Edmund Spenser

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Compare and contrast Edmund Spencer's Amoretti Sonnet 75 to William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18.

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The two sonnets both suggest that poetry is the superior mode by which a beloved's fame or perfection may endure time and nature's decay. In Spender, the waves obliterate the beloved's name written on the sand, to which she draws the inference that time will do the same for her. Her body, her "fame," and her reputation will be forgotten in time. The resolution in the poem comes as the speaker declares that the sonnet itself will outlast the beloved and will outlast the type of damage time can do to ephemeral writings, such as those made in sand. He even offers a heavenly immortality based on his poetry:

My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

In Shakespeare's sonnet, Time or entropy again becomes an adversary to the speaker's and the beloved's goals. First, Nature is deemed an unworthy conceit since it is subject to change and decay. The resolution in this poem is the poem itself. In every way, the poem follows perfectly the rules of the Shakespearean sonnet tradition, and in that perfection contains a fitting vessel by which the beloved's perfections will be eternally remembered.

While both poems are Shakespearean sonnets in form, Shakespeare's follows a slightly different approach to its origin. Spenser begins by narrating a brief action from which the poem's message is drawn. Shakespeare's begins as an almost throw away thought experiment: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day." From that question, the meditation on time and poetry follows. In Spenser, the conflict lies between the beloved and the speaker while in Shakespeare the conflict exists within the mind of the speaker.

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The first thing of note in reading Spenser's Amoretti Sonnet 75 and Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is that Spenser's conjures a deeper image of actual address between two people. Part of this is because the lady does appear as a speaker in Spenser's Sonnet 75 whereas Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is one speaker, which conjures an image of musing or writing in solitude. Another reason is that, linguistically, Spenser's opening lines use brighter sounding vowels whereas Shakespeare uses more somber sounding ones.

In comparison, both poets end their fourteen-line sonnets with the genre definitive rhyming couplet, however Spenser uses an approximate rhyme (subdue/renew), whereas Shakespeare uses a perfect rhyme. Thematically, both poets sing the same song, so to speak. Each poet declares that the sonnet written in celebration of the beloved one will cause her to live on eternally on earth because "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see," so long will their sonnets be read. So far, they've both been right.

One thematic difference is that in Spenser's, the fair lady chastises him for trying to immortalize that which is mortal flesh and blood and must decay. In Shakespeare's, he addresses the argument of fading and decaying by talking about it himself: "And summer's lease hath all too short a date." Through two different methods, both poets bring up the idea of the short life span of mortality.

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