In Shakespeare's famous Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day," does he praise a man or a woman?

Expert Answers

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

There is no definitive pronoun used to describe the person addressed by the poem's speaker, and, therefore, we must conclude that this sonnet could address either a woman or a man. Because of its context within Shakespeare's oeuvre, people tend to assume that the speaker addresses an attractive young man; however, I always caution my students against making assumptions about a poem based on things happening outside of the poem. Since this speaker never specifies, I believe the sex of the person being addressed is left open for our interpretation. Certainly, it seems possible that the speaker could describe either a man or a woman as "lovely" and "temperate"; likewise, the speaker describes the addressee's "eternal summer" and the "fair[ness]" that the speaker hopes to prevent from perishing from the earth forever by writing these words. Both men and women can be attractive and worth preserving, in some way, from inevitable death.

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

I agree that the poem is written to a man. If you read the 17 that come before it, it becomes more clear that his intention for many of the early sonnets is to do what post #2 discusses. It is theorized that Shakespeare was hired by a young man or his family to write a series of sonnets about and/or in praise of the young man. Some experts think that the sonnets may have written to or about a young gentleman named William Herbert.

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

This famous sonnet praises the beauty of a young man, partly to urge him to get married, have children, and thus perpetuate his beauty. Physical beauty, the sonnet suggests, quickly fades; beauty can be perpetuated through having children and by being the subject of a great poet's writings.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

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