Shakespeare/ Sonnet 18 term paper 12632

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“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” William Shakespeare (1564-1616),

English poet and playwright, recognized in much of the world as the greatest of

all dramatists, is perhaps the most famous writer in the history of English

literature. By writing plays, Shakespeare earned recognition from his late 16th

and early 17th century contemporaries, but he may have looked to poetry for

enduring fame. His poetic achievements include a series of 154 sonnets. Many of

the sonnets he wrote contain lines as well known as any in his plays. One of the

perennial themes of Western literature—the brevity of life—is given

poignantly personal and highly original expression in many of these poems.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are arranged with three quatrains (4 lines) and a

couplet (2 lines). This development was sufficiently original for the form to

become known as the Shakespearean sonnet, which employs a rhyme scheme of abab

cdcd efef gg. The poet is challenged to express his profound emotions and

thoughts on life, death, war, and history in the condensed fourteen lines.

Sonnet 18 comes from The Sonnets of Shakespeare printed in 1609: “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 dimmed; And every fair form fair sometime declines, By chance, or

nature’s changing course, untrimmed. But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st Nor shall death brag thou

wand’rest 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.” Shakespeare begins the poem with a question that proposes a comparison

between his beloved and a summer season. Summer is chosen because it is the

loveliest and the most pleasant season due to England’s cold weather. In the

second line the comparison embarks to favor his beloved: his beloved is more

beautiful and less extreme than summer. The reasons for his adoration are given

in the next four lines, which describe the less pleasant aspects of summer: The

wind impairs the beauty of summer, and summer is too brief. The splendor of

summer is affected by the intensity of the sunlight, and as the season changes,

summer becomes less beautiful. Here Shakespeare uses the word fair with a double

connotation, the clear and sunny weather and the pleasing appearance of a

beautiful woman, indicating that any beauty will fade one day. Starting from the

ninth line Shakespeare shifts his tone with a great passion: “Thy eternal

summer shall not fade.” She, unlike summer, will never deteriorate. Summer has

by now become the summer of life and beauty. In the next three lines the

poet’s assurance becomes even firmer with promises that his beloved will

neither become less beautiful nor even die, because she is immortalized through

his poetry. Line ten and eleven give an answer in comparison with line six and

seven: The summer’s fair declines, but the fairness of his beloved will be

everlasting. The summer’s sun dims, but the life and beauty of his beloved

will be eternal. In line twelve the “eternal lines to time” not only refers

to lines of poetry but also implies lines of shape, the shape of beauty. Because

of the eternal lines of the poem, the life and beauty of his beloved will thrive

and flourish. The poem finishes with a triumphant couplet, which explains and

summarizes the theme: poetry gives timeless life to beauty. In the poem “Shall

I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Shakespeare compares the summer’s

imperfection with his beloved’s perfection. The poet employs the step-by- step

arguments, to reach the conclusion: poetry is immortal and makes beauty

immortal. According to Shakespeare, the grace and effectiveness of the art of

poetry is superior to nature, and thus makes it timeless and eternal, just like

his beloved.


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