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An Examination of 3 Shakespearean Sonnets

William Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors of all times. His works span a wide range of formats, styles, and themes. While best known for plays, such as the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” he was also a composer of poetry. To many people, these poems constitute the greatest of Shakespeare’s accomplishments. They were often highly emotional in nature, and dealt with timeless ideas such as beauty, love, and death. Each one of the poems is unique. Yet for all their differences, many of the poems share common themes and ideas about life.

This is evident when one examines three of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. While distinctly different, “Sonnets 116”, “Sonnets 130”, and “Sonnets 138” are similar in their style and format, their strong love theme, and their insights as to the true nature of love. Each of the three sonnets is obviously different. “Sonnet 116” offers the reader a definition about love. It describes what Shakespeare believes to be its true qualities. In the second poem, “Sonnet 130”, Shakespeare describes the many imperfections in his mistress. He ends the poem by revealing that he loves her regardless of the flaws.

In the final poem, “Sonnet 138”, Shakespeare brings to light the faults of two lovers. At the end of the sonnet, Shakespeare describes how their faults are overcome by lies, which are sustained by love. Although the poems appear to be quite different on the surface, underneath they share many common elements. The most obvious of these is in the style of the poems. Each of the poems is written in the format of a sonnet, which is a 14-line verse written in iambic pentameter. Furthermore, each one examines different aspects of a single idea that gets resolved in the last two lines.

For example, in “Sonnet 116”, Shakespeare spends the first 12 lines describing what he believes to be the true nature of love. He describes how love is unalterable and unchangeable. In a sense, what he is saying is that love is not love unless it remains unchanged by both time and adversity. The two final lines of the poem serve to solidify this theme in the reader’s mind; “If this be error, and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d (Shakespeare 343). ” This line is especially effective because they are the words of Shakespeare, who wrote more about love than anything else.

Shakespeare is really saying that if he is wrong about love, then he has written nothing at all, which is obviously not true! The second way in which these sonnets are similar is in the way they all contain a very strong love theme. In “Sonnet 116”, this theme is expressed as a definition of love. Shakespeare defines love as something that is unchangeable. By saying that love is “an ever-fixed mark (Shakespeare 342),” he is saying that nothing can alter the course of love. It is, in a sense, beyond the control of even time! In the next sonnet, Shakespeare is again writing about the power of love.

He describes how love overcomes the imperfections found in his mistress. She is no beauty it seems. “And in some perfumes is there more delight than in the breath that from my mistress reeks (Shakespeare 343),” is not a line that one would associate with someone who is well loved. Shakespeare uses this exact imagery to describe how love can overcome such flaws in a person. By using the line, “I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground (Shakespeare 343),” he is also saying that no human is perfect. Everyone has flaws, and it is love that conquers these imperfections.

In the final poem, “Sonnet 138” two lovers are described as having lied to each other. He is old, and his lover seems to believe that he is, in fact, young. By saying “Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue (Shakespeare 343),” Shakespeare seems to say that the lover lies back to the woman so that she can continue to believe the untruth about his age. Perhaps when Shakespeare says “o, love’s best habit is in seeming trust (Shakespeare 343),” he is really saying that loves greatest power is to cover up deceit by letting lovers believe that their partners are, in fact, trustworthy.

While this may seem somewhat bitter and cynical, it has the power of sustaining a relationship that otherwise might fail! The final way in which these poems are similar, is in the way they describe love as being constant and timeless. It has already been mentioned that “Sonnet 116” describes love as being unchangeable and unalterable. Love is only love if it can withstand tempests, alterations, and even the pit of doom! One very powerful line, “love’s not time’s fool (Shakespeare 342),” describes love as being even stronger than time itself. Similarly, “Sonnet 130” describes love as being able to overcome beauty.

Although his mistress is by no means a goddess, love has the power to overcome looks. This is important, because beauty will always fade with time. Lovers will not always be as lovely or as pleasing to look at as they were in their prime. Because love is beyond looks, it becomes, in a sense, timeless and constant. No matter how much the beauty fades, love will still win out! In “Sonnet 138”, age separates the lovers. Were it not for the trust instilled by love, the couple would separate. By being able to lie to each other, and believe their lies, their love continues; “and in our faults by lies we flatter’d be (Shakespeare 343).

Thus, love, because it allows the couple to lie to one another, becomes timeless. In conclusion, these three very different poems contain many similar elements. First, they are all written in sonnet form. That is, they are each 14 lines long and are written in iambic pentameter. Second, all three deal with different aspects of a greater love theme. Sonnet 116 defines love, while “Sonnets 130” and “Sonnets 138” describe how love affects the relationship between people. Finally, all three sonnets describe love as being something that is timeless and unalterable.

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