Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Sonnets book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Identify three themes evident in Shakespeare's sonnets.

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write10,900 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

One theme that cuts across Shakespeare's sonnets focuses on the immortality of verse. Shakespeare is constantly reassuring his beloveds that they will not die, because they will be remembered forever through his poetry. For example, he writes in Sonnet 16,

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this [my sonnet], and this gives life to thee.
Another theme Shakespeare likes to explore is the difference between cliched expressions of love and real love. In Sonnet 130, for instance, Shakespeare declares that he loves his beloved despite that fact that she doesn't conform to the typical beauty images often expressed in sonnets. For example, her breasts are not pure white, and her cheeks are not rosy—but the speaker loves her for what she is, as a real woman, not because she meets some ideal standard:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Shakespeare also similarly upsets cliches in Sonnet 18, where he praises his beloved as being better than a summer day, noting all the deficits in a summer day, which he (the beloved) does not possess. Through this, Shakespeare insists on being realistic and not simply repeating worn-out language.

Third, Shakespeare focuses on some of the agony love can cause. For example, in Sonnet 137, Shakespeare laments that he is in love with an unworthy woman, a person he calls a "false plague." He, like so many lovers, is caught by outward beauty—what he sees and hears—even though he knows the soul of this woman is not good.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial