During the Renaissance, it was common for poets to employ Petrarchan conceit to praise their lovers. Applying this type of metaphor, an author makes elaborate comparisons of his beloved to one or more very dissimilar things. Such hyperbole was often used to idolize a mistress while lamenting her cruelty. Shakespeare, in Sonnet 18, conforms somewhat to this custom of love poetry, but later breaks out of the mold entirely, writing his clearly anti-Petrarchan work, Sonnet 130.
In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare employs a Petrarchan conceit to immortalize his beloved. He initiates the extended metaphor in the first line of the sonnet by posing the rhetorical question, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" The first two quatrains of the poem are composed of his criticism of summer. Compared to summer, his lover is "more lovely and more temperate" (2). He argues that the wind impairs the beauty of summer, and summer is too brief (3-4). The splendor of summer is affected by the intensity of the sunlight, and, as the seasons change, summer becomes less beautiful (5-8).
Due to all of these shortcomings of summer, Shakespeare contends in the third quatrain of this sonnet that comparing his lover to this season fails to do her justice. While "often is gold [summer's] complexion dimmed," her "eternal summer shall not fade" (6, 9). She, unlike summer, will never deteriorate. He further asserts that his beloved will neither become less beautiful, nor even die, because she is immortalized through his poetry. The sonnet is concluded with the couplet, "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long live this, and this gives life to thee" (13-14). T...
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Shakespeare, William. "Sonnet 18." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1. M. H. Abrams, ed. W. W. Norton (New York): 1993.
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Sidney, Philip. "Astrophel and Stella." Online. Renascence Editions. U of Oregon P. 6 Apr. 1999. Available HTTP: darkwing.uoregon.edu.
Spenser, Edmund. "Amoretti 18." Online. Sonnet Central. Available HTTP: www.sonnets.org.
Wootton, John. Untitled. Online. Sonnet Central. Available HTTP: www.sonnets.org.
Wyatt, Sir Thomas. "Avising The Bright Beams of These Fair Eyes." British Library Egerton MS. 2711, fol. 22, ed. Richard Harrier. Canon, 1975: 125-26. Online. U of Toronto Lib. Internet. 6 April 1998. Available HTTP: library.utoronto.ca.
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