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Contrasting Sonnets 18 and 116 by William Shakespeare Essay

The two poems I will be comparing and contrasting in this essay are two of William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets. Sonnets numbered 18, ‘Shall I compare thee…’ and 116, ‘Let me not.’ Both of these poems deal with the subject of love but each poem deals with its subject matter in a slightly different manner. Each also has a different audience and purpose. In the case of ‘Shall I compare thee…’ the audience is meant to be the person Shakespeare is writing the sonnet about. Its purpose is to tell the person it’s written about how the speaker feels about them. In the case of ‘Let me not’ the audience is anyone who wishes to read it. Its purpose is to introduce what love should be like. This makes ‘Shall I compare thee…’ much more personal and realistic as a poem about love.

‘Shall I compare thee…’ seems to deal more with the idea of a lover rather than the idea of a relationship, as ‘Let me not’ does. ‘Shall I compare thee…’ deals with the idea of a perfect lover and the fading beauty of both women and the seasons. ‘Let me not’ is about ideal love in its most perfect and purest form.

In ‘Shall I compare thee…’ Shakespeare describes a lover ‘more temperate’ than a summer’s day. Shakespeare asserts the opinion that the beauty of summer is nothing compared to this perfect human being. In the poem Shakespeare deals with the fading beauty of this perfect human being and lover. Shakespeare expresses the sentiment that even though outer beauty fades inner beauty (‘eternal summer’) will not fade. The perfect lover’s beauty will not fade because she has been immortalised in a sonnet. ‘So long live this, (sonnet) and this gives life to thee.’ In ‘Let me not’ Shakespeare vocalises the perfect love that does not alter ‘when it alteration finds.’ It is a ‘marriage of true minds’ two like minded people joined in a relationship built on understanding and trust.

In both sonnets Shakespeare uses a lyrical and narrative method to convey his points. Also the tone in each is a loving one, although ‘Let me not’ has a slightly more didactic tone. Shakespeare believes so completely in this perfect love that if he is proved wrong he must take back all his writing. Even goes so far as to say that if it is not true then no man has ever¬†really loved.

As both of these poems are sonnets they follow a set form. Three four line stanzas followed by one set of rhyming couplets. This style is known as the Shakespearean sonnet form. Each line in every stanza is of a similar length, and it is similar in style to all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This gives it a regular and controlled rhythm with enjambment. Especially in ‘Let me not’ on line 2 leading onto line 3. It is orderly in structure, which in my opinion goes very well with the subject matter of the sonnets. ‘Let me not’ describes love as ‘ever-fixed’ and ‘never shaken.’ The only thing to break this rhythm is at the end, the rhyming couplet. Shakespeare uses the couplet to reiterate the point he is making in the last two lines. Both sonnets follow the same rhyme scheme. It is also a very simple rhyme scheme A B B A, C D D C, E F F E, G G. This rhyme scheme is in keeping with many of the other sonnets, following the Shakespearean sonnet form.

There is plenty of imagery in both of these sonnets. In ‘Shall I compare thee…’ Shakespeare uses the image of time and the changing of the seasons to show the coming of old age, or rather the loss of youth and beauty. Shakespeare starts off by getting his speaker to ask a rhetorical question to his lover. Shall I compare thee? He is almost asking his audience if this is the right comparison he is making. In the second line of the first stanza he makes up his mind that this comparison is not nearly good enough. Summer is by far the loveliest season and even that pales in comparison to this perfect lover. The reason for this is simply that ‘sommers lease hath all too short a date.’ Summer will fade away quickly but the perfect lover will stay beautiful for longer.

Because Shakespeare describes this lover as being more temperate than summer he is free to explain how. She is not affected by her splendour as summer is affected by its. The magnificence of summer is overwhelmed by the intensity of the sun’s light. In this sonnet Shakespeare is saying how summer is too brief, and so are youth and beauty. ‘Every faire from faire sometimes declines.’ The repetition of the word faire is used to signify it’s two meanings within the context of the poem.

The first is its simple meaning, a¬†fair day, clear and beautiful. The secondary meaning is the deeper meaning, a fair woman. This second meaning of faire is used to indicate that beauty will one day fade away too like summer does every year. Shakespeare addresses the idea of fading beauty in the third stanza. ‘But thy eternal summer shall not fade.’ Her internal beauty will not leave her, though her external beauty might. She will not grow old or ugly as she has been immortalised in poetry. She will forever be remembered, as she is in this poem in its ‘eternal lines.’

The rhyming couplet at the end of the sonnet summarises the whole poem and finalises it. The summers sun dims and fades away, but the life and beauty of the subject of this poem will be eternal.

In ‘Let me not’ the imagery is mainly concerned with unmoving and unchangeable love. The sonnet describes how true love will not change to fit in with circumstance, nor when face with a uncertain situation will it cease. It is described as not being ‘Time’s fool,’ love is not at the mercy of time nor subject to change. Shakespeare describes it as ‘an ever fixed mark,’ that watches storms yet is unmoving. A love that is like a star guiding people. This love described is like a beacon shinning out to all the lost soul trying to find their way back.

Love can only be measure to a small degree, but we still do not fully understand it. I believe that what Shakespeare is trying to say is that love’s worth will forever remain a mystery. In the final two lines Shakespeare, one again, uses the rhyming couplet to summarise the sonnet. He is so sure of this ever-fixed mark that he is willing to stake his writing on it. He is even prepared to claim that if this love does not exist then no one has ever really loved.

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