Paper Example. Shakespeare Sonnets

Published: 2023-03-28
Paper Example. Shakespeare Sonnets
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Analysis Philosophy Shakespeare World literature
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 2097 words
18 min read

Shakespeare is one of the greatest poets ever to live and his work encompasses a myriad of topics that are reminiscent of the way of life of the Elizabethans. A great way of interpreting his extraordinary sonnets is to understand them as addressing the concept that we are mortal, that unfortunately, we are caught up in this inevitable cycle of nature. Thus, he tries to overcome this rather unpleasant fact by turning to what he believes is a kind of solution, a transcendence of the inexorable movement of time--procreation, love, art, etc. Shakespeare lived in a very upbeat, positive Elizabethan age that tried hard to overcome the tyranny of time, overcome even the inevitable. The Elizabethans were great believers in a positive view of the world and of life. There are many instances in Shakespeare's sonnets which are a testament to the way he wanted to experience life amidst all the inevitabilities that come with being human and how the theme of his sonnets is overcoming death as the essay will explore them.

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In the first sonnet, Shakespeare says, 'From fairest creatures, we desire increase' (Shakespeare). The assertion implies that he would like the best of us to become many in the world for a myriad of reasons. For one, every human being wants the best of themselves to be on display to the rest of the world and the best way to do this is to ensure that only the best characteristics are visible to the world. Secondly, human beings are vain creatures who look on the outside of a person instead of focusing on the intrinsic qualities which are inherent to human existence. It is no surprise then that Shakespeare wants to preserve only the good physical characteristics which make him look good in front of his fellow human beings. The third point that is important in the first sonnet is that Shakespeare realizes the immortality that beguiles man and advises his fellow men to act on this fact. He advocates that the fairest of us should take a shot at procreating in a bid to have a replica of the fairest characteristics. The sonnet shows how the Elizabethans were a hopeful lot who though they knew that they are mortal, believed that they could attain immortality through procreation. They would steadfastly procreate to ensure that their offspring could live on and in this way, they could be immortal in their offspring.

The 12th sonnet continues Shakespeare's concept of mortality. In this particular sonnet, he explores the concept of mortality by showing how insignificant a human being is in the contemporary world that he lived in. He writes, 'When I do count the clock that tells the time and see the brave day sunk in hideous night;' showing that he is aware of his mortality and this makes him despair that catches up with him in this cycle that he has to go through like all the other humans. In writing this sonnet, Shakespeare is aware that he has a limited amount of time on earth and he has to strive to live out his days in the best way possible. He acknowledges that being a human being entails living through the mortality cycle and there is nothing worse than knowing that at the end of the day, one is heading towards being obsolete. Shakespeare uses the example of the changing seasons where he highlights the changes that happen to the leaves during the various seasons to show that human life is akin to the seasonality of everything on earth and therefore, there is a beauty in enjoying each moment, however short and fickle it may be. Being an Elizabethan, he however does not despair but rather, he sets out to live his best life with the knowledge that he is certainly going to be no more in this world. The sonnet, therefore, points out the fact that transcendence is attainable amidst all the changes that are inevitable in human life.

In the 18th sonnet, Shakespeare shows his optimism amidst all the negatives of the mortality of man. He explores the various seasons and days which, to him, are splendid and he ought to enjoy them. He goes on a rant about how summer days are lovely for all the sun and the blooming flowers which make his days seem like they are the best he is ever going to experience. While summer is all good and enjoyable, he also realizes that it does not last and just like the summer days, mortal human life is similar. The similarity is in that while there may be some temperate and good seasons which make it worth living, they soon wither out and man remains with his agony of being alone and inevitable mortality which gnaws at his soul. The summer, although it brings some joy to man, is sometimes the cause of his pain. In the 18th sonnet, he goes on to explain that the intolerably hot sun is too harsh on the eye and it makes the human being's complexion to tan, dimming his erstwhile exuberant appearance. The summer season, though the human anticipates it to come around, has some detrimental effects on his appearance and while the season may not last, it often dims his appearance. In this assertion, Shakespeare acknowledges the fact that although the human may anticipate some seasons more than others, in the end, it comes to be destructive in some way. Therefore, it is wise for the human being to enjoy everything while he still can and deal with the negatives as they arise.

In the 30th sonnet, Shakespeare explores an all too familiar concept, that of remembrance and longing for the good times that the human experienced in his past. He explores how some instances in the past may be full of controversies and bad memories and shows how the human may sometimes want to cry in despair when he reminisces them. However, there is no point in crying over past events as there is still time to enjoy the current enjoyable events and therefore, he urges the human to live in the present rather than the past or the future. The sonnet serves to show how optimistic Shakespeare and his contemporaries were. They would always live their lives in the present amidst all the ills of the society or their inadequacies which would make their lives miserable. They thus developed a mantra which made them enjoy their present life even if it was not the best compared to their past or the potential future. Living in the present serves as a form of medicine for past sorrows and grieves and is therefore, a good idea for the human being who is mortal to live in the present.

In the 71st sonnet, Shakespeare explores the matter of death. He writes, 'No longer mourn for me when I am dead..' Shakespeare, as captured in the preceding paragraphs, lived in an era of optimism and intense positivity where the Elizabethans believed in making the best even out of the worst situations. Shakespeare was trying to achieve the transcendence of the inexorable movement of time where he knew that at some point in his mortal life, he was going to die and he would leave a hole in the lives of his loved ones. He, however, keeps them hopeful that even when the time comes for him to depart from this world, his loved ones should not mourn him but rather enjoy the life that they have. If his loved ones miss him when they read his sonnets, then he advises them to stop reading his poetry. If reading his poetry makes them miss him so much, then they would rather forget his sonnets rather than live in sorrow at the remembrance of his loss. Figuratively, Shakespeare is alluding to the fact that in life, one has to choose their happiness and in most cases, it entails reliving only the good memories. Therefore, the sonnet reminds us that it is important to live a full life as in no time, mortality will strike and time will stand still as the present will become obsolete.

Sonnet 55 (Shakespeare) espouses the concept of immortality more than any other sonnets that Shakespeare wrote. According to the poet, immortality is the power to be powerful even when he is no more, and his poems, which are still relevant even in the contemporary times, is a testament to this concept. One can preserve their life through procreation, leaving a legacy and being influential in people's lives to the point that even after the physical demise of a person, one can live on in the tales that people tell of you. It is through these instances that one can achieve immortality even in a mortal world where everything seems to fade away as time takes a toll on everyone. He goes on to say that no matter how small a deed may be, the memories that one leaves on people's lives and minds are more immortal than even the most astute statues that kings build for themselves. Statues may fall but the memory that the living hold of the dead is what enhances immortality. The sonnet shows the power of immortality and positivity even in a world where mortality seems to be the order of the day. The sonnet, therefore, offers a glimpse into the life of Shakespeare and by extension, the life of the Elizabethans who lived during the time of Shakespeare. Therefore, while the poem contains allusions to mortality, it is speaking about immortality and how a mortal man can attain immortality in other realms that transcend the physical.

Sonnet 14 (Shakespeare) is significant to the era that Shakespeare lived in. During the Elizabethan period, society was undergoing a vast transformation in how the various people perceived the issue of morality and upright living. In the sonnet, Shakespeare speaks about the deeds that the contemporaries of his time perform and one that is striking is the one where he says, 'Lilies that fester smell far worse than weed.' In the proclamation, he is alluding to the fact that even the people who appear to be upright, if they do not live according to how the society expects them to, then they are rotten beyond repair and they are of no use to the society. In the sonnet, he is urging people to live up to the expectations of the society, just the same way a lily flower smells good, so should the people who appear to be doing good should indeed do good rather than pretend. The Elizabethan era is one of the timelines where society went through profound changes in the way of life and thus, imposters were rampant in society. It is for this reason then that Shakespeare spoke about the matter of physical appearance and matching it for the deeds that one ought to present to have an outlook that is in harmony with both the internal and the external.

Sonnet 106 offers insight into Shakespeare's idea of immortality. According to the poet, immortality lies not in the physical beauty of the person but rather in the ability of the person to praise the good things that they see and do. Physical looks serve merely as a distraction, which with time, will fade away but the power of speech lives on forever. It is through speech that humans express emotion and love and therefore, speech is more important to human life in the quest for immortality than all the other attributes that a human being could have. With the constancy of time, the only sure thing that is not going to change even through time is the power of speech in bringing to life the things that human beings experience. Therefore, of all the attributes that a human being could have, the power of speech and praise serve to preserve one's immortality and thus, it is important to have this gift.


Shakespeare's sonnets serve to explore the concept that human life is mortal, that unfortunately, the human being is caught up in this inevitable cycle of nature but one can still overcome death or mortality. It is for this reason that Shakespeare tries to overcome this rather unpleasant fact by turning to what he believes is a kind of solution, the transcendence of the inexorable movement of time--procreation, love, art, among other themes that he explores in his sonnets. Shakespeare lived in a very upbeat, positive Elizabethan age that tried hard to overcome the tyranny of time, overcome even the inevitable.

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