Shakespeare's Sonnet 116
Information about the life of William Shakespeare is often open to doubt. Some even doubt whether he wrote all plays ascribed to him. From the best available sources it seems William Shakespeare was born in Stratford on about April 23rd 1564. His father William was a successful local businessman and his mother Mary was the daughter of a landowner. Relatively prosperous, it is likely the family paid for Williams education, although there is no evidence he attended university.
In 1582 William, aged only 18, married an older woman named Anne Hathaway. Soon after they had their first daughter, Susanna. They had another two children but William’s only son Hamnet died aged only 11.
After his marriage, information about the life of Shakespeare is sketchy but it seems he spent most of his time in London writing and performing in his plays. It seemed he didn’t mind being absent from his family - only returning home during Lent when all theatres were closed. It is generally thought that during the 1590s he wrote the majority of his sonnets. This was a time of prolific writing and his plays developed a good deal of interest and controversy. Due to some well timed investments he was able to secure a firm financial background, leaving time for writing and acting. The best of these investments was buying some real estate near Stratford in 1605, which soon doubled in value.
Some academics known as the “Oxfords” claim that Shakespeare never actually wrote any plays they suggest names such as Edward de Vere. They contend Shakespeare was actually just a successful businessman. Nevertheless there is some evidence of Shakespeare in theatres as he received a variety of criticism from people such as Ben Johnson and Robert Greene. Sonnet 116
1 Let me not to the marriage of true minds
2 Admit impediments. Love is not love
3 Which alters when it alteration finds,
4 Or bends with the remover to remove:
5 O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
6 That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
7 It is the star to every wandering bark,
8 Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
9 Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
10 Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
11 Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
12 But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
13 If this be error and upon me proved,
14 I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
This sonnet attempts to define love, by telling both what it is and is not. In the first quatrain, the speaker says that love—”the marriage of true minds (Shakespeare, Line 1)”—is perfect and unchanging; it does not “admit impediments, (Line 2)” and it does not change when it find changes in the loved one. In the second quatrain, the speaker tells what love is through a metaphor: a guiding star to lost ships [“wand’ring barks” (Line 7)] that is not susceptible to storms [it “looks on tempests and is never shaken” (Line 6)]. In the third quatrain, the speaker again describes what love is not: it is not susceptible to time. Though beauty fades in time as rosy lips and cheeks come within “his bending sickle’s compass, (Line 10)” love does not change with hours and weeks: instead, it “bears it out ev’n to the edge of doom. (Line 12)” In the couplet, the speaker attests to his certainty that love is as he says: if his statements can be proved to be error, he declares, he must never have written a word, and no man can ever have been in love.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are very different from Shakespeare’s plays, but they do contain dramatic elements and an overall sense of story. Each of the poems deals with a highly personal theme, and each can be taken on its own or in relation to the poems around it. Sonnet 116 is one of the most famous poems in the entire sequence. The definition of love that it provides is among the most often quoted in all of poetry. Essentially, this sonnet presents the extreme ideal of romantic love: it never changes, it never...
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