Discuss universal elements in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Give examples.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Universal themes are those that transcend time and place and tap into something timeless and essential to the human experience. It is the universal elements of Shakespeare's works that have made his plays and poems the classics that they still are to this day.

Sonnet 116, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," is one of Shakespeare's most famous poems. It is frequently read at weddings and printed on valentines. Clearly, Shakespeare tapped into something universal with these lines that make the sonnet still relevant today. The primary theme of this poem is that true love conquers all. In it, Shakespeare argues that real love will always prevail even in the face of the harshest challenges. Clearly, this is a reassuring and uplifting message that many still need to hear today. This message is not specific to any single culture or limited in scope to only speak to an audience of Elizabethan-era readers, but instead speaks directly to the human experience.

Other universal themes that Shakespeare explores across many of his sonnets include aging and leaving a legacy, art and writing, beauty, jealousy, infidelity, and morality.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Two prevalent universal elements that feature in many of Shakespeare's sonnets are the themes of aging and love. 

Aging:

Shakespeare wrote many sonnets that featured the theme of aging, addressing his own personal fears concerning the topic and his view of his own role in the world around him.  Sonnets 30, 60, and 73  are a prime examples of his fears related to aging.  In "Sonnet 73," Shakespeare compares his old age to the passing of the fall season, demonstrating his keen perception of nature as he compares himself to "the twilight of such day as after sunset faded in the west."

Love: 

"Sonnet 116" addresses the steadfastness of love, comparing true love to "an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is not shaken."  In some of his sonnets, Shakespeare addresses different aspects of his love, whether it is the appeal or quality of his or his lover's commitment to the relationship.  In "Sonnet 18," Shakespeare compares his beloved to "a summer's day" who is "more lovely and more temperate."

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial