Sonnet 18 is addressed to the latter.
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The poem opens with the immortal line "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Although there is some debate about the correct ordering of the texts, the first sonnets are thematically interlinked and demonstrate a progressive narrative. They tell of a romantic affair that becomes more passionate and intense with each sonnet. In this way, Shakespeare suggests that love is an even more powerful force than nature. Like many other sonnets, Sonnet 18 contains a volta , or turn, where the subject matter changes and the speaker shifts from describing the subject's beauty to describing what will happen after the youth eventually grows old and dies.
Sonnet 18 is an English or Elizabethan sonnet, meaning it contains 14 lines, including three quatrains and a couplet, and is written in iambic pentameter. Like many sonnets of the era, the poem takes the form of a direct address to an unnamed subject. The volta occurs at the beginning of the third quatrain, where the poet turns his attention to the future—"But thy eternal summer shall not fade. Presumably addressed, or referring, to a man, in view of their substance, some expression, or their connection with adjoining sonnets:. No sonnet whatever in this series is clearly addressed to, or refers to, a woman.
A number of the sonnets from cxxvn onwards are directly concerned with a dark woman or brunette, whose colouring is described in the usual language of the time as ' black. Hence there has been a tendency to speak of them all under one head. If, however, we are to do so, it must be simply under the head of 'Second' series. Those which are explicitly concerned with such a woman number only five, viz.
Meanwhile a further number would also, when read with the rest, appear to have her for their theme.
The so-called 'series' is therefore more fairly to be looked upon as a further collection of compositions ascribed to Shakespeare, of which a considerable proportion centre upon one amatory affair, while others have no necessary or even very probable connection with it. It is, of course, arguable whether such a woman actually existed.
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With our exalted notions of the poet and our modern conceptions of chivalry we might be disposed to hope that she. Yet the morbid choice of an imaginary recipient physically and morally characterised as this heroine is, would be more than strange. Apart from the low moral relations expressed or implied, it might seem hard to understand how any sonneteer could have found his account in writing the depreciatory Sonnet CXLI upon the physical attributes of his mistress, if that mistress had been a real person from whom he expected or desired any show of kindness.
This was surely not the way to tangle her desires By wailful sonnets, whose composed rhymes Should be full-fraught with serviceable vows. Of all the pieces in this series only cxxvn, cxxvni, cxxxn are such as we can easily imagine to have been welcomed by the recipient, especially if she believed them likely to be circulated, and of these cxxvni may have nothing to do with her. Allowing for the difference between our own standards and those of the Elizabethan age, it is doubtless conceivable that a woman would not object to being called ' cruel' and ' tyrannous,' or even to being charged with unfaithfulness and stealing away the poet's friend, but she would at least have no desire to be reminded as in cxxxi.
Yet there is again something so individual in the allusions that we can hardly resist the conclusion that she was real, and that considerations which would make the production of such compositions incomprehensible to us would not suggest themselves with much force to the poet's contemporaries.
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Nothing could better show how far the ethical standards of writing have advanced than the fact that hardly any of the personal ' dark woman' sonnets could fail to bring discredit on a 1 The notion that the woman was Miss Fitton is amazing to those who cannot but recognise that we have to deal with a rather coarsely promiscuous person, almost certainly married, and apparently of no great social standing.
We must not permit our judgment to be paralysed by the mighty name of Shakespeare. The matter is not one of sexual morals; it is one of decent taste and ordinary chivalry. No modern author would be pardoned for uttering what is surely the implied threat of S. CXL, much less for carrying it into execution. Even if the case were imaginary, the mere conception would be scouted. We must, however, take the age as it was, and accept Shakespeare as its unemancipated child and pupil.
We must also concede something to the demoralising circumstances of that earlier and cruder part of his career during which the objectionable pieces were doubtless composed. So writes the poet in the first lines of S. The whole piece, while intending a compliment, is virtually an apology. His mistress' brows are 'raven black' and her eyes 'so suited,' and he is driven to an ingenious explanation as to why this should be.
The same is the case with S. Elsewhere the references to her dark colouring are anything but complimentary cxxx. The power of her eyes is several times expressed or implied. Psychologically there is no contradiction between these varying attitudes. If to him she is 'the fairest and most precious jewel,' it is, as he is well aware,. What is sufficiently apparent is the fact that 'black' was not' counted fair' even in Shakespeare's own day.
In the language of the time' black,' as applied to hair and complexion, simply meant ' dark. This preference was not, as some have imagined, due in any pronounced degree to the colouring of Queen Elizabeth. Vain as that sovereign may have been, and careful of her sensibilities as courtiers and poets may have shown themselves, the preference of blondes to brunettes was one long established in literature. It is as old as Homer with his ' yellow-haired' Helen; it was illustrated by those dyeings of the hair in later Greece which were known as 'yellowings' xanthismata , and by similar artificial colourings and borrowings of false golden hair on the part of Roman ladies.
In the literature of the troubadours and trouvtres, and in all the stories and fabliaux of the age of chivalry the heroines as White points out are all blondes. The origin of the preference was not aesthetic, although, when once it had become the vogue, it came to be regarded in that light. As the history of architecture or of decoration proves, notions as to what is beautiful vary surprisingly from epoch to epoch even among artists and other aesthetic guides. In Homer at least the. The early feudal aristocracy of the Hellenic world consisted of conquerors from northern Europe. What Huxley calls the ' Xanthochroi' had established their power over the 'Melanchroi.
It was no wonder that women and also men should rejoice to be fair rather than' black. The royal and feudal dominance of the Franks and other Germanic peoples in France encouraged the same predilection. That the notion has disappeared from modern literature, and plays no practical part in modern judgment, showsif any demonstration were requiredhow little foundation it possesses in real aesthetics.
That it never really interfered with the matter of falling in love may be taken as a matter of course see L. Apart from the Sonnets, the prevailing notion is so often expressed in Shakespeare that it is scarcely necessary to illustrate it. A few examples will suffice. Thus: TV. So in Lyly's Euphues, p. The conclusions concerning the Sonnets which appear to be most in keeping with the evidence are these. The sonnets of the first section were written during a number of years, some at an early stage of Shakespeare's literary career, but most of them somewhat later, when he had already established his name with both poems and plays.
Approximately they date between and ; a few, but only a few, may have been later still; one cvn points strongly to A large proportion of them were addressed to a certain W. If so, these were written somewhere about the years A considerable number of the pieces, however, were concerned with another person, or other persons; some were poetical exercises, and a few of an 'occasional' character. One or two are doubtless not by Shakespeare at all. Except in such as were mere exercises, the 1 Since the writing of this summary and the arguments which have led up to it, it has been pointed out to me that the conclusion is closely similar to that of Garnett and Gosse English Literature, I should, however, take exception to particular notions, especially those on p; of that work.
To that extent at least the poems are autobiographical. The sonnets of the second section are in general of a less earnest nature, although the 'dark woman' was presumably a reality, a married woman of no high position, who entangled the poet's unwilling affections for a time. But a portion of the compositions in this series are not certainly, nor very probably, concerned with her. Some included in this section date from the earlier period of the first, others most probably synchronise with 'fair man' sonnets.
Some are of doubtful authenticity; a few should almost certainly be rejected.
The publisher gathered both sections from various sources, and the second was attached to the first only as a further collection, for which he had probably somewhat less warrant of authenticity. It is highly improbable that Shakespeare himself had anything to do with the publication or with guaranteeing the text, which contains a large number of undoubted corruptions.
There is abundant reason for suspecting other corruptions here and there. If we suppose him to have personally collected the poems from such sources as were available, it would still be an open question whether he was assisted in his arrangement by someone who possessed special information as to their production.
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Setting aside any probability of Shakespeare himself having had a hand in the matter, we might imagine some person or persons to have kept copies of the sonnets as they appeared from time to time. Thorpe's main source may have been Shakespeare's chief patron himself, or some person employed in that patron's household.
But upon these questions it is perhaps idle to speculate. There are two methods of arrangement which might at once commend themselves; the one chronological that is to say, following the order of production , the other according to the various themes treated. It is sufficiently clear that, if the latter principle was adopted, it was very badly carried out. It is true that larger or smaller groups of sonnets are shown by the actual connecting language, or are otherwise easily recognised, to be related in subject-matter, but it would have required little discrimination to have enlarged some of the groups, and created others, by bringing together pieces which are now dispersed without any semblance of sequence.
There might, for example, have been a juxtaposition of all the sonnets dealing with 'Love in Absence,' another of those which promise immortality to the beloved, another of those which apologise for remissness on the part of the poet. There would have been no interspersing of occasional pieces such as that upon the gift of tablets cxxn or upon the presents received by the friend LXXVII. Against the alternative view that the order is at least approximately chronological there is perhaps less objection to be made, so long as we confine ourselves to those which are most naturally to be referred to the same 'fair man.
They exhibit none of the personal ardour which subsequently reveals itself, but only an unqualified admiration. Though, as this sequence comes towards its close, the mention of 'love' begins, little significance need be implied, or should be sought, in the use of the term. Such expressions would not be at all unnatural on the part of the older man, who was being gradually drawn, as friend and poet-in-chief, into more familiar relations with the younger one.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 Study Guide
If the young friend had accepted a certain admiring, warmly. Both patron and poet would become weary of the topic, even if 'invention' upon the subject were not exhausted. Be this as it may, the first seventeen poems evidently did not belong to the more ardent period of the three years during which, as we are informed civ , the men had come to look upon each other in a light which nowhere appears in these. As for the rest, S. Towards the other end of the series the neglect by the poet c-cm, CXVII-CXIX would most naturally be referred to a time when the connection was of older standing and when the poet had begun to feel the monotony of his theme cvm.
It is true that in the present order of the Sonnets the history of the feeling on either side does not proceed by a ' logical' series of steps.
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We do not find, for instance, even in the poems which are most decisively to be referred to the same recipient, that growing warmth is succeeded by a fervent flame which in turn gradually dies down and is extinguished. The pieces might for the most part be re-arranged without much difficulty so as to tell the story in some such sequence. Thus we might have absorbing passion succeeding an affectionate union of hearts, the sentiments of the poet in the presence or absence of his beloved friend, the praise of his truth and constancy, the occasional wounds to the feelings and the beginnings of doubt, the realisation of the young man's tendency to looseness of conduct and the vagaries of his ' lascivious grace,' his actual' unkindness' to the poet, the writer's jealousy of other poets, his fears of complete estrangement, and finally his resignation of one ' too dear for my possessing.
Love does not proceed in this methodical fashion. Even at its height it is subject to temporary estrangements and unkindnesses; it is confident, and it doubts; it declares that it 'would not change its state with kings,' and it is in the depths of despair; it bids 'farewell,' and it forgives and renews its protestations of undying faith. It shall suspect where is no cause for fear; It shall not fear where it should most mistrust; It shall be merciful, and too severe.