Dicussion of the Purpose of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18"

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Shakespeare's collection of sonnets is heralded as one of the greatest, most ambitious sonnet collections in English literature. Of these154 sonnets, the first 126 of them are addressed to a 'fair youth', a beatiful young man, with whom Shakespeare has developed an intimate friendship. The overarching theme of devotion in antimony to mortality denotes that “Sonnet 18” is predominantly a love poem. Accordingly the purpose of the poem seems initially to be to compare his beloved friend's handsomness with a common symbol of beauty, a fine summer's day. However, Shakespeare actually provides a pragmatic critique of the conventions of love poetry in his doing so. He not only exposes the flaws of the love poetry through the comparison but also suggests the merits of it in conveying the idea of his everlasting love, and the ability of verse to immortalise both love and beauty.
“Sonnet 18” is written in typical Shakespearan sonnet form, comprising of three distinguishable quatrains and a rhyming couplet. This style of poetry is very useful in creating an argument that flows coherently, as the quatrains seperate main ideas. Although the quatrains in “Sonnet 18”, are not physically split-up by open lines, they are clearly separated by the change in rhyme scheme. The poem deals with thematic ideas of the inability to capture beauty satisfactorily, the transience of beauty and the brevity of life (Mabillard para. 1) and, in contrast, the timelessness of poetry. In the first quatrain, Shakespeare immediately establishes the intentions of his poem. Superficially he wishes to celebrate the beauty of the 'fair youth'. However, through his question “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” he actually shows his hesitancy to use such a compar...

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...est of capturing the instantaneous beauty of his friend, which makes the initial shortcomings of this poem irrelevant. Shakspeare has attempted, executed and achieved all this in just fourteen neat lines, and the fact that people are still reading and analyising this poem today is testament to the success of his endeavour.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, W. “Sonnet 18”. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 12 November 2008. < >.

Shakespeare, W. “Sonnet 18”. Productions of Time. Comp. Department of English. Grahamstown: Rhodes University, 2012

Mabillard, Amanda. How to Analyze a “Shakespearean Sonnet”. Shakespeare Online. 20 November 2009. < >.
Mukherjee, T. “Shakespeare's Sonnets: Time and Love” Studying English Literature. (2012): lines 12-15
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