Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
Oneness is the desire of all lovers, that finding of a soul mate. But interestingly enough, the love described in Sonnet 116 transcends romantic love. Although Shakespeare usually refers to romantic love in his sonnets, we may interpret this sonnet as a deep love for a friend or family member, as well. This idea is explored in Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, which reads:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Understanding Sonnet 116
To better understand the sonnet, we will break it down, thought by thought. However, notice Shakespeare's use of enjambment, where he sometimes carries one line into the next before the sentence stops.
'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.' True soul mates - those with loyalty to each other - should never admit, or allow, anything to hinder their love or come between them.
'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.' When inevitable change comes, whether it be spiritual, mental, or physical, those who truly love don't change their minds about each other.
'Or bends with the remover to remove.' Even if the other person becomes more distant, one who truly loves remains the same.
'O no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.' We get the idea of a lighthouse. No matter how great the storm, the lighthouse is the constant point of trust that a sailor may come back to in a storm. Shakespeare compares a healthy, loving relationship to a lighthouse, providing stability and encouraging light. Also, the strong couple, friend, or family faces storms and does not run from them, realizing that storms die out. When weathered, storms are a catalyst for making us stronger.
'It is the star to every wandering bark.' Before modern navigational techniques were developed, sailors would use the stars for navigation. They could trust the stars to be consistent every day. Here, Shakespeare compares that constant, dependable star to a lover. This is the basis of trust. True lovers completely trust each other and know their love will stay consistent.
'Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.' Love is priceless. No one can measure its worth. However, how someone acts can be observed and measured.
'Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle's compass come.' We age, and with age comes a loss of physical beauty, but true love sees past it. We see Time personified, almost looked at as the Grim Reaper, causing wrinkles with his 'bending sickle,' but there is the possibility of inner beauty.
'Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks.' Again we see the theme of love never changing, no matter what, hour after hour and week after week.
'But bears it out even to the edge of doom.' How poetic this is! No matter what pain, death or destruction may threaten the lovers, they stick it out. This is the primary theme in Sonnet 116.
'If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.' This would be a strong oath for Shakespeare, who was an incredibly prolific writer, and certainly men have loved.
Analysis and Interpretation
Sonnet 116 describes the type of love that all humans long for, whether it is from parent to child, friend to friend, or lover to lover, although most likely Shakespeare meant this sonnet to represent romantic love. One thing is clear: this sonnet describes love that is unconditional. The images of lighthouses and stars give us the impression that we are sailing on life's sea, needing people who can provide a compass and anchor for us, at times. We long for fellow passengers to simply take the journey with us, to be present and consistent, to accept and understand us as we are. We all make mistakes and wish our foibles would not alienate others from us. When we overlook the faults of those we love, we demonstrate the type of love Sonnet 116 describes.
Once you have looked over this lesson, you should be able to:
- Discuss the central theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116
- Describe some of the major imagery of the sonnet
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