Notion of Love in Shakespeares Sonnet 116
Doubtlessly, when the notion of love comes to mind, numerous scholars over the centuries have tried in their way to define it. But what remains to be true is that love is a relative term that has been a challenge to define comprehensively and exhaustively. However, it is essential to point out that some authors, playwrights, and especially poets have clearly made milestones in their description of love. William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is a vivid instance of the best description of love. This paper will explore how the poet has gone too deep to define and understand the concept and notion of love. With this in mind, it suffices to say that this sonnet provides the best definition and concept of love that has for so long been a mirage for scholars in this literary discipline.
Foremost, William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 immediately engrosses itself in the definition of love from the start. It tries to pose what love is and what is not. For instance, looking at the first quatrain, the voice in the sonnet posits concerning love that it is “the marriage of true minds” that never changes and is perfect.
According to the persona, in this case, love remains unchanged, even when there are changes in the beloved. In this sonnet, the poet employs stylistic devices such as metaphors to try and bring out the message to the readers. For instance, in the second quatrain, the persona makes another attempt at defining love through the metaphor, “wand’ring barks” which insinuates that love is a guide to lost ships and that it is not vulnerable to storms in the metaphor love “looks on tempests and is never shaken”(Shakespeare). Again, the persona, in the third quatrain, emphasizes what love is not. The persona insists that it does fade away with time.
Secondly, according to (Ginting), sonnet 116 extensively employs the use of the theory of love to describe the two types of love; fatuous love and companionate love. In this case, in lines 2, through 6, the persona poses that love, “…is not love, which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove…that looks on tempests and is never shaken.” In this case, the commitment and the aspect of passion are evident, as seen in the lines.
However, liking and intimacy are clearly absent. The notion of fatuous love is often “typified by a whirlwind courtship in which passion motivates a commitment without the stabilizing influence of intimacy.” (Ginting, 2021). The companionate aspect of love is evidently seen in lines 9 to 12. In this case, the persona posits, “love’s not Time’s fool… But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” In this case, companionate love is more intimate but is not entirely passionate. It is more potent than merely the aspect of friendship and commitment in this regard on a long-term basis, but sexual desire is not manifested. As such, it suffices to maintain that in Sonnet 116, Shakespeare is keen to point out that the notion of forgiveness, intimacy, and commitment forms the grounds upon which love grows and manifests.
Again, it is essential to point out that romantic love is significantly described in this sonnet. In the poem, it is apparent that it never withers, changes, or fades. Instead, love in this sonnet trounces over death. As such, according to the persona, only such love can be defined as true love. The persona insists that if love should be seen as one having impermanence, or it does change, and even be susceptible to death, then “…no man ever loved.” The powerful diction in this sonnet evokes emotions. When one pays attention to the way the couplets bring forth the meaning in the sonnet and the message that the poet is trying to bring to the fore, one cannot shake away the feeling that the contradictory part of the quatrains helps solidify the certainty of the persona.
Besides, it is vital to point out that Shakespeare did not employ tremendous usage of various stylistics such as imagery in this sonnet. Rather, imagery in this sense, especially in the third quatrain where there is a vivid example of imagery “…time wielding a sickle that ravages beauty’s rosy lips and cheeks,” is a basic case as with most sonnets. The use of diction in this sonnet provides a case whereby the discourse relating to love is brought to the fore in a quite restrained structure. The control of tonal variation, and rhythm, provides the persona with a legalistic argument concerning the endless, eternal love passion.
As the poem progresses, it is crucial to point out that the speaker makes several assertions on the understanding of what love really pertains to. First, it is the speaker’s firm belief that love has no end and should perish. As such, so potent is love that it should last forever, , therefore, it must weather all turbulence and storm in life as proof of its potency. In the course of the poem, it is evident that the persona is not contented with the argument that he had posited earlier but instead proceeds to extend the postulation. It manifests in lines 9 and 10 when he poses that inasmuch as beauty does fade and wither with time, true affection and love never wither into nothingness. Finally, it suffices to say that when the poet contrasts love with youthfulness, it is apparent that youthfulness does fade away, but love does not lay its strength on the physical body because age does not affect this potent notion.
In the following lines, 11 and 12, “love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out ev’n to the edge of doom.” the persona maintains that love does not change and always bears the test of time. So confident is the persona in this contention that his willingness to make a wager as proof of his firm belief is riveting. For one to prove how much he believes in this narrative of love and true affection, the persona mentions that he is not merely an observer of this notion of love, but is himself in love and that it would never change at all.
However, it is important to note that for a non-skeptic reader, this description would simply portray an affectionate stance. But for a reader who is skeptical of this description, this notion described by the speaker of him being a lover is slightly suspicious. By this, the speaker has explained the notion of love as perennial, not susceptible to change, but also the fact that it is described as an eternal ideal that is dissociated with the lives of the common people. Therefore, when the persona says that love is a star, it simply implies that it is not human but simply unattainable by the average person.
In a riveting manner, love is thus depicted as one which humans cannot achieve or merit, but instead, it would be like a mirage. By so saying, it would be essentially onerous for the humans to reach it, as the more they try to gain it, the more it remains elusive. Furthermore, the poet employs the notion of hyperbole to assert his perspective as the right one. It is apparent that the persona tries to invoke the inference of lovers of different ages, prompting the reader to wonder whether the depiction is intimate or grandiose.
Also, when one pays close attention to this sonnet in the first couplet, lines 1 and 2, essentially the reader is able to tell that the poem is starting with something close to a vow to himself, as well as to the readers when he says that would admit impediments to ‘marriage of true minds.’ When the persona begins with a vow is suspicious, to say the least. This puts the reader in a slight position of dilemma, in that the reader wonders whether the persona is making a personal thought, prayer, or an impassioned declaration on the notion of what true love is. As the poem delves deeper into this issue, it becomes even more complex, prompting the reader to wonder what drives the persona to make these assertions. As a curious reader, an individual could marvel at what situations such as this sonnet prompted the reader to react in this manner, and what essentially does persona responds to.
At the onset of the poem, the speaker employs general and ambiguous words that by and large do not seem to speak of love when he says ‘marriage of true minds.’ By so saying, the use of ‘marriage’ in this case would simply mean the union between two persons. But when employing a keen look into this phrasing, it could even imply that by so saying, the persona does not really the actual union between two significant others, but rather a union, or deep relations between persons but far from marriage. Thus, when the persona says ‘minds’ towards the end of the first line, instead of simply saying ‘people’ the metaphorical aspect is underscored. By this insinuation, the postulation is that there is no way ‘minds’ get married in the church setting. Still, conversely, these minds are ‘married’ in a way that simply means friendship or affection that is not related to the primary meaning of marriage.
Also, when the persona speaks of the notion of true minds, the insinuation is that it relates to not just sharing a mutual feeling of affection, but instead, it essentially involves the aspect of staying true to each other, and without cause for fear of betrayal. In the poem, the persona voices his fears and hopes in the second line of the sonnet. In the poem, the persona says, “…admit impediments…” to show his hope that he wishes that no encumbrance would be a detriment to the affection that the true minds share.
The poet tries in earnest to depict the essence of time, and its impact on beauty and love in this sonnet. When the reader takes a keen sight into the notion of marriage, it is clear that marriage is the root of love (Shaban 4). It is also apparent that when the poet mentions the ‘marriage of true minds’ the understanding is that it is not limited to simply the physical attraction or just the aspect of beautiful words that are pleasing to the ear. Still, instead, it is the collision of two minds which go in the same direction as their hearts. To the persona in this sonnet, love is a rock-solid structure that is essentially indestructible. This manifests when the persona says, “…looks on tempest and is never shaken,” and this implies that love is not a light thing to be trivialized as it is bigger than human feelings. When the persona says, “It is the star to every wand’ring bark,” the understanding is that according to the persona, love is invulnerable and cannot be simply wished away, broken, or even reassembled.
Besides, when the persona says, “Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove,” the implication in this regard is that the poet believes that ultimately it is true love that does conquer everything. When one pays close attention to these lines, one cannot shake off the feeling that the persona is trying to inform his readers that when love changes, then it definitely is not true love. According to the persona, should one try to remove the aspect of true love, it would be virtually impossible because it does not cease
In conclusion, it suffices that from the discussion above, and it is apparent that Shakespeare’s definition of what true love pertains to is a potent example. The notion of the marriage of true minds captures the meaning of affection. By taking the pains to explain what true love is not, the poet ended up describing what true love is. With this in mind, the paper has explored in length the notion of true love.
Ginting, Donny Adiatmana. “LOVE IN THE WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET CXVI.” The Seall Journal 2.1 (2021): 19-23.
Shaban, Iman Faiz. “Shakespearean sonnets.” (2020).
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 116: Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds... Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1964.
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Instructions for the Research Paper:
- The research paper should discuss one poem or two poems from any of the required readings from the course.
- The paper should be at least five pages long and should include at least two good secondary sources.
- The literary work, the poem, is the primary source.
- Secondary sources are essays, articles, or books written by scholars or literary critics about a particular literary work, or about several literary works, or about the author.
- the theme of love in one or two poems;
- the importance of nature in one or two poems;
- the theme of struggle and suffering in one or two poems;
- the theme of death in one or two poems;
- the theme of time and mortality in one or two poems;
- the theme of hope in one or two poems.