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Comparison of two Shakespeare Sonnets

Sonnets were written in the late 16th century to woo a lover, or perhaps would be received from an admirer. They were very fashionable at this time. They would describe their beauty and love. Shakespeare also wrote sonnets, perhaps for his own lover or for someone to give to their lover in return for payment.

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A sonnet is a poem that has 14 lines. In a Shakespearean sonnet there are verses of 4 lines each, rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, and with a rhyming couplet at the end, gg. Each line has a regular number of syllables. It is a very strict rhythm. The first eight lines (OCTET) usually pose a question or put forward an idea. The second (SESTET) answers this or comments on the idea in some way. The whole sonnet has a message or meaning which is often very clever.

The first Shakespearean sonnet I am analysing is “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” On the first line of this sonnet it says, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” He is asking a lover, or the subject of this sonnet. He does this because it was the fashion too woo and ask a question at the beginning. This is almost a simile, because he is asking whether he should use one. If it were a simile, it would say, “You are like a summer’s day” which is probably what other writers would have wrote. By asking the question, it goes from a simile to an extended metaphor. He is asking whether to use it to describe this person’s beauty.

The second line replies, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” Another poet may have said, “yes, you are as lovely as a summer’s day” where as Shakespeare says he is not going to compare her to a summer’s day because she is “more” lovely and “more” balanced.

On line it says, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” This means that even a summer’s day is not perfect enough to compare to her beauty, because it has faults such as “rough winds”

On the 4th line it says, “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date” Which means that summer doesn’t last very long and this person does, which makes her better than a summer’s day.

Line 5 says, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines” This is a metaphor, the “eye of heaven” is the sun. Again he is saying how the subject of the sonnet is better than a summer’s day because the sun can get “too hot”.

“And often is his gold complexion dimmed” Is the 6th line. This is personifying the sun. By doing this he can compare his lover and show how she is better than the sun by giving the sun a complexion. Line 6 is a metaphor because it means that clouds can sometimes block out the sunlight therefore dimming its “complexion”. Again, Shakespeare is making the point that she is better than a summer’s day because her beauty is never blocked out by anything else.

Lines 7 and 8, “And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed” This means everything stops being beautiful but she doesn’t. He is now setting up the second half of the sonnet that explains why her beauty shall not fade.

The meaning of the first half of the sonnet is that the person who he is writing about is better than a summer’s day. He uses a different way of writing a sonnet by asking whether he can compare something with her, then he replies that she is better which is unconventional because any other writer would have just said she is like a summer’s day throughout the sonnet.

The statement in line , “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” means that her summer won’t end, she will last forever. He is using the simile now as a metaphor by calling her “eternal summer”.

Line 10, “Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest” This means she will never stop being lovely.

Lines 11 and 1, “Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou growest” This means that she’s not going to lose her beauty and she’s no older when time passes. It also means she is going to live forever. Shakespeare is using personification again in line 11, “Nor shall Death brag”. Also, “eternal lines” have alternative meanings such as age lines on her face (wrinkles), a timeline i.e. as time goes on she lives on, or it could mean the lines of the sonnet.

The final rhyming couplet, “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” This means as long as people can read this sonnet, she’ll be beautiful forever. Shakespeare is actually complimenting himself because she is only beautiful because he is writing about her.

The second half of the sonnet means that she will be beautiful forever, or as long as the sonnet lasts. He is also saying that she is only beautiful because he wrote about her.

The meaning of the whole sonnet is that Shakespeare is bragging about how he can make someone more beautiful than a summer’s day, and even make someone beautiful forever. He has not written this sonnet to compliment the woman it was meant for, he was writing it to tell everyone how great a writer he is.

Another sonnet by Shakespeare is “My Mistress’ eyes” which has a very similar form to “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” However, he uses a very different technique in this sonnet. Rather than saying how lovely his “mistress” is, like most poets of the day would have done he writes about how she isn’t beautiful. The first verse is,

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head”

This is reversing what a typical sonnet would say. Another writer would have complimented her all the way through. Shakespeare has just written bad things which also contradicts the fashion of the time, as he has told us that she hasn’t got bright eyes, that she hasn’t got red lips, that she hasn’t got white breasts and that she has black frizzy hair. This leads us to believe that she is a peasant because at that time beautiful upper class women would have bright eyes, long straight blonde hair, pale skin, rosy cheeks and red lips. This is very different to the first sonnet because the first sonnet was complimenting the subject and was saying how much better she was than a summer’s day, whereas in this sonnet he is describing someone who is not beautiful.

The second verse is,

“I have seen roses damask’d red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks ;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks’

Again Shakespeare is not complimenting his mistress. He is saying that she does not have rosy cheeks which was fashionable at the time. He is also saying she doesn’t smell very nice. Other writers would have written how beautful she is and how nice she smelled. Shakespeare is totally reversing the normal conventions of the complimentry sonnet by basically saying she’s ugly. This is also very different from the first sonnet because he is saying bad things about her, rather than good things.

The third verse is

“I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go �

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground”

Again he still says bad things about her, but actually say something nice about her. This is, how he “loves” to hear her speak. He still says bad things about her sometimes even offensive, but he does say that he loves the sound of her voice, even though it is nothing like “music”. Other writers at the time would’ve said things like “Her voice has a more pleasing sound than music” and “my mistress is like a goddess”. Again Shakespeare is doing the complete opposite and contradicting typical writing styles of the era. This is again different to the first sonnet because he is still saying horrible things about her rather than playing her beauty up.

The final rhyming couplet is

“And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.”

This means he thinks his love is as special as anybody who has been subject to any false things, for example, fashion. He is saying that his mistress his mistress does not need to have this image of this stereotypical woman or a false image, as he loves her anyway. He is almost mocking the fashion because he is saying how a woman can still be loved without these fashionable characteristics and beauty.

This ending is completely different to the ending of the first sonnet. This is because in the first sonnet he appears to be complimenting someone else, when he is he actually complimenting himself. However in the second sonnet he appears to be writing bad things about her when in actual fact he is paying her a huge compliment by telling her he loves her for what she is, not what she looks like. One could say that in the first sonnet, he is writing about his love for himself, and in the second that he is writing about his love for someone else.

In his sonnets, Shakespeare uses a number of similes, metaphors and personifications to keep them lively. Using these devices had became very popular at the time as comparing someone to something spectacular, like the sun for instance. Shakespeare’s metaphors were extremely far fetched too, which makes the whole thing much more lively and entertaining. This also shows off his amazing literary skills.

Shakespeare demonstrates himself as being the master of these forms by completely defying convention as far as the writing is concerned. For example, asking whether he should use a simile to describe the subject rather than just writing a simile. This shows him being the master because his sonnets were still successful as they are still studied today, yet were completely different to the other sonnets of the time.

Another thing that proves him to be the master is that there is always a hidden meaning to the sonnet as well as the obvious one. For example, the first sonnet that he was brilliant and in the second that looks and fashion don’t matter. As his sonnets contained these hidden messages, it shows his sonnets to be superior to others that were around at the time in terms of how sophisticated they were.

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