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Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

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IB English Commentary: Dianna Gu Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 Shakespeare's love sonnets describe three different contexts in which love operates and, as such, he depicts a multi-faceted picture of love. Love in Shakespeare's poems does not have a single definition, but rather, an intangible conglomeration of characteristics that, together, make up an ever-powerful force that "weathers" all obstacles. In Shakespeare's Sonnet number 116 love is depicted as an overwhelming force that triumphs over time, the physical world, and reason. Sonnet 116 consists of 14 lines, each with 10 stressed and unstressed syllables known as iambic pentameter, with a set rhyme scheme of: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This rhyme sequence is set in the usual structure of the sonnet of three quatrains and concludes with a rhyming couplet. This style creates a flowing lyrical effect that highlights and emphasises important themes in the sonnet. The run on lines in this sonnet also create this effect, as well as having control over our reading. It is usual for there to be a pause for thought in the sonnet's message at the end of each quatrain, especially the second, in order to add tension, with the sonnet resolving its objective in the final couplet, just as a song normally resolves its root chord at its close. To convey the sense of resolution and completeness at the end of the sonnet there are often key words, or tie-words, present in the closing couplet that are also present in the earlier quatrains. ...read more.


The narrator then goes on to state his opinion of "love" and what "love" is: "It is an ever-fixed mark / That looks upon tempests and is never shaken; / It is the star to every wand'ring bark, / Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken." Instead of being this unearthly wonder that Shakespeare is so famous for describing, love becomes like a bar graph; one singular point on a continuous plane that must be equally matched, unless it will become incorrect. Love, which is usually undefined and gorgeous, becomes perfectly exact; either you have true love or you do not. If you do not, any relationship should be dissolved post haste. The speaker then goes on to describe the permanence of love, how nothing can destroy its permanence or power, we see this by looking at the two main images that sonnet 116 presents. The first is that of the exploring seafarer, out on stormy, uncertain seas with the North Star of love as his only guide through them. Love is seen as the North Star, the fixed point of guidance to ships lost upon the endless sea of the world. It is the point of reference and repose in this stormy, troubled world, "an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken;..." Even though the seafarer attempts to scientifically measure the worth of this love to him, it is immeasurable "It is the star to every wandering bark, whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken." ...read more.


"Love," he says, "is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken." According to Shakespeare, true Love is more permanent and powerful than Time, hence, love remains immutable despite the changes brought on by physical decay and despite changes wrought by the world, such as storms, wars and revolutions. There is vivid imagery of navigation in the second and third quatrain; this is perhaps a metaphor representing the navigation of the way in the country of love. The "compasse" is a representation of how love is always returning to its fixed point. According to Shakespeare, love is truly "till death do us part," and possibly beyond. Physical infirmity, the ravages of age, or even one's partner's inconstancy have no effect upon the affections of one who sincerely loves. His notion of love is not a romantic one in which an idealized vision of a lover is embraced. Instead he recognizes the weaknesses to which we, as humans, are subject, but still asserts that love conquers all. There is quite a change in the vocabulary and tone in the concluding couplet; this brings the sonnet to a sudden halt, disrupting the flowing rhythm seen previously in the sonnet. The narrator uses his concluding couplet almost as an ironic aside. You can almost see him speaking to his audience from behind the back of his hand: "If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved." There seems little likelihood that Shakespeare thought that he had to worry about losing that bet. ...read more.

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