet 18 reveals that this poem is in fact, more about the narrator rather than the qualities his beloved.
Lines 13 - 14
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Analysis
Lines 13 - 14
Shakespeare concludes his sonnet with a couplet that re-emphasizes the immortality of poetry stated in the previous line. The speaker claims that as long as men are alive and can read his poetry, then "this" (
this
sonnet), will continue to give "life" (happiness and enlightenment) to "thee" (mankind).
Devices / Vocabulary / Tone
lines 13 - 14
The narrator believes that the poetry can defy death and enrich life. The repetition of the phrase "so long as" makes the image of mankind living among one another coincide with the existence of poetry. The speaker's poem - within a poem - is a stand-in for all language that transcends the barrier of time. This metaphor illustrates the fact that all language, regardless of origin, is capable preserving the beauty of life.

The narrator also uses the word "live" to even illustrate poetry as a sort of lifeforce. "Thee" in this case is an ambiguous antecedent, given it may refer to the beloved or the audience themselves. This ambiguous meaning reflects how an author's audience is also capable of transcending time themselves. However the message is the same either way - language captures of the beauty of life and is seen by the speaker as a means to cheat time, fate, nature, and death.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 reflects not only on the role fate plays in man's life, but also comments on language's ability to preserve the past. Through careful emphasis of specific vocabulary via iambic pentameter, personification of abstract concepts, and selective imagery, Shakespeare successfully describes and defines the speaker's relationship with his lover and the powers of language.
Conclusion
Sonnet 18
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
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