Shakespeare's sonnets 12 and 73: a comparison

Seminar Paper, 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1 Introduction

2 Form and content of sonnets 12 and 73
2.1 Sonnet 12
2.2 Sonnet 73

3 Metaphors
3.1 Sonnet 12
3.2 Sonnet 73

4 Attempt of interpreting sonnets 12 and 73
4.1 Sonnet 12
4.2 Sonnet 73

5 Summing up: A comparison of both sonnets

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

When Shakespeare wrote his first sonnets, probably in the early 1590s, he was making a contribution to a genre that had existed in English for not much more than 50 years. In that time, however, the sonnet had become extraordinarily fashionable. Shakespeare’s sonnets were published in 1609 in a quarto volume by Thomas Thorpe.[1] The volume that Thorpe set forth is made up of 154 numbered poems which we consider today the Shakespearian sonnets. The 154 poems can be divided into two inter-connected sequences: Whereas the first 126 sonnets seem to be addressed to a young man, a certain Mr. W. H., whom the speaker encourage to marry in order to project his beauty and worth into the future, the remaining 28 are addressed to an older woman who provokes lust and revulsion in the speaker, this woman is generally called the ‘Dark Lady’.[2]

The major aim of this paper is to focus on two of these 154 sonnets: sonnet 12 and 73. First, their form and content will be described. Afterwards, we will take a look at the sonnets’ metaphors. Then, in the fourth chapter, I would like to offer interpretations of both. The paper will close with a comparison of both sonnets showing similarities and differences concerning form, content and metaphors.

2 Form and content of sonnets 12 and 73

2.1 Sonnet 12

Sonnet 12 belongs to a series of sonnets that is generally known as the ‘marriage’ or ‘procreation’ sonnets, those are the first 17 of the 154 sonnets.[3] Hyland states that these first 17 sonnets “are clearly addressed to a youth”[4] and Wright explains that sonnets 1 through 17 urge the male addressee to marry and father children[5], ideas that will be further investigated in chapter 3 and 4 for sonnet 12.

With regard to its form we can say that sonnet 12 has the typical form of an English sonnet: Its rhyme-scheme is an abab/ cdcd/ efef/ gg one. This rhyme-scheme breaks the poem into three quatrains and a couplet (4/4/4/2). Wright points out that the structure of Shakespeare’s sonnets embody a certain importance to understanding the ideas that are presented by the sequence.[6] Furthermore, he claims that the effect of such a structure on the ideas discussed in the poem should be obvious: A Shakespearian sonnet written in the typical English sonnet form is going to have three major sub-sets (the three quatrains) separated into rimed compartments and two concluding lines (the couplet) which comment on the sonnet’s major idea.[7]

As are most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, this one is also written in iambic pentameter. Characteristic for sonnet 12 is its ‘When’/’Then’ pattern. Edmondson /Wales state that this ‘When’ /’Then’ strategy is “one of the most easily recognizable ways of a Shakespeare sonnet turning at the golden mean.”[8] In other words: The speaker proposes a situation as “when such and such happens we can expect such and such result”. To illustrate this pattern, let us take a look at the first quatrain:

“When I do count the clock that tells the time,

And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;

When I behold the violet past prime,

And sable curls all silve’d o’er with white;


Readers might expect the conclusionary “then” after closing the first “when” structure, i. e. after having read the first two lines. But instead of giving the result of the “when” proposal, the speaker continues his thought giving the reader another “when”-proposal. The second quatrain provides the third “when”-phrase and the third one finally offers the “then”-solution. Thus, the idea behind this structure is introducing the problem in the first eight lines and offering its solution in the last six ones.

Concerning sonnet’s 12 theme I have already mentioned above that the speaker urges the adressee, a young man, to marry and become a father in order to produce pleasing offspring. The speaker supports this by arguing that the still young man will grow old and die someday, therefore the speaker encourages the adressee to marry and to father as this is the only way to defeat death.

2.2 Sonnet 73

Sonnet 73 is written in typical English sonnet form as well, i.e. it consists of three quatrains and one couplet at the end, alltogether 14 lines again. The rhyme scheme pattern of this sonnet is the same as it is in sonnet 12: a b a b / c d c d / e f e f / g g. To express it in the words of Wright: “The structure of this English sonnet is clear, precise, orderly”[9] for each quatrain and the couplet are complete sentences. Wright states that each quatrain offers a separate way of looking at the same central idea.[10]


[1] Cf. Hyland, Peter: An introduction to Shakespeare’s poems. Palgrave Macmillan. New York 2003, p. 136.

[2] Cf. Klein, Jürgen: My love is as a fever: Eine Lektüre von Shakespeare’s Sonetten. Wilhelm Fink Verlag. München 2002, p. 14 f.

[3] Cf. Hyland, p. 149.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. Wright, Eugene Patrick : The structure of Shakespeare’s sonnets. New York 1993, p. 16.

[6] Cf. Wright p. 12.

[7] Cf. ibid.

[8] Edmondson, Paul/ Wells, Stanley: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Oxford University Press. New York 2004, p. 53.

[9] Wright, p. 73.

[10] Cf. Ibid.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Shakespeare's sonnets 12 and 73: a comparison
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
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Nicole Zanger (Author), 2009, Shakespeare's sonnets 12 and 73: a comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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