Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: Summary, Theme & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Debbie Notari

Debbie Notari received her Bachelor’s degree in English and M.S. in Education Literacy and Learning for Grades 6-12. Debbie has over 28 years of teaching experience, teaching a variety of grades for courses like English, Reading, Music, and more.

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

In this lesson, we will analyze Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, where he compares his love to a summer's day. Shakespeare's use of imagery and figurative language creates vivid pictures for the reader. Updated: 07/31/2020

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. We will first interpret this sonnet line by line:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

(Right away, Shakespeare presents his metaphor. He is comparing his love to a summer's day.)

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

(Shakespeare believes his love is more desirable and has a more even temper than summer.)

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

(Before summer, strong winds knock buds off of the flowering trees.)

And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

(Summer goes by too quickly.)

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,

(Sometimes summer days are just too hot!)

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

(Some summer days are cloudy.)

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

(Everything beautiful in nature eventually fades away.)

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

(The changes happen either by accident or through nature's natural cycles.)

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

(But you, my love, have the best characteristics of summer, and these will never go away.)

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

(Your beauty will never decline.)

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

(You will never look as if you are on the brink of death.)

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

(Because I've written these lines about you, even over time . . .)

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

(As long as there are humans alive on this planet . . .)

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

(Your life and beauty will live on through this sonnet.)

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Coming up next: Shakespeare's Sonnet 116: Summary, Analysis & Interpretation

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Additional Activities

Sonnet 18: Further Exploration

This lesson gave you a great introduction to one of Shakespeare's most famous poems. Using what you've learned, it's time to do a deeper dive into this work.

Sonnet Form

Sonnets, like this one, consist of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter and ending with a rhyming couplet. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets using this form. Try your hand at writing your own sonnet to see what the process is like. Many sonnets are about love, but not always. Write about a subject that you think suits the form.

Historical Context

Shakespeare wrote this poem as part of his Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which historians actually believe were about a young man. Do some research on Shakespeare's life and the inspirations for his sonnets in particular. Write up your findings in an essay. Give special attention to how sonnets were viewed at the time, as well as which other poets were writing them and what we know about Shakespeare's sonnets today.

Example: Compare Shakespeare's sonnets to those of Edmund Spenser.

Various Interpretations

This poem is famous, partly because it allows for multiple interpretations. Regardless of Shakespeare's actual intentions when writing, many people find this poem beautiful and applicable to their own romances. Other people think that the poem is about a lover who has already died, and the speaker is immortalizing him posthumously in verse. What do you think? What connections can you make between this sonnet and your own life? Write down your answers in a paragraph or journal response.

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