Essay on Death in the Twelfth Sonnet by William Shakespeare

Essay on Death in the Twelfth Sonnet by William Shakespeare

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In a modern age with modern medicine, the young don’t often think of death. That prospect is years away and nothing to worry about for most. As a result, the young seldom think, and rarely, if ever, write about death. It becomes quickly apparent then, that William Shakespeare lived in a different era. Many of his earliest sonnets address and contemplate death, but why? Shakespeare lived in Elizabethan England at a time where the bubonic plague was still leaving its mark. A time where it was not common for people to live past what we consider middle age (Alchin). For Shakespeare, death was always a possibility and he knew his youth would not be long lived. This constant concern of dying shows itself in many of his sonnets, but becomes especially apparent in his twelfth sonnet, as a young William Shakespeare writes from his deceased self’s perspective, reflecting on life and giving advice to his younger self on how he might preserve his youth.
While this advice will eventually come, it is not quickly given. Instead, Shakespeare uses the first two lines to introduce an older, in fact deceased, version of him. Immediately in line one Shakespeare uses the pronoun “I,” identifying that the sonnet and all the images it contains, are from Shakespeare’s perspective. The age of this “I” starts to become clear when taking all of one line into consideration, as Shakespeare writes, “When I do count the clock that tells the time.” Shakespeare chooses to begin this line, and thus the entire sonnet, with the word “When”, showing that the following images are not something that happens continuously or even often, but are things that happen at a particular time. He continues to repeat “when” throughout the sonnet, showing just how im...


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... hence” (line 14). In this final line, “him” and “he” refer to “Time,” while “thee” refers to the young Shakespeare. In line fourteen, the deceased Shakespeare explains his advice, saying that children will continue to “brave” or battle against “Time”, when Shakespeare is taken “hence” or finally cut down by death.
Although it may have taken a while, the deceased narrator was eventually able to deliver his final piece of advice to a much younger Shakespeare. The old are known to mentor the young, but theses “old” are not typically already dead. The young do not often contemplate their death’s either. William Shakespeare paid no attention to these norms as he wrote his twelfth sonnet. Shakespeare grew up completely surrounded by death, maybe even fearing it, but overcomes this fear, showing just how important and precious he thought his life and youth to be.

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