English Literature
Sonnet 116

Sonnet 116

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Discovering the Unconventional: A Closer Look at William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 116'

William Shakespeare is widely revered for his brilliant plays and poems, but little is known about his unique take on the traditional Sonnet form. In this article, we will delve into one of his most popular sonnets, 'Sonnet 116', which has been described as a wedding staple by literary expert Dympna Callaghan.

Exploring 'Sonnet 116': Context and Themes

Shakespeare is known for his 154 Sonnets, which he wrote during the transformation of the form into English. While most translated sonnets revolved around love, this was not the only subject that Shakespeare covered in his works. Although 'Sonnet 116' centers on love, it breaks away from the norm and challenges societal expectations.

As an innovator, Shakespeare not only changed the structure of the Petrarchan sonnet but also deviated from the traditional themes. Out of his 154 sonnets, 126 were dedicated to a young male lover, Mr. W. H. This has led to debates among scholars regarding Shakespeare's sexual orientation, with some suggesting that he may have been attracted to men.

The interpretation that 'Sonnet 116' may showcase the speaker's homoerotic sentiments has contributed to its popularity. The use of the word 'marriage' in the first line and the focus on the concept of love make it a perfect choice for weddings or expressing one's feelings to a partner.

The poem stands out for its speaker's unwavering conviction and passion as they define and reaffirm their faith in love. Its exploration of love and its impact on individuals make it relatable to a wide audience, highlighting the universal themes present in all of Shakespeare's works.

Analyzing 'Sonnet 116'

To fully comprehend the poem, it is recommended to read it twice – first, focusing on the details and then considering the overall impression. This allows for the identification of recurring patterns and the use of literary and poetic devices. The second read provides a broader view to understand the poem's themes.

The Poem

Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out ev'n to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov'd, I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

Summing up 'Sonnet 116'

This poem opens with the speaker's declaration of true, unconquerable love. They compare love to the steadfastness of the North Star and affirm its immortal nature, stating that even death cannot defeat it. Towards the end, the speaker admits their own presence, asserting that if they are wrong about the unchanging and unconditional nature of love, then they have never written a word (despite this not being true) and no one has truly experienced love.

Form and Structure in 'Sonnet 116'

When examining a poem's form and structure, consider the following questions:

  • What is the meter and rhyme scheme of the poem? Is it consistent? If there are changes, are they gradual or sudden? How does this affect the poem's rhythm?
  • Is there any repetition present in the poem? Do you notice any patterns emerging?
  • How does the form and structure of the poem contribute to its overall meaning and message?

By analyzing these elements, we can gain a deeper understanding of 'Sonnet 116' and appreciate Shakespeare's unconventional approach towards exploring the concept of love in his works.

Unshakeable Conviction: The Enduring Nature of Love in Shakespeare's Sonnet 116

Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 is a testament to the unwavering belief in true love. In this sonnet, dedicated to the mysterious "Mr. W. H.", the speaker declares that love can withstand any challenges, even in the face of doubt and uncertainty. This proclamation is made evident in the final couplet, where the speaker asserts that if their understanding of love is proven false, then their identity as a writer would also be false. This use of irony amplifies the speaker's unwavering conviction and marks the volta, or turn, in the poem.

As with most sonnets, Sonnet 116 follows the iambic pentameter with its alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, giving the poem a regular rhythm and melodic flow. This may be one of the reasons why sonnets were often used as love letters. Additionally, the rhyme scheme of ABAB is followed, with alternating rhymes in the first three quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end.

The poem also includes various literary devices, such as alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor, personification, and polyptoton, to enhance the theme of enduring love. Alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds, can be found in words like "marriage" and "minds" or "wand'ring," "whose," and "worth". This musical quality adds emphasis to certain words and ideas in the poem. Hyperbole, or exaggeration, is used to highlight the everlasting nature of love, comparing it to the edge of doom. This is further reiterated in the final couplet where the speaker declares that love can conquer even the most extreme obstacles.

The use of metaphors is prevalent throughout the poem, with love being compared to the North Star, a symbol of constancy and guidance. Personification is also employed to describe love as having "rosy lips and cheeks" and time as bending its sickle. These literary devices add depth and meaning to the intangible concept of love.

Polyptoton, or the use of different forms of the same word, can be seen in words like "alters - alteration" and "remover - remove". This creates a stylistic effect and reinforces the ideas presented in the poem.

The central theme of Sonnet 116 is love, and through the use of various literary devices, the speaker compares it to a distant yet eternal and beautiful star. This portrayal of love adds depth and emotion to the poem, making it relatable and enduring for readers throughout the ages.

Poetry in Motion: The Timeless Message of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116

Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 is a timeless ode to the enduring power of true love. Through its use of vivid imagery and poetic devices, the poem captures the essence of everlasting love and its ability to conquer all challenges. It is no wonder that Sonnet 116 remains one of Shakespeare's most widely read sonnets, treasured by many for its themes of love, beauty, and mortality.

So why did Shakespeare write Sonnet 116? Perhaps he wanted to express his own firm belief in the unshakeable nature of true love. This poem, along with the others dedicated to Mr. W. H., serves as a testament to the enduring power of love and its ability to withstand even the harshest of storms.

In conclusion, Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 is a masterpiece that beautifully encapsulates the timeless message of true love. Its structure, style, and powerful use of literary devices make it an enduring piece of poetry, resonating with readers of all generations. As Dympna Callaghan states in her book, Shakespeare's Sonnets (2007), Sonnet 116 is a true depiction of Shakespeare's unyielding belief in the everlasting nature of love.

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