How and why does Shakespeare use comparisons - especially similes and metaphors - in Sonnet 116

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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William Shakespeare uses comparisons – particularly similes and metaphors – in various ways in Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”). Those ways include the following:

  • In line 1, the speaker uses a metaphor to compare the union of two minds or souls to a “marriage.” This word implies a long-term mutual commitment sanctified by God and perceived as holy and immutable. Such a union merits social respect and speaks well of the two parties involved.
  • In line 5, the speaker uses a metaphor to describe true love as “an ever-fixèd mark,” meaning a landmark, especially one visible from sea.  This phrase calls attention to the mutability of the world, which requires the existence of firm landmarks if we hope to find a sure path as we navigate through life.
  • In line 7, another metaphor compares true love to a distant star, especially (perhaps) the North Star, which is extremely lofty in its position abovc the world (as true love transcends all merely worldly things) and which, like the landmark already mentioned, can be used to help us navigate and find our ways through life.
  • In line 10, another metaphor implicitly compares Time to a harvester, perhaps the proverbial “grim reaper,” suggesting that true love escapes the ravages of time:

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come . . . (9-10)

Interestingly, metaphors are common in this poem, but similes are not. It is as if the speaker tries to imply the strongest possible links – even identification – between the various objects he compares.




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