Discuss Shakespearean Sonnet 106 with regard to its meaning and use of figurative language.

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William Shakespeare wrote over 125 sonnets to an unknown young man.  There was a deep relationship and love between the two.  “Sonnet 106” is one of the sonnets. His purpose is to underscore the magnificence of this fair youth.

The sonnet follows the typical Shakespearean form for his sonnets.  The poem has fourteen lines with three quatrains and a couplet at the end.  The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEFGG. 


Sonnet 106 is addressed to the young man without reference to any particular event. Shakespeare begins by referring to the passing of time.  From the past to the present, this was a typical strategy of these sonnets.

The poet surveys historical time in order to compare the youth's beauty to that depicted in art created long ago. To Shakespeare, the time spent writing about the attractive people of the past was time wasted.  Not surprisingly, the narrator argues that no beauty has ever surpassed his friend's. Admiring historical figures because they remind him of the youth's character, the poet contends that what earlier artists took for beauty was merely a foreshadowing of the youth's unsurpassed appearance:

‘So all their praises are but prophecies

of this our time, all you prefiguring.                       

The first eight lines of this poem form one complete sentence. The sestet is also one complete sentence. The artists and poets of yore tried to convey the loveliness in the appearance of ladies and knights; these artisans were attempting to describe the sort of beauty possessed by the Fair Youth. Shakespeare uses a beautiful way of describing the attractive subjects of the past:

In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty's best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow

Yet, these artisans were inadequate to describe the beauty of the fair youth who lives in Shakespeare’s time. Line nine or the turn switches from the artists and beauty of the past to the prediction of the Fair youth’s existence in Shakespeare’s day.

And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:

In lines 11 and 12, Shakespeare surmises that earlier artistes never would have been able to do creative justice to the young man. On the other, Shakespeare admits in the sonnet's couplet that he did not have the necessary skills either.

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