Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What kind of metaphors does Shakespeare use in his sonnets in general? Like above, I would like to find out what kind of metaphors he uses. I have been looking everywhere and have not found the answer yet. Appreciate all your help.

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Shakespeare frequently uses the "year of life" and "day of life" metaphors to express the transition from youth to old age -- birth to death.  Sonnet 79 is an excellent example of a sonnet where he uses both:  the speaker is like a bare tree blowing in the cold wind, and in the next quatrain, the speaker is in the twilight of his life.  He is using these metaphors to explain that he is in a very late point of life -- near death, but not dead yet.  If a person is born in the spring, then they die in the winter.  It makes sense that he is near the end of his life if there is only a leaf or two left on the tree.   When reading Shakespeare, or most poets actually, references to seasons or times of day especially when done in addition to other imagery or metaphor are almost used to reinforce an age of man.  Another example of this is Sonnet 18.  He opens the poem with "shall I compare thee to a summer day?"  The person he is addressing is likely in the prime of his/her life and actually outshine a summer day.


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Shakespeare's sonnets address the following subjects: friendship, love, jealousies, rejection, harmonious affection.

Major metaphors used: time devouring everything, seasons and weather mirroring human emotions, stars that stand for fate, free will, or providence, nature to show the passage of time and death.  So says Enotes:

Other important metaphorical patterns are linked to treasure or riches, corruption and disease, scarcity and abundance, and the effectiveness of procreation and poetry as means of immortalizing beauty and defying time.

In Sonnets 1-17, for example, the speaker uses the metaphors of conquer devouring time, the enemy of earthly beauty and love (Immortality through procreation).  The poet urges his friend to marry and eternize his beauty through engendering children.  Shakespeare's four favorite characters are: the poet-speaker – his friend – his mistress – a rival poet.  A major metaphor he uses is the love triangle between three of these four.


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