Free Essays On Shakespeare's Sonnet 55

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Analysis of Sonnet 55

 



Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

 

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

 

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

 

Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.

 

When wasteful war shall statues overturn,

 

And broils root out the work of masonry,

 

Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn

 

The living record of your memory.

 

'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

 

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room

 

Even in the eyes of all posterity

 

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

 

So, till the judgment that yourself arise,

 

You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

 

 

[Line 2]* - The poet could be referring to his own sonnet specifically, or to poetry in general.

 

[Line 4]* - "'stone' (1) gravestone set in the church pavement on which the memorial inscription is rendered illegible by accumulated dust and the footsteps of the congregation; (2) uncared-for upright tomb or monument (the prey of dust and passing time)" (G. Blakemore Evans, Shakespeare's Sonnets, 163).

 

[Line 7]* - Mars is the Roman god of war, often portrayed as a warrior in full battle armor, including a sword and shield. In Greek mythology Mars is known as Ares.

 

[Line 12]* - 'that' refers to 'posterity', not to 'eyes'.

 

[Line 14]* - Some scholars believe that Shakespeare is saying that his friend will be a source of inspiration for lovers everywhere (ie. 'dwell in the eyes of lovers everywhere'). But it most likely means that the poet's friend will dwell in the eyes of people who grow to love the friend through the poet's verse.

 

Sonnet 55 is one of Shakespeare's most famous works and a noticeable deviation from other sonnets in which he appears insecure about his relationships and his own self-worth. Here we find an impassioned burst of confidence as the poet claims to have the power to keep his friend's memory alive evermore. Some critics argue that Shakespeare's sudden swell of pride in his poetry was strictly artificial - a blatant attempt to mimic the style of the classical poets. "It is difficult on any other hypothesis to reconcile the inflated egotism of such a one as 55 with the unassuming dedications to the Venus and Lucrece, 1593 and 1594, or with the expressions of humility found in the sonnets themselves, e.

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g. 32 and 38" (Rossetti, 47). However, many believe that such an analysis ignores Shakespeare's paramount desire to immortalize his friend in verse, not to immortalize himself (as was the motive of most classical poets). "The Romans say: Because of my poem I will never die. Shakespeare says: Because of my poem you will never die....What distinguishes Shakespeare is that he values the identity of the beloved; he recognizes that the beloved has his own personal immortality, in no way dependent on poetry" (Martin, 158). By focusing on the word "live", Shakespeare uses the language itself to emphasize his authorial intentions. Notice the word choices of "outlive" (2), "living" (8), "oblivious" (9), and "live" (14).

 

Despite its tremendous popularity, sonnet 55 has its detractors. One of the most interesting attacks on the sonnet comes from a critic named H. T. S. Forrest, who despises the poem and, in particular, lines 10-14. These lines, he says, are "Slovenly, far-fetched, and tautologous verses which would be mercilessly criticized if they appeared as the handiwork of the minutest of the minor poets of today. Why "even"? To talk of printed matter "finding room" in people's eyes is not a little ridiculous. In line 11 the poet's verses are going to be looked upon by the whole of posterity, but in line 14 only by the 'lovers' section thereof. And line 13 is hopelessly ungrammatical, even if we accept Beeching's explanation that 'that' = 'when'" (Forrest, 44).


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