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Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare

Summary:
  • The sonnet attempts to define love by telling both what it is and is not. It is about love in its most ideal form.

Themes:
  • Love/ Constancy of love

Meaning:
  • Love is constant. It provides guidance and is of great value and it lasts forever

Structure:
  • Traditional sonnet form of abab, cdcd efefgg.- it can be said, that as the poem follows the structure of a traditional sonnet, it highlights the constancy of true love.

  • Iambic pentameter

  • Three quatrains and a rhyming couplet.

  • The first quatrain- focuses on the constancy of love

  • The second quatrain- focuses on how love provides guidance and is of great value.

  • The third quatrain focuses on the longevity of love.

  • The rhyming couplet can be classed as a volta. This is the final argument that Shakespeare presents that he is prepared to say he has never written or never loved if proven wrong.

Language:
  • The word ‘true’ used in the first line highlight that the poem is about love.

  • ‘Admit impediments’- an allusion to wedding vows (if either of you know any inward impediment why you should not be conjoined).  

  • ‘Alters’, ‘alteration’, ‘remover to remove’- polyptoton here emphasises the constancy as love cannot change or be manipulated if it is real love.  

  • ‘Ever-fixed mark’- lighthouse- the metaphor highlights how it gives guidance or direction to someone in their life despite being exposed to terrible weather.

  • ‘Tempests and is never shaken’- highlights the strength of love. The extended metaphor further highlights how the love survives difficult times but is ‘never shaken’

  • ‘Star’- the metaphor emphasises how love gives direction.

  • ‘Worth’s unknown’- the value of love cannot be measured.

  • ‘Love’s not Time’s fool’- the personification of love and time here highlights how love is not at time’s mercy.

  • ‘Within his bending sickle’s compass come;’- physical beauty comes and goes however love stays. Physical beauty succumbs to time but not to love.

  • ‘Brief hours and weeks’, ‘to the edge of doom’- contrast here- the briefness of life is contrasted to the longevity of love. ‘Edge’ here highlights how love may go beyond death.

  • ‘Prov’d’, ‘never’, ‘ever’- the language of certainty.

Effect on the reader:

  • Sonnet 116 is an attempt by Shakespeare to persuade the reader (and the object of his love) of the indestructible qualities of true love which never changes and is immeasurable.

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