Shakespeare's Sonnet 116: Summary, Analysis & Interpretation

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

In this lesson, we explore Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, one of the bard's most heartfelt portrayals of true love. The love Shakespeare describes does not change no matter what difficulties and storms work against it.

Sonnet 116

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.

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  • 0:03 Sonnet 116
  • 1:20 Understanding Sonnet 116
  • 4:18 Analysis & Interpretation
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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.

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