Sonnet 18 Study: The Timeless Celebration of Beauty

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The summary of sonnet 18
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

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Sonnet 18 by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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.”

Sonnet 18 Summary:

  1. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”: The speaker is asking if he should compare the person he loves to a day in summer.
  2. “Thou art more lovely and more temperate:”: He says you are more beautiful and more gentle than a summer day.
  3. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,”: Summer days can have strong winds that damage the buds of May.
  4. “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:”: Summer is too short.
  5. “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,”: Sometimes the sun (the “eye of heaven”) is too hot.
  6. “And often is his gold complexion dimmed;”: And often the sun is covered by clouds.
  7. “And every fair from fair sometime declines,”: Everything beautiful eventually loses its beauty,
  8. “By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;”: either by accident or by natural change.
  9. “But thy eternal summer shall not fade”: But your beauty will never fade.
  10. “Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;”: Nor will they lose their beauty.
  11. “Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,”: Death won’t be able to claim them.
  12. “When in eternal lines to time thou growest:”: Because they will live on forever in this poem.
  13. “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,”: As long as people are alive and can see,
  14. “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”: this poem will live, and it will give life to your memory.

Sonnet 18 poetic styles and metaphors:

In Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare employs several poetic styles and metaphors:

  1. Iambic Pentameter: The sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, a common style in Shakespeare’s works. Each line typically has ten syllables with a rhythm of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.
  2. Shakespearean Sonnet Form: This sonnet follows the Shakespearean (or Elizabethan) structure: 14 lines divided into three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final couplet (two lines). The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
  3. Metaphor of Summer: The primary metaphor in the poem compares the beloved to a summer’s day. This metaphor is used to highlight the beauty and temperance of the beloved, which is seen as surpassing even the loveliness of summer.
  4. Nature Imagery: Shakespeare uses imagery related to nature, such as “darling buds of May” and “the eye of heaven” (the sun), to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind and to contrast natural beauty with the beloved’s.
  5. Personification: Elements of nature are personified, such as the sun having a “gold complexion” and being capable of being “dimmed.” This personification adds depth to the comparison between nature and the beloved’s beauty.
  6. The metaphor of Eternal Summer: The phrase “eternal summer” is a metaphor suggesting that the beloved’s beauty will never fade as the seasons do. This extends the initial summer metaphor into the realm of timelessness.
  7. The metaphor of the Poem as a Preserver: Towards the end, the sonnet itself is metaphorically presented as a vehicle that will keep the beloved’s beauty alive forever. This is a powerful metaphor for the enduring nature of art and literature.

Petrarchan conceit in Sonnet 18

In Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare diverges from the Petrarchan conceit, which is a common feature in many other sonnets of his time. To understand this, let’s first look at what a Petrarchan conceit is:

Petrarchan Conceit: This is a type of metaphor used in love poetry that makes highly imaginative and unconventional comparisons. For example, a lover’s eyes might be compared to the stars, or their lips to rubies. These comparisons often exaggerate the beloved’s beauty and the pain of love. They are named after the Italian poet Petrarch, whose sonnets often used such elaborate metaphors to describe his beloved, Laura.

Shakespeare’s Approach in Sonnet 18: Shakespeare starts with a question that seems like it might lead into a typical Petrarchan conceit: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” ♥  However, instead of following through with an exaggerated or overly elaborate comparison, Shakespeare takes a more realistic approach. He acknowledges that a summer’s day can have defects (like being too hot or too windy), and then argues that his beloved is actually more lovely and more constant. In doing so, Shakespeare is both acknowledging the traditional form of love poetry (with its exaggerated metaphors) and also subtly critiquing it, by offering a more grounded and sincere form of praise.

Therefore, Sonnet 18 is notable not for employing a Petrarchan conceit, but rather for subtly challenging and reworking the conventions of traditional love sonnets. Shakespeare’s approach in this sonnet has been seen as a turning point in the evolution of the sonnet form, moving away from the sometimes strained metaphors of Petrarchan tradition towards a more direct and sincere expression of emotion.


Major Personifications in Sonnet 18

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, personification is used to bring abstract ideas and inanimate objects to life, giving them human qualities. Here are the examples of personification in this sonnet:

  1. The Sun as the “Eye of Heaven”: The sun is referred to as the “eye of heaven” in line 5, which personifies it as a watching, conscious entity. This human-like attribute to the sun adds to the imagery of the poem, making the sun more relatable and vivid.
  2. The Sun’s “Gold Complexion”: In line 6, the sun is said to have a “gold complexion,” attributing human skin or a face to the sun. This continues the personification of the sun, adding depth to its portrayal in the poem.
  3. The Sun “Dimmed” by Clouds: Also in line 6, the idea that the sun can be dimmed, as a human’s appearance or spirit might be, lends a human-like quality to a natural phenomenon. It suggests the sun can be overshadowed or affected, much like a person’s mood or appearance can be.
  4. Summer as a Leaseholder: In line 4, Summer is described as having a “lease” with “all too short a date.” This personifies the season as something capable of owning or holding something temporarily, much like a person might lease a property.

Study Guide Questions for Sonet 18

  1. Character Analysis:
    • How does the character development of [Character Name] in [Literary Work] reflect the themes of the story?
    • Compare and contrast two central characters from different works studied in class. What are their similarities and differences?
  2. Theme Exploration:
    • Identify and discuss a recurring theme in [Literary Work]. How is this theme developed throughout the story?
    • How does [Author] use symbolism to enhance the theme of [Theme] in [Literary Work]?
  3. Contextual Understanding:
    • How does the historical context of [Literary Work] influence its themes and characters?
    • Discuss the impact of the author’s background on their writing style and themes in [Literary Work].
  4. Literary Devices:
    • Identify examples of [Literary Device, e.g., foreshadowing, irony, metaphor] in [Literary Work]. How do these devices contribute to the overall narrative?
    • How does [Author] use imagery to create atmosphere and mood in [Literary Work]?
  5. Critical Perspectives:
    • From a [Specific Literary Theory, e.g., Feminist, Marxist, Postcolonial] perspective, how can [Literary Work] be interpreted?
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of the narrative structure used in [Literary Work]. How does it contribute to the reader’s understanding of the story?
  6. Comparative Analysis:
    • Compare the treatment of [Theme or Topic] in two different literary works studied in the course.
    • How does [Literary Work] compare to modern works in terms of its themes and character portrayals?
  7. Creative Response:
    • Write a diary entry from the perspective of [Character] in [Literary Work] after a key event in the story.
    • If you could rewrite the ending of [Literary Work], how would it change and why?
  8. Textual Analysis:
    • Analyze a key passage from [Literary Work]. What does it reveal about the characters, themes, or the author’s message?
    • Discuss the use of dialogue in [Literary Work]. How does it contribute to character development and plot advancement?
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