1. Comprehension: (Feststellung der Textsorte und des Themas)
The poem is concerned with eternal beauty, the beauty of the person addressed by the lyrical I. It does not become fully evident whether the situation underlying the poem is a conversation between two people, or whether it is a moment of solitary reflection expressed in an interior monologue. The lyrical I adores the person he has in mind; the relationship suggested between them might be that of a lover and the beautiful woman he has fallen in love with.
2. Line of argument: (Untersuchung des Textaufbaus)
The poem is a sonnet which falls into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end. It has iambic pentameter lines with alternating rhyme. The line of argument corresponds to the structure produced by the rhyme scheme of the poem.
|1||Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?|
|2||Thou art more lovely and more temperate.|
|3||Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,|
|4||And summer's lease hath all too short a date.|
In the first quatrain the sonnet opens with a rhetorical question which serves a double function: it invites the reader to follow the speaker's train of thought, and it presents the guiding idea of the poem. The initial question introduces the comparison of the beautiful person to “a summer's day”; this is the thesis laid open to discussion in the poem.
The speaker's immediate response in the first quatrain is to reject the thesis. The person's outward beauty (“more lovely”) and inward even-mindedness (“more temperate”) form a lasting harmony, which “a summer's day” will never be able to match. Its beauty is likely to be upset by “rough winds”, and even the whole season of summer tends to be short.
|5||Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,|
|6||And often is his gold complexion dimmed|
|7||And every fair from fair sometime declines,|
|8||By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;|
The second quatrain contains further examples revealing the short-lived beauty of summer. There is no guarantee of a clear summer sky (“often is his gold complexion dimmed”), and the heat of the sun may be harmful to nature (“Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines”). In lines 7 to 8 the speaker arrives at the general conclusion that everything is bound to change and decline, either due to an untimely event of “chance”, or due to the course of nature.
|9||But thy eternal summer shall not fade,|
|10||Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,|
|11||Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,|
|12||When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.|
|13||So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,|
|14||So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.|
This conclusion contrasts sharply with the idea suggested in the third quatrain, which forms the turning point of the poem; the speaker claims that, unlike summer's beauty, the height of a person's beauty can be immortalized in some way, by describing it in “eternal lines”. In the final couplet the lyrical I affirms that lines written, poems, are able to overcome the transitory nature of earthly things.
3. Language and intention: (Sprachanalyse, Absicht und Wirkung)
The most striking stylistic devices used in this sonnet are comparison and contrast, sentence structure, repetition, metaphor and personification.
On the whole, the sonnet is built on the paradox that unlike natural beauty, beauty in poetry is free from change and decay.
Sonnet No. 18 is one of Shakespeare's best-known and most beautiful sonnets. Its language, even if some words sound a bit strange to modern ears, is always clear and to the point. Its imagery is able to appeal to the reader's imagination. Its structure is simple but well-built, gathering emphasis for the conclusion in the rhyming couplet.
Some literary critics have claimed that in this sonnet Shakespeare does not merely refer to the relationship between a man and the woman he loves, but that the deeper meaning of the sonnet refers to the relationship between the poet and poetry, personified by a beautiful woman. Enough evidence is to be found in the poem to support this approach.
|Einordnung in den Entstehungshintergrund des Gedichtes, z. B.:|
|•||Which characteristics of a Renaissance poem does Sonnet No. 18 display?|
|Persönliche Stellungnahme, z.B.:|
|•||Does the final statement of the poem hold valid for art and literature in our time?|
|•||What is your opinion on the effects of time on love?|