I'm Nobody! Who Are You? Questions and Answers
by Emily Dickinson

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To which Shakespearean sonnet could one compare the poem "I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" in terms of similar themes?

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Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” is short, simple, but very thought-provoking. Your question, “To which Shakespearean sonnet could one compare this poem in connection to similar themes?” is an interesting one, as it calls for a comparison of two poets from very different times and places, writing in vastly different styles.

Dickinson’s poem points out the fact that being “Somebody,” or being famous, is not all that impressive. Notice in the poem how she capitalizes the word “Somebody.” I think this is a hint that the poet is poking fun at self-important or self-aggrandizing people. Comparing such folks to frogs singing the same song over and over again in the month of June further underscores how meaningless fame can be. Dickinson tells us that it is perfectly fine to be “nobody.”

I would suggest that Shakespeare’s "Sonnet XXV" provides a similar observation. Though many of his sonnets treat the theme of love and mortality from the point of view of a would-be lover, this one in particular stands out to me as an example of how meaningless and vain fame (or being “Somebody”) can be. Shakespeare writes that those favored by a prince, like a “marigold at the sun’s eye,” are easily diminished with so little as a “frown.” Have a close look at lines 5 through 8:

Great princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread

But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,

And in themselves their pride lies buried,

For at a frown they in their glory die.

Here, the “frown” of either the prince or of the sun brings a quick end to glory. Fame comes and goes at the whim of greater powers.

Likewise, even the warrior who has won “a thousand victories,” if he should fail but once, “Is from the book of honor razed quite.” (Razed means completely wiped out.)

Shakespeare, like Dickinson, tells us that being famous, or being “Somebody,” is overrated. Shakespeare, however, unlike Dickinson, comes to the conclusion that to love and to be loved by someone is what creates a permanent and meaningful kind of fame. The last two lines (rhyming couplet) of “Sonnet XXV” read as follows:

Then happy I that love and am beloved,

Where I may not remove or be removed.

From what we know of Emily Dickinson’s life and the fact that she remained single, it is possible that she did not share this aspect of Shakespeare’s experience. Nonetheless, both Dickinson and Shakespeare have something important to say about the limitations of fame and the hidden value of being “nobody.”

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