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Dania Ghraoui Dr. Sawsan Jazaerli Renaissance Poetry 10 July 2011 Commemorating Beauty and Defying Time in Shakespeares Sonnets The larger part of William Shakespeares sonnets is addressed to the young man. In nearly 29 of the first 126 sonnets, Shakespeares speaker is anxious to preserve the youth and beauty of his friend against the rapid passage of hours. He, therefore, presents two tools that can overcome time and immortalize youth and beauty. Procreation and verse are the only two powers to stand against times scythe. The power of poetry to defy time is praised equally as, if not more than, procreation. If having children is the insurance that the youths beauty will be remembered for many generations to come, the poets verse is presented as the monument that will commemorate beauty, memory, youth and the verse itself for eternity. In the Renaissance, there was a sense of times urgency and destructive power (Steadman 55). The works of many Renaissance poets exhibit an undercurrent of fear of time (Woolway, n.pag.). Professor Ricardo J. Quinones analyses in his book, The Renaissance Discovery of Time, the new sensitivity to the pressure and havoc of time and its implications for Renaissance efforts to escape or transcend the ruins of time through fame and progeny (Steadman 55). Shakespeare reflects this sensitivity in his sonnets as he portrays Time as a destructive and invincible power. The two solutions he proposes to the young man exemplify his attempt to stop times mischief. Shakespeare presents time as a very powerful might that threatens the continuity of beauty. He enhances this idea by stressing two things. First, time flows rapidly giving youth a short period to keep its freshness. The rapidity of the passing hours is best portrayed in sonnet 60, Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, / So do our minutes hasten to

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their end. Soon, aging marks will show on the face of every beautiful being as Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth / And delves the parallels in beautys brow. The mischief of time seems here unstoppable since the passage of time is so. Second, time plays a double-role; it takes what it gives. The same power that gently leads to the flourishing of beauty will turn to deform it with its cruel hand: Those hours, that with gentle work did frame The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell, Will play the tyrants to the very same And that unfair which fairly doth excel; (Sonnet 5) Time can be both, someone who forms the lovely gaze and the tyrant that undoes what it did. In sonnet 60, the two-fold role of time is stressed in the words, And Time that gave doth now his gift confound, But, by taking away the beauty it once granted, time, according to the poet, becomes a savage power. Shakespeares speaker highlights the cruelty of time through vivid descriptions. In sonnet 19, time is a monster that preys on beauty. Not only that, time also has power over nature and over every living being: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lions paws, And make the earth devour her own sweet brood; Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tigers jaws, And burn the long-livd phoenix, in her blood; Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets. (Sonnet 19) Animals, seasons and supernatural creatures will all be affected by time which proves to be the only superpower here. The cruel paws of the lion will be softened by the greater cruelty of time. The phoenix too, a symbol of immortality (Britannica), will burn in its own blood. Natures seasons will also change according to the moving time. This view of time reflects

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the thinking of Shakespeares age. In the Renaissance and despite the Elizabethans religious beliefs, time was obsessively a murderer (Elton 183). Against times unmatchable strength, the poet urges his friend to take the natural solution in order to overcome times abilities to deform beauties and erase memories. That solution is breeding. Shakespeares sonnets open with the procreation sonnets that include the first 17 sonnets. They present different arguments to persuade the young man to get married and have children. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells state, in their article The Artistry of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Concerns of the Sonnets, that [s]onnets 1-17 are concerned with procreation, with breeding and re-creating the image of oneself in another living and autonomous being in order to combat the ravages of Time and so vicariously to achieve everlasting life (n. pag.). In the first one, the poet inaugurates his entreaties for the young man to have children in order to maintain his remembrance and good looks after his death: From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beautys rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decease, His tender heir might bear his memory: (Sonnet 1) It is natural, according to the poet, to demand an heir for such a beautiful young man. Otherwise, nothing of his better days will be remembered. Time decreases the beauty and tenderness of young age, and only a child can exhibit the resemblance and keep the memory of his father. Shakespeare then highlights the importance of procreation in preserving youth and its memory. According to him, it is the mirror that reflects beauty to generations to come. Even after the passage of time has spread wrinkles in the youths face, his prime time will be seen in the face of his child: Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee

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Calls back the lovely April of her prime; So thou through windows of thine age shalt see, Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time. But if thou live remembred not to be, Die single and thine image dies with thee. (Sonnet 3) So, without an heir, the poet says, the young man will not only die alone but his image will also die with him. In other words, his beauty will expire and his memory will be forgotten. Whereas if he chooses to have a child, the youth would defeat time. He will be able to stop its destructive movement, If all were minded so, the times should cease, / And threescore year would make the world away (Sonnet 11). In Sonnet 12, moreover, the poet offers breed as the only defense one has against Times quick pace. He ponders on the ability of beauty to endure the cruelty of time: Then of thy beauty do I question make, That thou among the wastes of time must go, Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake, And die as fast as they see others grow, And nothing gainst Times scythe can make defense, Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence. (Sonnet 12) Like all beauties in the world, the young mans beauty is equally vulnerable against the passing hours. Nothing seems to stand a chance in the face of inevitable change or extinction Save breed. It is in his procreation sonnets that Shakespeare mentions procreation as the only tool to defy time. However, in Sonnet 17, the last of this group, he presents a new power that is also capable of keeping the youth alive in memory, and that power is verse:

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So should my papers, yellowed with their age, Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue, And your true rights be termed a poet's rage And stretched metre of an antique song: But were some child of yours alive that time, You should live twice, in it, and in my rhyme. (Sonnet17) Here, we see both procreation and verse as equal powers. At this stage, both need to stand in the face of Time, and we notice how the possibility of a child is equated with the power of rhyme itself (Edmondson, n. Pag.). The poetry alone will be undermined and questioned for the truth it claims, according to the poet. He seems to say that only a child will make his verse appreciated for the true beauty it praises, but alone it will be undervalued. According to Edmondson and Wells, Shakespeare was successful in combining the two dimensions of love that Plato perceived as being separate: the spiritual and the physical (n.pag.). Therefore, we see how rhyme (the spiritual) and breeding (the physical) are complementary powers in this sonnet. However, the focus of the rest of sonnets that hold the theme of time is more concentrated on the importance of rhyme. Eight sonnets are written about the verse as a monument to immortality (Robisch, par.2). One example is sonnet 81: Your monument shall be my gentle verse, Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read; And tongues to be your being shall rehearse, When all the breathers of this world are dead; You still shall live-- such virtue hath my pen-Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. (Sonnet 81)

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The verse is described as gentle contrasted to the cruel hand of time. It has the virtue of keeping alive the memory of the young man that for generations people would remain talking of his beauty. In promising an eternal life for his friend through poetry, the poet is showing a great confidence of his rhyme. Unlike Sonnet 17, in several later sonnets Shakespeares speaker is certain that his lines will forever be read and appreciated. Thus, his friend will achieve immortality. Two examples are the couplets of Sonnets 18 and 63, So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee (Sonnet 18) and His beauty shall in these black lines be seen, / And they shall live, and he in them still green (Sonnet 63). In fact, Edmondson and Wells believe that [c]losely related to the poet's desire at once to enjoy the passing flux of the present moment and for time to stand still is the will for immortality both of the verse and of the beloved (n. pag.). Clearly, Shakespeare would like to obtain immortality for his verse as he writes to commemorate beauty and love. The poet, moreover, shows his interest in obtaining an immortal power for his verse that would surpass that of time. In Sonnet 100, he summons his Muse and calls her to help him to defame time: Rise, resty Muse, my loves sweet face survey, If Time have any wrinkle graven there; If any, be a satire to decay And make Times spoils despised everywhere. Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life; So thou preventst his scythe and crooked knife. (Sonnet 100) Although he is aware of Times great might, the speaker believes that his verse will be able to go faster than time in telling the world of the love it holds. With the help of the Muse, verse will prevent Time from wasting beauty.

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Furthermore, the promised immortality of the poets lines undermines both time and death. Not time nor death, the poets seems to say, can ruin the beauty commemorated in my eternal lines: But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou owst Nor shall Death brag thou wandrest in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou growst. (Sonnet 18) Summer here refers to youth as it is the prime time of the year. Both youth and verse become eternal in these lines. In Sonnet 107, the same idea, but with more emphasis on defying death, is pursued through the lines: Now with the drops of this most balmy time My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes, Since, spite of him, Ill live in this poor rhyme, While he insults oer dull and speechless tribes: And thou in this shalt find thy monument, When tyrants crests and tombs of brass are spent. (Sonnet 107) The poet presents his verse again as a monument that will preserve his beloved in his eternal state of young and fresh age. In addition to that, the poet vows that he will be alive through his own verse in defiance to death. All in all, Shakespeares theme of time reflects the belief people held at the Renaissance that time is a mighty enemy which no power can defeat. His endeavors to oppose time through breeding or fame tells us of the reaction towards the notion of time back then. Shakespeare presents procreation first as the only thing to preserve beauty, youth and memory. However, he then praises the immortality of his verse and its ability to eternalize

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everything it talks about. Clearly, to Shakespeare, Time is an antagonist over which he hopes to triumph and gain immortality with the help of his verse (qtd. in Steadman 55).

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Works Cited Edmondson, Paul, and Stanley Wells. "The Artistry of Shakespeare's Sonnets' and 'Concerns of the Sonnets." Shakespeare's Sonnets. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 47-81. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 98. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 June 2011. Elton, W.R. Shakespeare and the Thought of His Age. A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Ed. Kenneth Muir and S. Shoenbaum. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1971. 180-98. Print. Phoenix.Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online. Encyclopdia Britannica, 2011. Web. 05 Jun. 2011. Robisch, Sean. "Critical Essay on 'Sonnet 55'." Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary K. Ruby. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 June 2011. Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. William Shakespeare: The Sonnets and Narrative Poems. Ed. William Burto. Introd. Helen Vendler. London: Campbell, 1992. Print. Steadman, John M. Rev. of The Renaissance Discovery of Time, by Ricardo J. Quinoes. Renaissance Quarterly 27. 1 (1974): 55-57. Web. 22 June 2011. Woolway, Joanne. "An overview of Sonnet 18." Poetry for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 June 2011.