Shakespeare Sonnet Xvi

Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII
‘Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?’

      Shakespeare’s sonnet XVIII, also known as ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?’, is one of Shakespeare’s most famous poems and although it can easily be read on its own, it forms part of a collection of 154 sonnets written between mid-1593 and mid-1599 and published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe (Seymour-Smith, 1963:3-4, 9). The collection of sonnets can be divided into two large sequences: Sonnets 1-126 which are written to a beautiful young man, and Sonnets 127-152, which address a ‘dark lady’ (Schoenfeldt, 2007:128). These sequences can again be divided into smaller and more specific sections but suffice it to say that Sonnet XVIII belongs in the first sequence of sonnets and was originally written to a young man, possibly William Herbert who was also the co-dedicatee of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays and who was 16 years Shakespeare’s junior (Schoenfeldt, 2007:126). Despite the intended homoeroticism of the poem[1], today in popular culture it has mainly been used to describe heterosexual love; as in the film Shakespeare in Love (1998) where Shakespeare composes the sonnet after having fallen in love with Viola de Lesseps. It is also used to woo the opposite sex in the film Dead Poets Society (1989) where the sonnet is read by Charlie Nuwanda Dalton to the girls he brings to one of the society’s secret meetings. Finally, and most recently, the sonnet is recited by Peter O’Toole’s character in the emotional bathroom scene in the film Venus (2006).
      Shakespeare’s sonnets all share a similar pattern and the style has even been termed the ‘Shakespearean Sonnet’ (Cuddon, 1992:895). Sonnet XVIII is made up of 14 lines which are divided into three quatrains (four rhymed lines) and one couplet (two rhymed lines). It has the rhyming pattern ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Each line has ten syllables with five stresses which is termed ‘iambic pentameter’. Like all sonnets, it...