Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
As in his plays, Shakespeare’s sonnet introduces several themes reflecting Renaissance thought. The most important of those here is the belief that everything under the moon was corrupted by Adam’s fall from grace. Thus, although the sun (the “eye of heaven”) moved in an uncorrupted sphere above the moon, the earthly influence upon its shining could make it either too hot (line 5) or too hazy (line 6). A corollary of this fall was the consequent mutability of the sublunary creation. For Shakespeare the change was not lateral; rather, it involved a progressive degeneration of beauty, created by chance or by the influence of time on nature (lines 7, 8).
In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, one may thus discern Renaissance beliefs about nature. One can also see remnants of medieval thinking. This combination appears most obviously in the poet’s treatment of the Ovidian tradition. The Middle Ages had interpreted Ovid (43 b.c.e.-17c.e.) as a moral poet whose Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.) contained a cosmology based on Greek and Roman myths. The Renaissance, on the other hand, saw him as an erotic poet whose Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; Loves) and Ars Amatoria (c. 2 b.c.e.; Art of Love) provided the model for Petrarch and later sonneteers.
In Sonnet 18 one finds both the...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
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