Sonnet 18 - William Shakespeare Summary & Analysis [Non-African Poetry]
Non-African Poetry: Sonnet 18 - William Shakespeare Summary, Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Subject Matter, Techniques and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Students Syllabus.
It is no longer news that the above selected poetry is among the selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB Syllabus.

Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as summary and poetic devices and analysis of the poem to aid them understand and prepare ahead of their examination.

BACKGROUND 

William Shakespeare, regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, wrote more than ' thirty plays and more than one hundred sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean. "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" is a sonnet, a Shakespearean sonnet.

It is the 18th of Shakespeare's collection of 154 sonnets that explore thematic preoccupations such as love, transience of life, inevitability of death and beauty.

This poem was published in 1609. Some scholars believe Shakespeare was in love with another woman who did not fully reciprocate the feelings. It is also believed that most of these romantic poems were dedicated to the woman.

SETTING

The poem is set in England during the summer season, a season of brightness and sunshine. Using the season of summer to discuss the poet's love for someone is appropriate, because it is a season associated with gaiety, laughter and joy, which evidently are emotions that the poet derives from his association with his loved one.

SUBJECT MATTER

The speaker opens the poem with a question addressed to the beloved. The romantic mood of the poem justifies the fact that the subject matter of the poem focuses on the relationship between the poetic persona and an unnamed individual, whose gender is not specified.

As deduced from the poem, the speaker eulogizes the person in question by comparing that person with the summer season. What resonates in the poem is the use of flattering words of endearment to win the heart of this loved one. This practice characterized the Elizabethan period. The poetic ideology was informed by the reputable position occupied by a woman, Elizabeth I, who was Queen of England. Thus, women, as embodiment of beauty, were accorded great respect and courtesy during the Elizabethan Age and talking about the beauty of women became a veritable way of talking about the impermanence of natural phenomena.

The poetic persona declares emphatically that the beauty of his beloved is superior to that of the beautiful season of summer. The reader notices the deployment of exaggerated descriptive details to concretize his message of eulogy and validate the lasting beauty and immorality of the person in question. Summer is a very beautiful season, which is why the poetic persona compares his lover with it. A subtle message in this poem is that though the summer will fade away, his love for the loved one would never fade.

Stanza One

Lines 1 - 4
Lines 1 - 4: form the first quatrain of this sonnet. A quatrain is a 4 line poem and within the context of this poem, the rhyme scheme is abab. 

This first set of 4 lines set of the tone and mood for the rest of the poem. From the first line, the poetic begins to compare the beauty of his loved one to that of a day during the summer season.

Subsumed within these first 4 lines is that while any typical day during the summer season is beautiful and temperate, the alluring beauty of the loved one is far more beautiful, more enduring and more permanent in nature.

It is implied that the loved one's beauty is incomparable, indescribable and incomprehensible. Thus, from these first 4 lines, the poetic persona begins to present an exaggerated account of the beauty of his subject. Here, the poetic persona tries to compare his lover with the season of summer, which is known for its splendor.

He goes further to quickly note the imperfections of the season and therefore elevates his lover above such imperfections. Line 2 foregrounds this point very forcefully: "thou art more lovely and more temperate".

Lines 5 - 8: In the second quatrain, which has the rhyme scheme cdcd, the poetic persona begins to reinforce the ideas presented in lines 1 - 4.

He talks about the fleeting nature of time, an idea that had been presented in line 4. The idea that he brings to the fore in these lines (5 - 8) is that even the beauty and brightness of nature as embodied in the sun "the eye of heaven" are not permanent as they fade with the passage of time. In lines 7 - 8, the point is again made that even the most beautiful people also lose their beauty with time as they age or by chance, through accidents or illnesses.

Lines 9 - 12: In the next four lines, the poetic persona begins to project the main thrust of the ideas that he is articulating in this poem.

His aim and objective is to talk about the everlasting beauty of his loved one. In a very subtle manner, the loved one is translated from mortality into immortality. The poetic persona asserts that the subject of this poem, the beauty of the loved one cannot be consumed by death, the common denominator, which unites every human being. Death becomes a weakling at this stage as it is not able to exert any influence or power over the loved one whose beauty would be spared from the ravages of time and the vicissitudes of life.

As is peculiar to every Shakespearean sonnet, the third quatrain marks a turn or change in tone or mood. This third quatrain explores the immortality and eternity of the lover's beauty and life, a person whose eternal summer would never fade.

Lines 13 - 14: These last two lines form a couplet and the rhyme scheme is 99.

In these last lines of the poem, the issues raised in the preceding 12 lines are finally resolved.

Through the couplet, the poetic persona reveals the reasons why he is of the view that neither death nor the ravages of time would be able to exert any negative, degenerative or destructive effect on the beauty of the loved one. In the couplet, he talks about how he knows that death would never be in a position to exert any untoward influence on the loved one.

The beauty of the loved on has been etched graphically on paper, through art, through poetry, and as "long as men can breathe or eyes can see", the beauty of the subject of this poem would never die as people would continue to read about the unparalleled beauty of the loved one throughout eternity.

Thus, through a work of art, the loved one is translated and transformed from mortality to immortality. It is within the couplet that the poetic persona finally affirms that his lover will live forever as long as humanity continues to exist. This means that as long as human beings are able to use their eyes to see things, his loved one would continue to exist.

This finds expression in the fact that art is immortal. Therefore, the logic is that, as long as people, appreciate art, people will appreciate this poem and thus appreciate the unnamed lover.

THEME

1. The idealization, idolization and celebration of true love
2. The mortality of man and the transience of nature and life
3. Nature is not as beautiful as the loved one
4. The immorality of art

STRUCTURE

This is a poem of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter; which has the rhyme scheme; ababcdcdefefgg.

The poem is structured in such a way that the poet's assertions are presented in three quatrains while the indented couplet gives the conclusion of the whole matter in a very powerful manner. This concluding statement is highlighted through the deliberate indentation of the two lines.

TECHNIQUES

  • Alliteration 
  • Anaphora 
  • Apostrophe 
  • Hyperbole
  • Metaphor
  • Personification 
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Rhythm
  • Syncope