Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 60": a detailed interpretation and analysis

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

15 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of Contends

1. Introduction

2. The History of the Sonnet

3. Shakespearean Sonnets

4. Analysis and Interpretation of Sonnet 60

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This text will give a brief survey on the history of the Sonnet. Following this, it will concentrate on Shakespeare and his work. Firstly, it will present a short overview of the contents of all his sonnets and secondly there will be a detailed interpretation and analysis of Sonnet 60.

2. The History of the Sonnet

The Italian poets of the renaissance invented the sonnet. The most famous sonneteer before Shakespeare was Petrarch, who lived in 14th-Century Italy. His sonnets were a kind of love stories. In a typical sonnet the first eight lines stated a proposition or a problem, followed by six lines which provided a resolution with a clear break between the two sections. Typically, the ninth line created a turn or volta, which signalled the move from proposition to resolution. The Iambic pentameter is predominant in the Petrarchan sonnet. The typical rhyme-scheme would then be abbaabba cdecde cdccdc or cdedce. Petrarch typically used an abba pattern for the octave, followed by either cde or cdc dcd rhymes in the sestet. The sonnet was a very popular poetic form.

In the beginning, English poets tried to use the Italian rhyme scheme as well. But this did not work out very well so the English poets began to develop a new form. This form is often named the Shakespearean form. It consist of three quatrains and a couplet. Typically, the couplet created a sharp thematic or imagistic turn or volta. English sonnets are written in iambic pentameter; the usual rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg.[1]

3. Shakespearean Sonnets

Shakespeare’s sonnets are love poetry dedicated to a man. It is not exactly known when they were written by Shakespeare. What can be deduced is that he must have written them over a period of several years and concluded before 1600.

His Sonnets can be separated into two main groups: The sonnets 1 – 126 written to a ‘lover” and the others 127 – 152 written to a ‘Dark Mistress’. Embedded in the first group are Sonnets to a rival poet (78 – 86). In the second part, in-between the Sonnet’s to the ‘Dark Mistress’[2] or ‘Dark Lady’ is another group, called the ‘Will-Sonnets”, in which Shakespeare makes use of wanton wordplays.[3]

Although it is rather impossible to arrange the sonnets in any logical order, there is actually some kind of plot to be found. The lyrical self reveals all his personal feelings, needs, hopes, fears and problems of his love to an unnamed lover.[4]

There are many theories who the unnamed lover might be. The Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley (1563– 1624) seems to be the likeliest addressee. The identification of the rival poet, the ‘Dark Mistress’ and even the narrator himself are highly speculative. The predominant interpretation of Sonnets 15, 23, 121 and the ‘Will-Sonnets’ is that they are autobiographical.[5]

Sonnet 154 is a literary document of the late 16th century and its view of life. The lyrical self of this sonnet describes a three-parted way of experience and knowledge. In the first part he wants his lover to preserve his beauty in his heir, in the second he wonders how poetry can defeat time in preserving beauty and finally he comes to the conclusion that it is difficult enough to preserve the little moments of happiness.[6]

The main theme of sonnets 1 – 126 is the fear of the transitoriness of life and love. In sonnets 1 –17, the so-called procreation sonnets[7] or ‘begetting’ sonnets, the poet asks his recipient to create something beautiful and long lasting against death and decay. Sonnets 16 – 18 deal with the poet's doubts whether the written word can preserve the beauty of his friend forever. Following that he uses some sonnets to praise the astonishing beauty of his friend, he feels paralysed (23, 24), loaded with gifts (26), calmed (30) and unburdened from his sorrows (31). Full of gratitude and humility the poet subjects himself to his feelings (25, 37, 44 - 47, 61, 73) endures separation and distance and gives an oath of allegiance and mutual intimacy (42, 43, 54, 55, 57, 58, 88, 91, 105, 108, 110). He is eager to forgive setbacks due to his friend's love affairs (33 – 35, 40 – 42). The poet suffers from uncertainty when he is confronted with a elegant, successful and sophisticated rival, who furthermore has won the unnamed friend's favour(78-86). In sonnets 88 – 92 the poet shows again his will to forgive. He remembers his poetry and comes to the conclusion that there is no line, no word or rhyme that can express the burden of love and beauty from which he suffers. Even so he wants to erect a monument to his friend (101 – 105) the memory of whom he wants to preserve forever (115, 119, 120, 124, 125).[8]


[1] cf. Poppe, 130.

[2] cf. Blades, 148.

[3] cf. Poppe, 130.

[4] cf. Poppe, 131.

[5] cf. Poppe, 131.

[6] cf. Poppe, 132

[7] cf. Poppe, 132.

[8] cf. Poppe, 132.

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Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 60": a detailed interpretation and analysis
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
Poetry of the 17th Century
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ISBN (Book)
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Shakespeare’s, Sonnet, Poetry, Century
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Mathias Koch (Author), 2007, Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 60": a detailed interpretation and analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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