"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" An Interpretation of Sonnet Nr. 18 by William Shakespeare

Seminar Paper, 2006

13 Pages, Grade: 3


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Historical Background

3 Analysis
3.1 Poem
3.2 German Translation
3.3 Content Level
3.3.1 Narrative Features
3.3.2 Setting
3.4 Enunciation
3.4.1 Form
3.4.2 Metre
3.4.3 Phonological analysis/Rhyme Scheme
3.4.4 Morphological/ Syntactic rhetoric figures Anaphora Epanalepsis
3.4.5 Semantic rhetorical figures Metaphor Personification Metonymy Hyperbole Symbolism/Semantic field

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

This sonnet is certainly the most famous in the sequence of Shakespeare's sonnets; it may be the most famous lyric poem in English. Among Shakespeare's works, only lines such as "To be or not to be" and "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" are better-known. This is not to say that it is at all the best or most interesting or most beautiful of the sonnets; but the simplicity and loveliness of its praise of the beloved has guaranteed its place. (Shakespeare’s Sonnets, William Shakespeare 2006 )

There might be several reasons for the sonnet’s popularity, but it certainly is a very special atmosphere which is created by William Shakespeare, comparing his strong and infinite love with the beauty of a summer’s day (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?).

This term paper should be an interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18. First, some aspects of the historical background of Shakespeare should enable a better understanding of the author and the time in which the Sonnet was written. Further, the poem will be analysed according to its content (narrative features and setting). On the level of enunciation this paper will give an outline what the typical Shakespearian Sonnet’s structures are (form, meter and rhyme scheme) and how Sonnet 18 is based on them. Then the poem will be analysed according to its phonological, morphological/syntactical and semantic figures.

2 Historical Background

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford upon Avon. He was a playwright and an actor and is still seen as the most famous English poet. He wrote 37 plays, including comedies, histories and tragedies as well as 154 sonnets (the last two are translations of Greek epigrams). The discussed sonnet, Sonnet 18, is one of the most popular ones of the first series of the Shakespearian sonnets (Nr.1-126) dedicated to a ´Fair Youth´, a young nobleman for whom he felt deep love and admiration. In contrast Nr. 126-152 were dedicated to the ´Dark Lady´. According to Kindler the ´Dark Lady´ is a woman, physically unattractive but with high sexual attractiveness for the poet, who absolutely falls for her. The poet finds himself in an interplay of love and aggressiveness especially when a third combatant gets involved.

Whether Sonnet 18 and other Shakespeare’s sonnets are true experiences of the author or just fiction is yet unknown. In the Online Encyclopaedia Encarta it says: “Scholars have spent much time trying to identify the specific figures the different sonnets address, but it is unlikely that the sonnets are so personal. More likely, the sonnet offered Shakespeare a structures of experiments in lyric verse that enabled him to play with familiar conventions of feeling and poetry” (Shakespeare, William, The Sonnets 2006).

3 Analysis

3.1 Poem

Sonnet 18 (William Shakespeare)

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

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

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand´rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

(The Complete Sonnets and Poems, William Shakespeare)

3.2 German Translation

Soll ich dich mit einem Sommertag vergleichen?

Du bist viel lieblicher und milder:

Raue Winde rütteln an den wunderschönen Knospen des Mais,

und die Zeit des Sommers ist nur von so kurzer Dauer;

Manchmal scheint das Auge des Himmels zu heiß,

und oft ist sein goldener Teint getrübt;

Und alles Schöne wird irgendwann seine Schönheit verlieren,

durch Zufall oder wandelnden Kurs der Natur unbeschnitten:

Doch niemals soll dein ewiger Sommer/deine Jugend verblassen,

noch Besitz verlieren von allem Lieblichen, das du verkörperst;

Noch soll der Tod prahlen, dass du in seinem Schatten wanderst,

wenn in unendlichen Bahnen die Zeit wächst;

Solange Menschen atmen oder Augen sehen,

Solange lebt dies, und dies gibt dir Leben.

3.3 Content Level

3.3.1 Narrative Features

The lyrical I, the speaker in Sonnet 18, possesses an explicit subjectivity. This can already be seen when reading the very first line of the poem which starts with:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

The addressee of this poem, the lyrical You, is a beloved person, who throughout the whole poem is addresses as `thee´, ´thy´, ´thou´. This can also be seen in the first line already (highlighted in blue). Although these expressions are frequently used, the lyrical You doesn’t play an active role in the poem, because the sonnet seems to be more an inner monologue by the lyrical I. Moreover the question asked in the beginning of Shakespeare’s sonnet isn’t meant to be answered by the lyrical You (beloved person), it has more the function of a rhetorical question which should give an insight into the speaker’s thoughts. Shakespeare uses highly poetic diction, far away from everyday language.

3.3.2 Setting

Sonnet 18 is about a speaker who is in love with another person and who in the first line of the poem posed a question which suggests a comparison between this person and a summer’s day. The second line defines the superiority in character and appearance of the beloved person over summer.

“Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

The following six lines reveal the problems of the summer season. Summer is too short, sometimes too hot and its beauty declines with time. Lines 9-12 state that, although the poem set out to find similarities between the beloved person and a summer’s day, there is quite a difference between them. Unlike the beauty of summer the beauty of the beloved person doesn’t fade. As is expressed in the couplet in the end, the beloved person will live as long as there are people who read this poem.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" An Interpretation of Sonnet Nr. 18 by William Shakespeare
University of Graz  (Anglistik)
Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft I
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ISBN (eBook)
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Interpretation, Sonnet Nr. 18, William Shakespeare
Quote paper
Mag. Katharina Kirchmayer (Author), 2006, "Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" An Interpretation of Sonnet Nr. 18 by William Shakespeare, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/152073


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