Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 106 is in many ways a typical love poem filled with conventional techniques. While it does not offer significant insight into the many mysteries of the sonnets, it does provide a glimpse of an idea far too often overlooked in much criticism—that Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers depended upon the authors of the past. It is often perceived that the literary works of Renaissance England rely solely upon the classical traditions or spring from an author’s sudden burst of inspiration. Sonnet 106 proves that is not true, for it clearly displays Shakespeare’s debt to medieval authors and their works.

Shakespeare was influenced by the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, whose “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) is a major source for the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595-1596). While Shakespeare somewhat alters the myth surrounding the marriage of Hippolyta and Theseus, the Chaucerian influence is abundant. This type of borrowing is continued in Sonnet 106. In this poem, Shakespeare clearly reminds readers of his debt to the older works. He also shows an understanding of the themes of many of the ancient texts: ladies, knights, courtly love, and chivalry.

It is clear that perceiving beauty is one thing, while putting those visualizations into words is quite another. Thus, ironically, the narrator fails miserably in his quest—yet he is also successful to some degree. Despite his...

(The entire section is 408 words.)