Essay about Battle Against Time in the Sonnets

Essay about Battle Against Time in the Sonnets

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In his Sonnets, Shakespeare explores the nature of time and different methods of overcoming the erasure that time causes. He identifies procreation through both reproduction and publication as the most successful agents for preservation. Shakespeare wastes no time revealing his preoccupation with the passing of time and its potential to erase both a person’s beauty and his or her legacy. Starting with Sonnet 1, he states his purpose in finding a way to combat time so “that thereby beauty’s rose might never die” (1). He wishes to overcome the mortality of the human condition by preserving beauty and memory. This desire to immortalize his subjects pervades the Sonnets as he engages in a verbal battle against time by using his artillery of words as a means of disrupting time’s never-ending cycle. As the Sonnets progress, Shakespeare’s attitude toward time matures but only after he has discovered an effective and reliable mean of countering time’s erasure: his verse. He takes the endurance of his and his Golden Youth’s legacy into his own hands, literally, as he brings his quill to scroll and records his memories through the lasting medium of the written word. In this essay I will argue that Shakespeare uses his Sonnets as a means of preserving the legacy of his beloved Golden Youth, and, on a broader scale, erects poetic monuments that will endure time’s erasure and preserve their subject’s legacy for all of time.
In her book Death, Burial, and the Individual in Early Modern England, Clare Gittings observes that, “it has often been suggested that people of the late Middle Ages seem to have been obsessed with death” (34). Gittings notes that, unlike today when people easily cast death’s threat aside, it would have been impos...


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...nd order beyond change” (236). Once Shakespeare outwits time and gains confidence in his verse as a means of preservation, his relationship with time changes. Instead of battling with time, Shakespeare and time become equals. Shakespeare effectively, “reduce[s] the negative form of time and the domain it governs to trivial proportions, and replace[s] it with another, positive conception of time which is squarely centered in the poet’s personal experience and intimately associated with his achieved sense of stability” (Kaula 57). In addition, “he sees the old enemy, cosmic time, in a different light. Instead of lamenting the impermanence of earthly things, he regards time with an equanimity that verges on satirical contempt, even when he observes its effects on the friend” (56). Shakespeare wants his Sonnets to act as “The living record of your memory” (45 8).


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