Shakespeare's Sonnet 71: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Understanding…
  • 2:18 Analyzing Sonnet 71: Structure
  • 3:23 Analyzing Sonnet 71: Themes
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 71' is a somber poem in which he tells his loved ones how he wants them to cope with his death. This lesson will show how the poem follows a sonnet format while also communicating a great deal about grief and death.

Understanding Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 71'

In William Shakespeare's 'Sonnet 71', the narrator speaks to his family members and friends, telling them that he doesn't want them to spend all their time in mourning after he dies. He wants them to move on with their lives rather than dwell in the past. Let's read the poem and see if you can connect specific lines to this sentiment.

'No longer mourn for me when I am dead,

Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell

Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:

Nay if you read this line, remember not,

The hand that writ it, for I love you so,

That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,

If thinking on me then should make you woe.

O if (I say) you look upon this verse,

When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;

But let your love even with my life decay.

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,

And mock you with me after I am gone.'

In the very first line, Shakespeare clearly tells his audience (his loved ones) what he wants: for them not to dwell in sadness after he dies. The second and third lines mention them hearing a 'surly sullen bell,' telling everyone that he 'has fled'. This references the chiming of a solemn bell at funerals during the Renaissance. This was a way of paying tribute to a person's life, and it was also considered a signal for prayer. Shakespeare then goes on to say that the narrator leaves this horrible world to rest with the 'vilest worms,' which references him being buried.

In lines five through eight, the narrator tells his loved ones that if they read this, they shouldn't remember who wrote it (him), because he loves them so much he would rather that they completely forget him if his memory would upset them. He wants to spare them pain and grief, or as he says, 'woe.'

Lines nine through twelve state that if they read this sonnet when his body has been mixed with the dirt, they shouldn't even mention his insignificant name. Instead, he wants them to let their love dissipate, or decompose just as his body will. In the last two lines, Shakespeare states that by letting go, it will prevent other people from prying into his family's grief and criticizing them for holding onto him after he is gone.

Analyzing 'Sonnet 71': Structure

Shakespeare's sonnet stays true to the English sonnet's structured form. A typical English sonnet has 14 lines, as does this one. The rhyme scheme, which is a rhyming pattern created by rhyming the words at the ends of each line, is ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG.

Shakespeare follows this rhyme scheme by rhyming the words 'dead' and 'fled' in lines one and three, and 'bell' and 'dwell' in lines two and four. Line five does not rhyme with the previous lines because it ends with the word 'not,' so it creates a new rhyme, which we will mark with the letter C.

Line five rhymes with line seven because Shakespeare ends it with the word 'forgot.' This alternating pattern continues until we get to the last two lines, which rhyme with each other, thereby creating a couplet, two lines together that rhyme. The couplet at the end of the sonnet plays an important role because these two rhyming lines usually form a conclusion, magnify a feeling or idea, or express something meaningful that has been realized.

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