資料彙整   /   作家  /  William  Shakespeare  威廉.莎士比亞  /  作品
Shakespeare's Sonnets
作者Author  /  William  Shakespeare  威廉.莎士比亞

About Sonnet

(Original cover page of the 1609 Quarto Edition)

 A Brief Introduction to the Sonnets

 Introduction to the Sonnets with More Information

 Sonnet in General

 History of Sonnet in England

 Sonnet Forms

 Italian Sonnet

 English Sonnet

 Shakespeare's Sonnet Sequence

 A Brief Introduction to the Sonnets
It takes time to appreciate Shakespeare's sonnets, both because of their intricate sentence structure and elaborate pattern of sounds, imagery and ideas.  After reading a sonnet once and vaguely understanding its meanings, you need to dwell on its image, sound/rhythm and logical pattern in order to find out its deeper meanings.  It is also important to remember that a Shakespearean sonnet is composed of three quartrains
(4-line stanza) and a couplet (2 lines). 
 Introduction to the Sonnets with More Information

Introduction / Two Main Forms of Sonnet / In Shakespeare's Sonnets Certain Motifs are Evident


The two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan (Italian) and the Shakespearean (English).  Sonnets had been glorified by Petrarch in Italy more than 200 years before English poets even knew about them. William Shakespeare's first and second years in London were spent writing in the Petrarchan style. The Petrarchan sonnet has an eight-line stanza, or octave, and six-line stanza, or sestet. The octave has two quatrains, rhyming abba, abba, but avoiding a couplet; the first quatrain gives the theme, and the second develops it. The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes; the first three lines reflect on the theme, and the last three lines bring the whole poem to an end.

It differs from the Petrarchan sonnets in that it is divided into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, with an independently rhymed couplet at the end.  The rhyme scheme of the English sonnet is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Each quatrain takes a different appearance of the idea or develops a different image to express the theme.  All of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets were in this form except for the poems he wrote earlier in life.  The sonnets appear to extend from 1593 or 1594 until within a few years of their actual publication in 1609.  His cycle is quite unlike the other sonnet sequences of his day, notably in its idealization of a young man (rather than a sonnet lady) as the object of praise, love, and devotion and in its portrait of a dark, sensuous, and sexually promiscuous mistress (rather than the usual chaste and aloof blond beauty).  Nor are the moods confined to what the Renaissance thought were those of the despairing Petrarchan lover: they include delight, pride, melancholy, shame, disgust, and fear. Shakespeare's sequence suggests a story, although the details are vague, and there is even doubt whether the sonnets as published are in the correct order.  One hundred and one sonnets were written to a young man.  These have variety of themes, such as the beauty of the loved one; destruction of beauty; competition with a Rival Poet; despair about the absence of a loved one; and reaction toward the young man's coldness. 



So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse, (A)

And found such faire assistance in my verse, (B)

As every Alien pen hath got my use, (A)

And under thee their poesy disperse. (B)

Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing, (C)

And heavy ignorance aloft to flie, (D)

Have added feathers to the learned's wing, (C)

And given grace a double majestie. (D)

Yet be most proud of that which I compile, (E)

Whose influence is thine and born of thee, (F)

In others' works thou dost but mend the style (E)

And arts with thy sweet graces graced be. (F)

But thou art all my art, and dost advance (G)

As high as learning my rude ignorance. (G)

Sonnet 78 (above) is typical of Shakespeare's use of the English form of the sonnet with its rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. In sonnet 78, the first few lines reflect on the theme of his writings, and the last two lines bring the sonnet to a conclusion. This sonnet clearly shows that Southhamptons (another poet who later became a rival) is giving help to one or more rivals.


Two Main Forms of Sonnet

(1) Shakespearean Sonnets

A Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains and a couplet, and rhymes abab cdcd efef gg. A Shakespearean sonnet frequently introduces a subject in the first quatrain, expands it in the second, and once more in the third, and concludes in the couplet.

(2) Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnets

An Italian sonnet is composed of an octave, rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet, rhyming cdecde or cdcdcd, or in some variant pattern, but with no closing couplet. In both types, the content tends to follow the formal outline suggested by rhyme linkage, giving two divisions to the thought of an Italian sonnet and four to a Shakespearean one. The Italian sonnet develops and idea through eight lines and then pauses, creating a turn or volta, before the concluding six. 


In Shakespeare's Sonnets Certain Motifs are Evident

Sonnet 1 to 17:

Celebrates the beauty of a young man and urges him to marry so as to propagate and preserve that beauty.

Sonnet 18 to 126:

The subsequent long sequence focuses on (probably) the same ideal young man, developing as a dominant motif the transience and destructive power of time, countered only by the force of love and friendship and the permanence of poetry.

Sonnet 127 to 154:

Focus on the so-called Dark Lady as a tempting but degrading object of desire. Some sonnets (like 144) intimate a love triangle involving the speaker, the male friend, and the woman; others take note of a rival poet (sometimes identified as George Chapman or Christopher Marlowe).


 Sonnet in General
  The sonnet is a complete poem of fourteen lines, usually written in iambic pentameter lines, with a variety of rhyme schemes. The three most important forms are the Italian (or Petrachan) sonnet and the English forms as represented by the Shakespearean and Spenserian sonnets. The sonnet is one of the oldest and most useful verse forms in English because of its simple yet flexible means to an artistic end: the expression of as much gravity, substance, and lyrical beauty as a brief and deceptively modest form can bear.

When the sonnet is written in a two-part form, (octave and sestet), the first eight lines of closed rhyme produce a certain kind of musical pace which demands repetition. Any expectation of stanzaic continuation is, however, counter-balanced by the six lines of interlaced rhyme with follow: the sestet is more tighly organized, and briefer, than the octave and so urges the sonnet to a decisive conclusion. The sestet usually provides some kind of consolidation of the material introduced in the octave. It 'supports the octave as the cup supports the acorn.'

Historically speaking, the original use of the sonnet was as a love lyric (a form which was overworked in the Renaissance), but its structure admirably suited it to express a great variety of moods and range of subject matter (e.g., politics, nature, encomiums, satire, etc.). The derivation of the word (from the Latin sonare, to sing) allowed it to be applied carelessly to any sort of lyric or ballad. Donne's Song and Sonnets (a title no doubt influenced by Tottel's famous miscellany), strictly speaking, contains no sonnets.


 History of Sonnet in England
  The sonnet made a late appearance in English literature. Early in the sixteenth century, the sonnet found its way to the Tudor court through Wyatt and Surrey. Even then the point of the Italian form was not entirely grasped, for Wyatt's sonnets all ended with a couplet, and Surrey, after some experimentation, used a pattern of alternately rhymed quatrains, which encouraged logical exposition right up to this final couplet and postponed the turn.

Wyatt adhered to the Petrachan octave but it was Surrey who established the accepted English form, a pattern more congenial to the comparatively rhyme-poor English language. This pattern was used extensively for there was wide variety in rhyme schemes and lines lengths. It was brought to its finest representation by Shakespeare. A rhyme scheme more attractive to Spenser (and in its first 9 lines paralleling his Spenserian stanza) was in effect a compromise between the more rigid Italian and the less rigid English patterns.

It remained for Milton to introduce the true Italian pattern (in fact, five of his sonnets are written in Italian), to break from sequences to occasional sonnets, to give a greater unity to the form by frequently permitting the octave to run into the sestet (the "Miltonic" sonnet, but anticipated by the Elizabethans), and a greater richness to the texture by employing his principle of "apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another," as in his blank verse. Milton's was the strongest influence when, after a century of disuse, the sonnet was revived in the later 18th century by Gray, T. Warton, Cowper, and Bowles; and reestablished in the early 19th by Wordsworth (also under Milton's influence but easing rhyme demands by use of an abbaacca octave in nearly half of his more than 500 sonnets); and by Keats, whose frequent use of the Shakespearean pattern did much to reaffirm it as a worthy companion to the generally favored Miltonic-Italian. Hopkins wrote Italian-form sonnets in an original way and W.H. Auden continued to write in a form tending towards the Italian.


 Sonnet Forms
  The rhyme schemes and arrangements of lines for the three popular sonnet forms may be diagrammed as follows:

Petrachan Sonnet Form

Spenserian Sonnet Form Shakespearean Sonnet Form


 Italian Sonnet
  The first sonnets were written by Italian poets in the early 13th century,but Petrarch has given his name to its most legitimate form. Indeed, the Petrarchan sonnet is by far the most widely used of the three popular sonnet forms.

It will be observed that a two-part division of thought is invited and leads to the "turn" of thought in the more varied sestet. The effect of the abbabba octave is truly remarkable. It is actually a blend of 3 brace-rhyme quatrians, since thee middle 4 verses, whose sounds overlap the others and echo their pattern, impress the reader with a similar rhyme pattern, thus, abbaabba. Normally, tooo, a definite pause is made in thought development at the end of the eighth verse, serving to increase the independent unity of an octave that has already progressed with the greatest economy in rhyme sounds. Certainly it would be difficult to conceive a more artistically compact and phonologically effective pattern. The sestet, in turn, leads out of the octave and, if the closing couplet is avoided, assures a commendable variety within uniformity to the poem as a whole.

Some of the most stereotyped features that characterize this type of Petrarchism are the exaggerated description of the physical and moral beauty of one's lady-loved. These so-called "Petrachan conventons" are apt to include such expressions as "golden-tresses," "staar-lie…eyes," "cheeks (of) fair roses," "teeth of pearly white," "voice more than human," "angelic/…form," etc. (from Petrarch's Sonnets IX, XXXI, and LXI).


English Sonnet
  The main differences between the Italian and English sonnet lie in the latter's frequency of rhyme and the structural divisions. There is no doubt that English poets, finding their language harder to rhyme in than Italian poets, clung to a sonnet in seven rhymes as something of itself more congenial than a sonnet in four or five rhymes.

But the greater flexibility in rhyming is not the main difference between the English and Italian form. More important is the difference of effect in the structural proportions: eight lines to six and twelve to two; this is particularly true in the ending of the sonnet, where the couplet makes the English sonnet seem particularly summary or epigrammatic. In fact, the Spenserian and Shakespearean patterns offer some relief to the difficulty of rhyming in English and invite a division of thought into 3 quatrains and a closing or summarizing couplet which characterizes the English sonnet; and even though such arbitrary divisions are frequently ignored by the poet, the more open rhyme schemes tend to impress the fourfold structure on the reader's ear and to suggest a stepped progression toward the closing couplet which usually ties things up in a strong and resounding climax.

Just as it is hard n the Italian sonnet to use the second quatrain for constructive organic development, the three isolated quatrains of the English sonnet are similarly prone to simple variation or repetition. Ideally there should be even greater tension in the proposition of the English sonnet, three turns of the screw, so to speak, before the point is driven home in the couplet. But in practice this is not always so.

When a series of sonnets is linked together according to a given theme, situation, or to a given individual, it is called a sonnet cycle or sequence.


 Shakespeare's Sonnet Sequence

Structure / Imagery / Sound and Rhythm / Tone

The sonnets contained in this Study Guide belong to a sonnet sequence or cycle of 154 that Shakespeare wrote probably between 1592 and 1597 at a time when the sonnet sequence was a sort of craze in England. The vogue had been launched in 1591 by the publication of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, a sequence addressed to a lady virtuous, unapproachable, and of great beauty in the lover's eyes. Petrarch had set the standard, more than two hundred and fifty years before, for the form, theme, and imagery of the sonnet and inaugurated the practice of linking the separate sonnets to form a unit. The unifying principle was not a story, the essentially lyrical form the sonnet not being a fit vehicle for a story. The unifying principle was a situation, an emotional crisis examined from different angles and expressing the vast range and complex maze of feelings and thoughts that affect the speaker caught in an overwhelming passion.

After Sidney's sequence appeared, contemporary poets like Daniel, Constable, Lodge, Barnes, and Drayton all producted their own cycle between 1592 and 1594. They were all in the same vein. In 1595, Spenser published his own sequence addressed not to an impossible lady but to his own finance and ended his series with a great hymn to marriage, the Epithalamion.

Shakespeare's sequence was published only in 1609 and probably without his knowledge. His sonnets, it seems, had been circulating in manuscripts for some time among his friends, for a surveyer of English literature by the name of Meres, mentions Shakespeare's "sugard sonnets among his friends" in 1598. But there is no way of being sure that these sonnets are those that were published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609.

While the other sonnet sequences all deal with the love for a woman of great virtue and beauty and celebrate her with the hyperbolic imagery learned from Petrach, Shakespeare's sequence deals with the passion of the speaker in the poems for a young man of great beauty and charm but of little virtue. The speaker also loves a lady all dark and sensual who subjects him to the slavery of sensuality from which he has not the power to free himself. This situation is further complicated by the fact that the young man whom the speaker admires and loves steals the speaker's mistress, and a rival poet tries to endear himself to the young man. The triangle is an exceptional one indeed, as sonnet 144 shows:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,...

The traditional "eternal triangle" (one person being the object of two other persons' love) becomes, in this sequence, a kind of "perverted parallelogram":

Persona   Rival Poet
Dark Lady
Young Man

The order of the sequence as published by Thorpe in 1609 is far from being a satisfactory one. We don't know what order Shakespeare had in mind. As published the sequence presents 154 sonnets divided into three groups: the first 126 deal with the young man mainly, the next 26 with the dark lady, and the last two are free adaptations of two Greek poems having apparently no immediate relation with the sequence. Within these groups there is much disorder in the organization. Many editors have attempted a better one but never satisfactorily and the best editions still follow Thorpe's sequence.

Perhaps the very disorder was meant to mirror the general messiness of such deeply felt emotional involvements as the one presented in the sequence where a smile from the beloved can send the soul of the lover soaring into a heaven of high hopes and, the next moment, a frown send it crashing into the bottom of the pit of despair.

Apart from the crux of the real order of the sonnets, two other problems have given rise to a great deal of controversy especially in recent years-whether the sequence is autobiographical and whether the relationship of the speaker and the young man in the poems is homosexual.

Since so little is known of Shakespeare's private life some biographers of the bard have seized upon the sonnets as a source of information and devoted all their ingenuity, as literary detectives, to identifying the young man and the dark lady. Every possible and impossible name has been mentioned with certainty by various researchers too anxious to make sensational literary news. The common characteristic of all the books and articles claiming such infallible identification is the confusion between speculations and facts. The only fact is that present knowledge does not allow us to identify either the young man or the lady. The sequence is a work of art and the original experience of the poet is transmuted in it so that it is no longer identifiable. Shakespeare, who was probably around thirty years of age when he wrote these sonnets, presents an elderly speaker (or persona) as one of our selected sonnets, number 73, well illustrates.

Yet, if the situation in the sonnets is no more autobiographical than any other piece of fiction, can be relationship of the speaker or persona with the young man be qualified as homosexual?

The relationship is, to say the least, ambiguous. In sonnet 20, the speaker calls the young man "the master-mistress of my passion" but ends the poem with a crude denial of physical contact: "But since she (Nature) pricked thee out for women's pleasure,/Mine be thy love,and thy love's use their treasure." In this poem, the poet gives the youth many of the artibutes that the popular sequences of those days gave to the untouchable lady love. The moral torture of the persona of the sequence seems to come from an over-whelming passion for a person that finds no relief in the flesh. In any case, the sequence makes clear that what attracts the persona to the young man is his feminine beauty without the moral defects of women and that what is craved for is a "marriage of true minds."

Physical relief for the speaker is provided by the dark lady whom he uses with great disgust both with himself and her. The tension in the poems which deal with the mistress arises from the deep contempt the speaker feels for her and the impossibility of breaking away from her. This part of the sequence culminates in sonnet 129.
This ueer triangle suggests that Shakespeare had not simply adopted a fashionable poetic form and produced one more sequence in the same vein. Rather he had to be more original, profound, and complex as he was when he took well known stories or whole plays and transformed them into his great dramas.

In the following selections from the sequence, sonnets 18, 71, 73, and 116 belong to the group dealing with the young man; sonnets 129 and 130 with the dark lady.



The sonnet from-abab cdcd efef gg-to which Shakespeare has given his name is used throughout the sequence (save sonnet 126 with its twelve lines rhyming in couplets and sonnet 99 with its fifteen lines). Most of the time each quatrain forms a complete phrase, and each line is end-stopped. Run-on lines are rare which makes sonnet 129 something special.

Within these rigid limits Shakespeare's infinite variety has free play. Some sonnets perfectly adapt thought development to the structure of three quatrains and couplet. In sonnet 73, e.g., the speaker compares himself to autumn (first quatrain), to a sunset (second quatrain), and to dying embers (third quatrain); the couplet brings out the point of these comparisons. The three quatrains are not static, they show progress in thought and feeling from incapacity for art (singing birds) to rest from trials and tribulations and to exhaustion of passion.

This perfect correspondence of the three metaphors with the three quatrains is rare in Shakespeare's sequence. Although there is a subtle progress from the first quatrain to the last in 73, yet each quatrain in itself justifies the statement of the couplet. In a sequence of 154 sonnets such a regularity could produce only boredom. At the other extreme from this sort of solemn thought progression is that of sonnet 129, where three aspects of lust-before, during, after action-are jumbled together in a mad confusion until the couplet brings some order of reflexive thought. Yet there is order in this madness. In the first quatrain, lust "till action" is stressed; in the second, lust after action; in the third, the three aspects are brought together.

In other sonnets are thought structure comes close to the octave-sestect division of the Italian sonnet. Sonnet 18, e.g., after stating the subject of the poem-a comparison between the youth and the summer-accumulates, up to line 8, notations that make the summer imperfect. Line 9 opens with a dramatic "but" which introduces the next six lines where the youth is shown as being made immortal by the speaker's art. Yet under the current of thought the three quatrain-couplet articulations retain their pattern. The accumulation of external notations about the youth and summer that constitutes the subject of the octave are divided into two parts through a rhetorical device. The first quatrain contains four one-line comparisons while the second contains two two-line notations, so that the first and the second are well balanced. The sestet itself refers to the octave as made of two units-the first line of the sestet to the last image of the first quatrain:

4 Summer's lease has too short a date
9 But thy eternal summer shall not fade

and the second line of the sestet refers to the last image of the second quatrain:

7 And every fair from fair sometime declines
8 By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed
10 Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st

The final couplet does flow out naturally from the thought of line 12 and forms a six line unit of thought with the third quatrain, and yet the rhythm, parallelism, and rhyme of the couple set it apart from the last quatrain.

The thought structure of sonnet 116 is similar to that of sonnet 18 with its one-line comparisons in the first quatrain, its two -line similes in the second, and the dramatic "Love's not Time's fool" opening the idea of permanence in the last quatrain. But the couplet here is used quite differently from that of sonnet 18. It does not flow out of the third quatrain. It looks like an after-thought, the speaker realizing that love is perhaps not so constant as the preceding lines assert, but that a man in love must feel that it is so.

The thought structure of 130 is again different from the other selections offered here. It simply accumulates for twelve lines realistic notations about the dark lady friend. The dramatic turn of thought takes place in the couplet: "and yet." Yet within these 12 lines the style varies and can be divided into a quatrain followed by an octave. The first quatrain gathers four notations in four lines while the following eight lines mention only four further notations so that the first quatrain contains as much as the following octave.

Shakespeare achieves variety of structure by making the thought in the poems override in a variety of ways the strong articulations of the sonnet form.



At times Shakespeare's use of imagery cannot bear close logical or grammatical examination. Sonnet 18, for instance, opens with a statement of topic: Shall I compare you to a summer's day? You are more lovely and more temperate. Then the speaker goes on using comparisons not with a summer's day but with the summer season which is sometimes marred by rough winds, cloudy skies, is too short, and must end with loss of beauty. Here the speaker's thought proceeds by association passing unwittingly from a summer day to a summer season without blurring the emotional content of his images.

A similar hardly noticeable slip occurs at the beginning of the sestect, a grammatical one this time. Lines 9 and 10 have the same grammatical subjects; thy eternal summer. Yet the meaning of line 10 requires the subject to be "you" and not "thy eternal summer," for otherwise we are left with a jumbled phrase: your eternal summer shall not lose the possession of that beauty you posses. Such disregard of logic and grammar, however, does not blur the meaning the speaker has in mind.

Such a limpy use of imagery is not the rule in these sonnets. In sonnet 73 we come to a combination of logic, grammar, and aptness of metaphor in which the whole consort dances together in perfect harmony. These three images do not fall short of Donne's best drawn out conceits, and yet they are far more compressed, rich in connotation, and emotionally charged. Reduced to their simplest expression these three complex metaphors may be expressed thus:

1. I, an old man = late autumn wood where the birds used to sing = bare ruined choirs = I whose sacred soul used to sing in my poems.
2. I, an old man = sunset-night = death = my rst from the trials and tribulations you caused me.
3. I, an old man = dying embers = deathbed = I, killed by the passion that nourished my life.

In sonnet 129 imagery is used in a structural way again. There are only two figures in this poem, the first at the end of the octave and the other at the end of the sestet. Much of the strength of "as a swallowed bait,/on purpose laid to make the taker mad" comes from its position at the center of the poem after six lines and a half of abstractions. The same applies to "the heaven that leads men to this hell."

The following poem, sonnet 130, on the contrary, uses similes every line for twelve consecutives lines thus giving strength to the abstract statement of the couplet.


Sound and Rhythm

Within the strict liits of the imabic pentameter lines almost all end-stopped, Shakespeare plays with a great variety of rhythms. Two extreme contrasts appear clearly in the first quatrains of sonnets 73 and 129. Both are written in the same basic iambic meter broken by spondees and numerous caesuras and use a good number of long vowels. Yet sonnet 73 carries a slow rhythm expressive of the deep melancholy of old age while 129 expresses raging impotence at the impossibility to shun lust. Much of these opposite effects is due to the use of the caesuras or the natural grouping of words according to meaning. In 73 the caesuras fall pat with the ends of feet.

When yellow leaves,/or none,/or few,/do hang

while the caesuras of 129 break the feet and give the line a jerky, staccato accent

is perjured/murderous/bloody/full of blame

In 73, foot and break work in harmony while, in 129, they jar against each other.
The placing of the caesura in the middle of a foot sometimes creates a completely different effect:

Thou art more lovely/and more temperate

This time the caesura falls in the middle of the line and divides it into two equal parts of five syllables with only one strongly accented syllable in each part (lovely, temperate) creating the soft effect of a feminine amphibrach.

Often Shakespeare carefully combines sound and rhythm to produce his effect

Than you shall hear the surly sullen ell (71)

where "hear" and "bell," and "surly" and "sullen" are at the same pitch while the rhythm follows the meter harmoniously.

Shakespeare's combination of alliteration and assonance shows great variety. In 73

Death's second self that seals up all in rest

Sometimes the alliteration and assonance go as far as repetition of the same word or word root within the same line:

Love's not love
That alters when it alterations finds
Or bends with the remove to remove (116)

and this just after writing the strong alliterative line

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.

In 129 the repetition is double within one line

Is lust in action, and, till action, lust

The effect of raging impotence against lust here is well combined with the functon of the word "lust" which is the grammatical subject of the next ten lines.



The tone is perhaps the most subtle and the most ambiguous element in these poems. It is a function of structure, imagery, rhythm, alliteration, and assonance plus undefinable factors related to the experience expressed in the sequence. Analysis of tone can only bring out the most obvious aspects of it.

Perhaps the most ambiguous tonal effect can be found in sonnet 116. The strong alliteration and repetitions of the first quatrain establish a tone of hammering assertions prolonged by the imagery of the next eight lines and the alliteration of the couplet: I never writ nor no man ever loved. To the more perceptive such assertive language can only be a mask for unconscious doubt. The less sure a man is and the more he desires his hearer and himself to believe he is sure, the more assertive he becomes. Viewed in relation to the sequence, the undertone of this poem suggests that the speaker asserts the constancy unto death of love to the very person he sees slipping away in his love. It becomes a desperate plea to remain constant as love is said to be constant. The assertion that love is not Time's fool may very well cover the appalling discovery that he himself has been all along love's fool. The undertone of plea in sonnet 71 is perhaps the most pathetic. On the surface it does sound like a show of selfless love but the rhythm and the diction suggest a tone of bitter irony, telling the youth to do after his death exactly what he fears most the youth will do-forget him completely. It would not be such a "vile world" after all if the youth, returned his love. The repetition of "if;" "if you read this line," "if thinking on me," "if, I say, you look upon this verse," and "perhaps" in the next line, all contribute to create a tone of despair at the inefficacy of the speaker's verse to win the youth. This poem asserts just the opposite of what sonnet 18 says of power of art.
The tone of sonnet 18 is less ambiguous. It shows a real faith in the power of art to bestow eternity and attract love. In the sequence it comess when the speaker has not yet experienced the infidelity of his beloved. The tone of the couplet in 73 is a perfect example of wishful thinking.

The tone in the sequence dealing with the dark lady is in general much more direct. Sonnet 129 and 130 are good examples. In 129 the tone varies within the poem from the explosive rage in the body of the poem to the philosophical resignation in the couplet. Sonnet 130 is an overt mockery of the Petrachan worship of the lady love that turns in the couplet into a compliment to the dark lady and a playful invitation to love to a woman who cares less to be looked upon as an unreal beauty than to be made love to.

The analysis of individual sonnets offered in this Study Guide stresses the variety in theme, structure, imagery, sound and rhythm, and tone. In such short lyrical pieces as the sonnet tone is all. It is the very essence of the poem that all the other elements contribute to create. It is the essential thing to be perceived and relished. It is the reward of close reading for the tone is some of the poems is so subtle that it can easily escape a perfunctory analysis, as it has, indeed, for centuries after Shakespeare's death.

But the tools of the New Criticism have uncovered in this sequence a complexity of technique and meaning that places it among the great achievements of Renaissance poetry.


Copyright ©2009 國科會人文學中心 All Rights Reserved.