Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? By William Shakespeare – Summary and Analysis

Advanced Technological institute
Higher National Diploma in English
Subject: Introduction to Literature 1st Year 1st Semester

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

By William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? A
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.B
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,A
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.B
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,C
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;D
And every fair from fair sometime declines,C
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;D
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,E
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,F
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,E
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.F
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,G
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.G

THE ELIZABETHAN PERIOD.
The earlier half of Elizabeth’s reign, also, though not lacking in literary effort, produced no
work of permanent importance. After the religious convulsions of half a century time was
required for the development of the internal quiet and confidence from which a great literature
could spring. At length, however, the hour grew ripe and there came the greatest outburst of
creative energy in the whole history of English literature. Under Elizabeth’s wise guidance the
prosperity and enthusiasm of the nation had risen to the highest pitch, and London in particular
was overflowing with vigorous life. A special stimulus of the most intense kind came from the
struggle with Spain. After a generation of half-piratical depredations by the English seadogs
against the Spanish treasure fleets and the Spanish settlements in America, King Philip,
exasperated beyond all patience and urged on by a bigot’s zeal for the Catholic Church, began
deliberately to prepare the Great Armada, which was to crush at one blow the insolence, the
independence, and the religion of England. There followed several long years of breathless
suspense; then in 1588 the Armada sailed and was utterly overwhelmed in one of the most
complete disasters of the world’s history. Thereupon the released energy of England broke out
exultantly into still more impetuous achievement in almost every line of activity. The great
literary period is taken by common consent to begin with the publication of Spenser’s
‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ in 1579, and to end in some sense at the death of Elizabeth in 1603,
though in the drama, at least, it really continues many years longer.
Several general characteristics of Elizabethan literature and writers should be indicated at the
outset.

1. The period has the great variety of almost unlimited creative force; it includes works of many
kinds in both verse and prose, and ranges in spirit from the loftiest Platonic idealism or the
most delightful romance to the level of very repulsive realism.

2. It was mainly dominated, however, by the spirit of romance.

3. It was full also of the spirit of dramatic action, as befitted an age whose restless enterprise
was eagerly extending itself to every quarter of the globe.

4. In style it often exhibits romantic luxuriance, which sometimes takes the form of elaborate
affectations of which the favorite ‘conceit’ is only the most apparent.

5. It was in part a period of experimentation, when the proper material and limits of literary
forms were being determined, oftentimes by means of false starts and grandiose failures. In
particular, many efforts were made to give prolonged poetical treatment to many subjects
essentially prosaic, for example to systems of theological or scientific thought, or to the
geography of all England.

6. It continued to be largely influenced by the literature of Italy, and to a less degree by those
of France and Spain.

7. The literary spirit was all-pervasive, and the authors were men (not yet women) of almost
every class, from distinguished courtiers, like Ralegh and Sidney, to the company of hack
writers, who starved in garrets and hung about the outskirts of the bustling taverns.

Sonnet

From the Italian sonetto, which means “a little sound or song,” the sonnet is a popular classical
form that has compelled poets for centuries. Traditionally, the sonnet is a fourteen-line poem
written in iambic pentameter, which employ one of several rhyme schemes and adhere to a
tightly structured thematic organization. Two sonnet forms provide the models from which all
other sonnets are formed: the Petrachan and the Shakespearean.

Petrarchan Sonnet

The first and most common sonnet is the Petrarchan, or Italian. Named after one of its greatest
practitioners, the Italian poet Petrarch, the Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two stanzas, the
octave (the first eight lines) followed by the answering sestet (the final six lines). The tightly
woven rhyme scheme, abba, abba, cdecde or cdcdcd, is suited for the rhyme-rich Italian
language, though there are many fine examples in English. Since the Petrarchan presents an
argument, observation, question, or some other answerable charge in the octave, a turn, or volta,
occurs between the eighth and ninth lines. This turn marks a shift in the direction of the
foregoing argument or narrative, turning the sestet into the vehicle for the counterargument,
clarification, or whatever answer the octave demands.

Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the Petrarchan sonnet to England in the early sixteenth century.
His famed translations of Petrarch’s sonnets, as well as his own sonnets, drew fast attention to
the form. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, a contemporary of Wyatt’s, whose own translations
of Petrarch are considered more faithful to the original though less fine to the ear, modified the
Petrarchan, thus establishing the structure that became known as the Shakespearean sonnet.
This structure has been noted to lend itself much better to the comparatively rhyme-poor
English language.

Shakespearean sonnet

The second major type of sonnet, the Shakespearean, or English sonnet, follows a different
set of rules. Here, three quatrains and a couplet follow this rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef,
gg. The couplet plays a pivotal role, usually arriving in the form of a conclusion,
amplification, or even refutation of the previous three stanzas, often creating an epiphanic
quality to the end.

Analyzing Sonnet 18

Summer is a warm, delightful time of the year often associated with rest and recreation.
Shakespeare compares his love to a summer’s day in Sonnet 18. Shall I compare thee to a
summer’s day?
Shakespeare’s sonnets require time and effort to appreciate. Understanding the numerous
meanings of the lines, the crisply made references, the brilliance of the images, and the
complexity of the sound, rhythm and structure of the verse demands attention and experience.
The rewards are plentiful as few writers have ever approached the richness of Shakespeare’s
prose and poetry

“Sonnet XVIII” is also known as, “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” It was “Sonnet
XVIII” is one of the most famous of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It is written in the sonnet
style that Shakespeare preferred, 14 lines long with three quatrains (four rhymed lines) and a
couplet

The Sonnet praises the youth’s beauty and disposition, comparing and contrasting the youth to
a summer day. Then the sonnet immortalizes the youth through the “eternal lines” of the sonnet
The poet William Shakespeare thinks that his love is incomparable. He can’t compare the youth
to the summer’s days because; he is lovelier and milder than it. In summer the stormy winds
weaken the charming rosebuds and the prospect of renewed health or happiness lasts for a very
short time. The sun is occasionally very hot and its golden rays are often dim.

The beauty of every beautiful thing decreases and is spoiled accidentally or naturally. But the
eternal summer or the charm of the poet’s love will never be proud of taking the poet’s friend
to its dark kingdom. In fact, death will never enjoy its victory over his friend because the poet’s
verse will remain eternal all through the time. His friend may die physically, but his beauty
will remain in the poem. As long as the human race remains alive and as long as men can read,
this sonnet will live as it is eternal, and thus the poet’s friend will be immortal.

This sonnet claims that the youth is more beautiful than the summer’s day and is also as
immortal as Shakespeare’s sonnet. Thoughts of a literary immortality through the poet’s verse
inspire this sonnet. Youth’s eternal summer would outlast all summer’s lease in the future. The
beauty of the summer’s day with the darling buds of May is not lovelier than him. Eternal lines
of verse would make an eternal summer of her beauty denying Death and Time and their power
of destruction.

Shakespeare takes heart, expects immortality for his verse, and so immortality for his friend as
surviving in it. He will fearlessly express ‘a poet’s rage’. Immortalizing beauty through verse
was a commonplace among the Elizabethan sonnet writers. This sonnet is magnificent
throughout-from the perfect beauty of the opening quatrain to the sweet and the rush of the
triumphant final couplet. The rhythms are varied with the subtlest skill and the majestic line-
“But thy eternal summer shall not fade” reverberates like a stroke on a gong.
This sonnet has three quatrains and a couplet. It follows the rhyme. The ideas are developed in the three quatrains and the conclusion is embedded in the couplet. The conclusion is that as long as the human race remains alive and as long as men can read, this sonnet will live, and thus immortalize the youth. Shakespeare’s conclusion holds true
because art can really immortalize people. Time and death may destroy the persona and his
beauty physically, but they can’t destroy him completely. Whenever people read this verse,
they certainly remember the poet’s friend is brought to life in the mind of the readers. Time
and death can’t wipe out him existence for ever. The rose metaphor is deftly humanized in the
phrase ‘darling bud of May’ in this sonnet.

First Quatrain

The first line announces the comparison of the youth with a summer day. But the second line
says that the youth is more perfect than a summer day. “More temperate” can be interpreted as
more gentle. A summer day can have excesses such as rough winds. In Shakespeare’s time May
was considered a summer month, a reference in the third line. The fourth line contains the
metaphor that summer holds a lease on the year, but the lease is of a short duration.

Second Quatrain

This quatrain details how the summer can be imperfect, traits that the youth does not possess.
The fifth line personifies the sun as “the eye of heaven” which is sometimes too scorchingly
hot. On the other hand, “his gold complexion,” the face of the sun, can be dimmed by overcast
and clouds. According to line 7, all beautiful things (fair means beautiful) sometimes decline
from their state of beauty or perfection by chance accidents or by natural events. “Untrimmed”
in line 8 means a lack of decoration and perhaps refers to every beauty from line 7.

Third Quatrain

This quatrain explains that the youth will possess eternal beauty and perfection. In line
10″ow’st” is short for ownest, meaning possess. In other words, the youth “shall not lose any
of your beauty.” Line 11 says that death will not conquer life and may refer to the shades of
classical literature (Virgil’s Aeneid) who wander helplessly in the underworld. In line 12
“eternal lines” refers to the undying lines of the sonnet. Shakespeare realized that the sonnet is
able to achieve an eternal status, and that one could be immortalized within it.

The Final Couplet

The couplet is easy to interpret. For as long as humans live and breathe on earth with eyes that
can see, this is how long these verses will live. And these verses celebrate the youth and
continually renew the youth’s life.”Shall I Compare Thee” is one of the most often quoted
sonnets of Shakespeare. It is complex, yet elegant and memorable, and can be quoted by men
and women alike. It has been enjoyed by all generations since Shakespeare and will continue
to be enjoyed “so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see.”

Theme

The overall theme of the poem sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare is love. This theme is shown
everywhere throughout the poem. In the first line it says “Shall I compare thee to a summers
day?”, the narrator is saying how he loves his beloved so much that he is going to compare it
to a beautiful summer day which everyone loves. Then it goes on saying “Thou art lovelier and
more temperate” which means that he is saying how his beloved is very lovely and how
constant his love is for his beloved. Then through the following lines of the poem the narrator
starts to talk about how the summer is very short and doesn’t last that long and also says that
on some days the sun is too hot and often covered by the clouds. By saying this he is telling us
the bad things about summer and negative downsides of summer. He then goes on saying how
he thinks that his beloved should not be compared to a beautiful summer’s day because he
believes his beloved is even more beautiful.

In the final lines of the poem he explains to us how everything beautiful will sometimes lose
its beauty but his beloved will stay beautiful forever by saying “But your youth shall not fade”
and “Nor will you lose the beauty that you possess”. To conclude the theme of the poem is love
because of the way he compares his beloved to a summer day and how he believes that she’s
even more beautiful than it. The speaker begins by comparing the man’s beauty to summer,
but soon the man becomes a force of nature himself. In the line, “thy eternal summer shall not
fade,” the man suddenly embodies summer. As a perfect being, he becomes more powerful
than the summer’s day to which he was being compared. The poet’s love is so powerful that
even death is unable to curtail it. The speaker’s love lives on for future generations to admire
through the power of the written word – through the sonnet itself. The final couplet explains
that the beloved’s “eternal summer” will continue as long as there are people alive to read this
sonnet:

Language and Techniques

Throughout this poem, the use of imagery can be seen many times, through the vivid image of
the youth’s beauty compared to the glow summer. The poem starts with a rhetorical question
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” which implies adoration to his beloved. Then
the next line is the admiration for this woman’s magnificence with two adjectives “lovely” and
“moderate”. The selection of these two words makes this woman’s good look seems very
pleasant but also magnificent. There’s a repetition of the word “more” before the two
adjectives, which increases the effect of praising the loveliness of this lady. The next two lines
“Rough winds do shake the darling bush of May”, “And summer lease hath all too short a
date” expresses the negative aspect of summer. Shakespeare’s use of imagery for “rough
winds” implies that the tempestuous weather is ruining the joy of summer and fades the
splendor away. Then it’s followed by the complaint of summer passes too quickly, which
metaphorically suggests that all beauty is only temporary, all pleasant thing must come to an
end at some point.

The second quatrain addresses about the nature of summer and beauty in general. The fifth
and sixth lines have brilliant personifications of the sun as “the eyes of heaven” and “his golden
complexion”. They implicitly describe the characteristics on a face, with the use of imagery
and metaphor. The next two lines refer to an unavoidable truth that all beautiful things will
eventually grow fainter as time goes by, and because of the strenuous encounters in life. “And
every fair from fair sometime declines” “By chance or nature’s changing course
untrimm’d:” Shakespeare uses the alliteration, as well as repetition “fair from fair” to
emphasize the attractiveness fading away. He has combined proficiently two literary devices
in just three words. The ninth line deliberately shows a complete contrast idea: “But thy
eternal Summer shall not fade” describes the beauty that will stay for eternity, and will
always remain the quality and prolonged existence. The repetition of “nor” has the effect of
emphasizing that nothing can decline the gorgeousness of this lady that Shakespeare adored.
The couplet, which is the last two lines of the poem also contain a repetition “So long as”.
The aim is to reveal the everlasting beauty of Shakespeare’s friend. He also used hyperbole
“men can breathe….eyes can see” to exaggerate the significance of her exquisiteness to him.
The hyperbole also refers to the longevity of this poem: as long as there are people still alive
to read poems this sonnet will live, and you will live in it.

Through the sophisticated language and description of his beloved, Shakespeare has
shown his joy of being deeply in love with a beautiful woman. It is very skillful of this
renowned writer to use the image of the bright summer to compare with the eternal beauty of
this man. The imagery has expressed entirely the subject matter and theme of this romantic
sonnet. Not only does Shakespeare believe that immortality exist through the beauty, it also
stays in his poem. Truly, this love sonnet has elapsed through so many generations, and his
premise for the endless beauty has come true.

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