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Sonnet 1

"From fairest creatures we desire increase / That thereby beauty's rose might never die,"

We want the best-looking people to have children so that their beauty can be appreciated by
future generations,

"But as the riper should by time decease / His tender heir might bear his memory:"

For once the elder has passed away, his young will share the memory of his ancestor's beauty
(and may look like the elder):

"But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes / Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial

But you, obsessed with your own beauty, selfishly consume all of that beauty's light,

"Making a famine where abundance lies / Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:"

Depriving the world of that beauty when there is plenty to be had by all; you are your own
enemy, you are cruel to your own sweet self, for not having a child to carry on your memory.

"Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament / And only herald to the gaudy spring,"

You who are now a beautiful thing on earth, and the one who announces the coming of

"Within thine own bud buriest thy content / And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:"

Are burying your self-satisfied beauty within yourself, and wasting it by being selfish.

"Pity the world, or else this glutton be / To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee."

Have pity on the world and bear a child; otherwise you are a glutton, keeping your beauty to
yourself by taking it with you to the grave.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnets 1-126 comprise the first unit of Shakespeare's sonnets, although the second unit is
considerably smaller, comprising only 28 sonnets. We often call sonnets 1-126 the "fair lord
sonnets" because they tell the story of the poet's growing affection for (and eventual rejection
by) a young and beautiful man that some critics also describe as the poet's financial
benefactor. Almost all of the fair lord sonnets are addressed directly to the fair lord himself,
and those that are not are surely about either him or the effect he has on the poet's emotional

Sonnets 1-17 are sometimes referred to as the "procreation sonnets," for in these sonnets the
poet pleads with the fair lord, begging him to have a child so that his beauty may be passed on
for future generations. This mini-theme of procreation continues until sonnet 18, whereupon
the poet seemingly abandons it in favor of a new course. From then on the poet seeks to
eternalize the fair lord's beauty in the lines of his verse, a plan he foreshadows in some
preceding sonnets, e.g., "But were some child of yours alive that time / You should live twice;
in it and in my rhyme" (sonnet 17).

From the beginning the poet appears infatuated with the fair lord's beauty, as the fair lord is
infatuated with it himself. Knowing that Shakespeare often drew on Greek and Latin myth
and legend in his works, we see a possible allusion to the story of Narcissus in the fair lord's
obsession with his own appearance. The fair lord seems not only obsessed with his own
beauty but also immoderately selfish with it - at least in the eyes of the poet. The selfishness
of the fair lord with respect to his beauty is alluded to elsewhere in the procreation sequence,
e.g., "Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend / Upon thyself thy beauty's legacy?" (sonnet

This first sonnet introduces the reader to a number of the sonnets' recurring themes: a possible
homoerotic undertone (a man's appreciation of another man's beauty), the imagery of financial
bondage (as in "contracted"), and the theme of selfishness and greed embodied in the fair
lord's unwillingness to eternalize his beauty himself, thereby "making a famine where
abundance lies." In fact, the sonnet as a whole can be encapsulated under the theme of the
ravages of time, as a one-line summary of its content might be made thus: "Have a child now,
beautiful man, because the clock is ticking; don't be selfish."

In line 11, the word "content" could have two very different meanings depending on the
position of the stress. If we follow the iambic rhythm, the stress falls on the second syllable,
giving the word the meaning of "happiness" or "pleasure," i.e. "you are burying your
happiness within yourself." However, some scholars have suggested that the poet is actually
making a pun, with the alternate meaning of "content" (stress on the first syllable) a reference
to the fair lord's content, his beauty (or even semen: the fair lord is keeping it all to himself,
thereby wasting it). It is clear that the poet was very deliberate in his choice of words - his
sonnets and plays show numerous other examples of similarly subtle and bawdy puns - so
such speculation may seem more reasonable as one becomes more familiar with the sonnets
and Shakespeare's work as a whole.

Sonnet 18

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate:"

What if I were to compare you to a summer day? You are lovelier and more temperate (the
perfect temperature):

"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May / And summer's lease hath all too short a

Summer's beauty is fragile and can be shaken, and summertime fades away all too quickly:

"Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines / And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;"

Sometimes the sun is far too hot, and often it is too cool, dimmed by clouds and shade;
"And every fair from fair sometime declines / By chance or nature's changing course

And everything that is beautiful eventually loses its beauty, whether by chance or by the
uncontrollable course of nature;

"But thy eternal summer shall not fade / Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;"

But your eternal beauty (or youth) will not fade, nor will your beauty by lost;

"Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade / When in eternal lines to time thou

Nor will Death boast that you wander in his shadow, since you shall grow with time through
these sonnets:

"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see / So long lives this and this gives life to thee."

For as long as people can breathe and see, this sonnet will live on, and you (and your beauty)
with it.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnet 18 is arguably the most famous of the sonnets, its opening line competitive with
"Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" in the long list of Shakespeare's quotable
quotations. The gender of the addressee is not explicit, but this is the first sonnet after the so-
called "procreation sonnets" (sonnets 1-17), i.e., it apparently marks the place where the poet
has abandoned his earlier push to persuade the fair lord to have a child. The first two quatrains
focus on the fair lord's beauty: the poet attempts to compare it to a summer's day, but shows
that there can be no such comparison, since the fair lord's timeless beauty far surpasses that of
the fleeting, inconstant season.

Here the theme of the ravages of time again predominates; we see it especially in line 7,
where the poet speaks of the inevitable mortality of beauty: "And every fair from fair
sometime declines." But the fair lord's is of another sort, for it "shall not fade" - the poet is
eternalizing the fair lord's beauty in his verse, in these "eternal lines." Note the financial
imagery ("summer's lease") and the use of anaphora (the repetition of opening words) in lines
6-7, 10-11, and 13-14. Also note that May (line 3) was an early summer month in
Shakespeare's time, because England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

The poet describes summer as a season of extremes and disappointments. He begins in lines
3-4, where "rough winds" are an unwelcome extreme and the shortness of summer is its
disappointment. He continues in lines 5-6, where he lingers on the imperfections of the
summer sun. Here again we find an extreme and a disappointment: the sun is sometimes far
too hot, while at other times its "gold complexion" is dimmed by passing clouds. These
imperfections contrast sharply with the poet's description of the fair lord, who is "more
temperate" (not extreme) and whose "eternal summer shall not fade" (i.e., will not become a
disappointment) thanks to what the poet proposes in line 12.
In line 12 we find the poet's solution - how he intends to eternalize the fair lord's beauty
despite his refusal to have a child. The poet plans to capture the fair lord's beauty in his verse
("eternal lines"), which he believes will withstand the ravages of time. Thereby the fair lord's
"eternal summer shall not fade," and the poet will have gotten his wish. Here we see the poet's
use of "summer" as a metaphor for youth, or perhaps beauty, or perhaps the beauty of youth.

But has the poet really abandoned the idea of encouraging the fair lord to have a child? Some
scholars suggest that the "eternal lines" in line 12 have a double meaning: the fair lord's
beauty can live on not only in the written lines of the poet's verse but also in the family lines
of the fair lord's progeny. Such an interpretation would echo the sentiment of the preceding
sonnet's closing couplet: "But were some child of yours alive that time / You should live
twice; in it and in my rhyme." The use of "growest" also implies an increasing or changing:
we can envision the fair lord's family lines growing over time, yet this image is not as readily
applicable to the lines of the poet's verse - unless it refers only to his intention to continue
writing about the fair lord's beauty, his verse thereby "growing." On the other hand, line 14
seems to counter this interpretation, the singular "this" (as opposed to "these") having as its
most likely antecedent the poet's verse, and nothing more.

Sonnet 35

"No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: / Roses have thorns, and silver fountains

Don't feel guilty anymore about what you've done, since all beautiful things, like roses and
fountains, have faults:

"Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, / And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud."

The beauty of the moon and sun is at times blocked, and worms and diseases destroy beautiful

"All men make faults, and even I in this, / Authorizing thy trespass with compare,"

Everyone makes mistakes, including me, since I've been justifying your wrongdoing,

"Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss, / Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;"

I myself make the mistake of smoothing over your mistake enough to justify even worse sins;

"For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense, / Thy adverse party is thy advocate,"

Because I'm defending your sin with reasoning, so the one you hurt is actually defending you,

And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence: / Such civil war is in my love and hate,"

And I'm arguing with myself, wanting to defend you but hurt by you, too,
"That I an accessary needs must be, / To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me."

So I am an accomplice to you, who has hurt me.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnet 35 continues the theme of the two sonnets that precede it, in which the poet was
betrayed by the fair lord. In this sonnet, he forgives the fair lord because he loves him too
much to continue resenting him, but is acutely aware that in justifying the offense of the fair
lord, he too is offending himself. He has become an "accessary," or accomplice, to his own
betrayal by using reason to defend the fair lord.

The offense the fair lord has committed against the poet is now identified as a "sensual fault,"
although more details are not provided in any of the sonnets. In Sonnets 33-34, the fault was
ambiguous, and could have been a denial of the poet's love. The language in Sonnets 33-34
suggests that the fault is promiscuity and the resulting contraction of a sexually transmitted
disease, but here the fair lord is called "that sweet thief which sourly robs from me," so it is
likely that the offense is the same as that referred to in Sonnets 40-42: the stealing of the
poet's mistress.

The biblical language of the previous two sonnets continues here in lines 5-8. Lines 5-6, "All
men make faults, and even I in this, / Authorizing thy trespass with compare," suggests the
idea of original sin in asserting that everyone is a sinner, including the poet himself. The word
"trespass" alludes to the Lord's Prayer, which reads, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who trespass against us." Lines 7-8 describe the fair lord's offense with the word "sin,"
continuing the theme.

Sonnet 35 uses legal terminology in lines 9-14, making a break from the biblical language that
pervaded Sonnets 33-34 and the beginning of this sonnet. The phrase "bring in," evokes the
idea of bringing in a witness or an argument; in this case, sense, or reason. The argument the
poet has with himself is described as a "lawful plea," and through it the poet becomes "an
accessary," or an accomplice to the crime.

The first four lines of the sonnet put forth the defense's argument; we do not see it as such
until the legal metaphor is invoked later. The "sense," or reasoning used by the part of the
speaker that wants to forgive the fair lord, is that all beautiful things have their faults, so of
course the fair lord is no different. The idea of all roses having thorns is proverbial, and the
negative connotation of clouds and eclipses is in accordance with the belief of the time.
Clouds were thought to be pollutants and cause contagion, while eclipses were thought to
foretell disaster.

Sonnet 130

"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than her lips' red;"

My mistress's eyes look nothing like the sun; coral is far more red than her lips are.

"If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; / If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her
If snow is white, then her breasts are a dull brown (in comparison); if hairs are wires, then
black wires grow on her head.

"I have seen roses damask'd, red and white / But no such roses see I in her cheeks;"

I have seen roses of pink, red, and white, but her cheeks are none of these colors;

"And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress

And some perfumes smell more delightful than the malodorous breath of my mistress.

"I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound;"

I love to hear her speak, even though I know well that music has a far more pleasing sound;

"I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:"

I admit I have never seen a goddess walk, but my mistress, when she walks, steps (humanly)
on the ground:

"And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare."

And yet, I swear before heaven, I think she is just as extraordinary as any woman that may be
described with false comparisons.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnet 130 is a pleasure to read for its simplicity and frankness of expression. It is also one of
the few of Shakespeare's sonnets with a distinctly humorous tone. Its message is simple: the
dark lady's beauty cannot be compared to the beauty of a goddess or to that found in nature,
for she is but a mortal human being.

The sonnet is generally considered a humorous parody of the typical love sonnet. Petrarch, for
example, addressed many of his most famous sonnets to an idealized woman named Laura,
whose beauty he often likened to that of a goddess. In stark contrast Shakespeare makes no
attempt at deification of the dark lady; in fact he shuns it outright, as we see in lines 11-12: "I
grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground." Here
the poet explicitly states that his mistress is not a goddess.

She is also not as beautiful as things found in nature, another typical source of inspiration for
the average sonneteer: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is far more red than
her lips' red." Yet the narrator loves her nonetheless, and in the closing couplet says that in
fact she is just as extraordinary ("rare") as any woman described with such exaggerated or
false comparisons. It is indeed this blunt but charming sincerity that has made sonnet 130 one
of the most famous in the sequence.

However, while the narrator's honesty in sonnet 130 may seem commendable, we must not
forget that Shakespeare himself was a master of the compliment and frequently made use of
the very same sorts of exaggerated comparisons satirized here. We even find them elsewhere
in the sonnets, and in great abundance, too; note that while his "mistress' eyes are nothing like
the sun," his fair lord's indeed are, as in sonnet 49: "And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine

This may lead one to wonder, is it really pure honesty that the poet is showing in sonnet 130,
or is there also some ulterior sentiment, perhaps that the dark lady is not deserving of the
narrator's fine words? Or perhaps she is deserving but such words are not necessary, as though
the narrator feels comfortable enough with the dark lady that he is able to show such honesty
(which his insecurity regarding the fair lord prevents him from doing)? There are many ways
to interpret how the poet's psychological state may have influenced stylistic choices in his
writing, but these sonnets do not provide definitive proof.

Sonnet 138