Shakespeare's Varying Views of Love

“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom” (Sonnet 116, Lines 11-12.) William Shakespeare is renowned for writing 154 sonnets, or poems characterized by 14 lines, and in the sonnets of Shakespeare, ending with a two line couplet. The sonnets, including Sonnet 116, whose poignant lines are quoted above, primarily have the theme of love flowing through them.

But what is love? That time old question was answered by Shakespeare in a multitude of ways, one of which is the various types of love he illustrates through his sonnets. Sonnets 29, 106, 116, and 130, are all fairly recognizable sonnets that deal with love and the feelings associated with being so infatuated. Each one however, deals with different views on love. Sonnet 29 uses love as a motivating factor to stay positive, Sonnets 106 and 130 deal with the physical attraction one can find in their partner, and the previously quoted Sonnet 116, explains true love’s timelessness, and ability to outlast the fading of outer appearances. All of the sonnets deal with some aspect of love, but not all emanate the feelings of true love. Through exposing the superficiality of the love in the other sonnets presented, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is illustrated as possessing the trust sense of love, and one that is genuine and comes from the heart, not based on physical appearances.

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Sonnet 29, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known sonnets, has to do with a man who is distraught regarding his economic status in life, and feels lesser and desolate because of it. He speaks of “desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,” (line 7) meaning that he envies those around him, and what they have. The only thing that brings the man out of his unhappiness is thinking of the girl he loves, so much so “that then I scorn to change my state with kings.” (line 14) In this, the man expresses that because of his love for the girl, he can quell his unhappiness and is able to appreciate only her in his life. As romantic and sentimental of a thought as this may be, it is indeed the thought of the girl that keeps the man going. The particular phrasing can be taken the man only thinks of the girls outer appearance, and not actually her personality.

The lady is visually appealing, and therefore it is more likely that this fact will keep the man content, exposing surface based infatuation, not love. Staying true to fashion, Shakespeare’s Sonnet’s 106 and 130, admire more the physical appearance of woman, than their personality or inner worth. Sonnet 106 explains that no writers in the span of history would have been able to describe how beautiful his lover is, she surpasses all adjectives that can be used to describe beauty. This sonnet solely focuses on the outer beauty of the woman, and doesn’t mention at all any other characteristic about her that he loves, which leads to the assumption that the love really isn’t true. Similarly, in Sonnet 130, the speaker lists all of the negative things about his lover, and makes her seem lesser.

However, in the end couplet he redeems his lady by explaining that “As any she belied with false compare” (line 14.) Here the speaker turns the whole poem around, and says that surpasses all comparison. Yet once again, this is only physically. The entire sonnet describes how she is not as attractive as other women, and then this is reversed by assuring the reader that she is more beautiful than anyone. This once again can be understood as superficial love, and not all at a good depiction of a true love, or something “which alters when it alteration finds,” as is mentioned in the only sonnet which seems to emanate true love, Sonnet 116.

Sonnet 116 is one of the better known on Shakespeare’s sonnets, which poses the question, is it more renown and popular, because it does indeed illustrate true love? Using the other three sonnets as foils to Sonnet 116, one can see how Shakespeare truly embodied the notion of true love in the sonnet. The three sonnets previously mentioned, focused mainly on the physical, which is something that will one day fade and lessen with time. True love however, is “not Time’s fool” and “bears out even to the edge of doom” (lines 9 and 12.) In this, Shakespeare blatantly explains that if the love stems from the heart, then it will endure past death, and past when physical appearances fade. The poem emphasizes the necessity to put love from the heart first, and not stress outer beauty as a factor. Because the love isn’t based on any outer attraction, one can confidently assume that the sonnet does indeed emanate the feelings of true love.

As was previously established, many of Shakespeare’s sonnets presented emphasized physical appearances, and solely Sonnet 116 illustrated true love stemming only from the inner attraction between the people. In today’s society, one would do well to live more by the lesson on love in Sonnet 116, as we put much too much of an emphasis on physical appearances, and most young relationships are based upon this, rather than personality and deeper connection.