Sonnet 116 Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In the first eight lines of Sonnet 116, what metaphor does Shakespeare use to convey his understanding of love?

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Phoebe Eason eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Sonnet 116" beautifully illustrates Shakespeare's view of love. Shakespeare begins the sonnet by telling the reader what love is not before shifting into what he believes it is. The first few lines, which are meant to negate popular beliefs about love, are straightforward. He claims that "love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove" (2–4). Essentially, he points out that trying to change or improve upon the loved one demonstrates a lack of true love.

As Shakespeare moves into his description of what love is, he uses more metaphors, as if the true mystery of love deserves more imagery-laden language. The main metaphor for this occurs in line 5 with the term "ever-fixed mark." Indeed, Shakespeare sees love as something that is everlasting and unwavering. He expands on this idea by also comparing love to a "star to every wand'ring bark" (7).

The next shift in description reverts back to what Shakespeare sees love as not being. Beginning in line 9, Shakespeare completes his "negative description" before the volta in line 13 by saying that "love's not Time's fool" and does not change as time does. Rather, it it is willing to remain "even to the edge of doom," further emphasizing the faithfulness and "fixedness" to be found in love (12).

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mariaosbourn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Using metaphors in Sonnet 116, Shakespeare compared love to many things in order to explain his understanding of love. 

He ultimately describes love as an "ever-fixed mark" that remains constant and never changes. 

He states that love doesn't alter. He states that it doesn't bend. He compares it to the North Star, which never changes and is so constant that guides on ships use it to wander the seas. 

In using this poetic device to describe love, Shakespeare is indicating to readers that his idea of love is that it never changes. It remains constant through trials and tribulations, through short amounts and long amounts of time, and even until Judgement Day. He believes that although many things may change in a relationship, including the people themselves, the love in which they share should not. 

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