What literary techniques are used and what are the effects of these techniques in Sonnet CXVI (116) by William Shakespeare? 

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 is about the definition of true love. While it is not as inventive as some of his other sonnets, the images and metaphors it contains effectively establish the idea that true love is ever-lasting. The sonnet begins by defining what love is not with a paradox, "love is not love." He then continues to define what love is not by repeating words "Which alters when it alteration finds, /Or bends with the remover to remove." These lines mean that love does not change when it encounters changes or alter itself when one is unfaithful. These lines are effective ways to introduce the poem because they pull the reader in by providing a sense of paradox, or the opposite of what's expected, and repeat words that have slightly different meanings each time they are used.

Shakespeare's sonnet begins almost with a series of riddles about what love is not and then turns to what love is by using a series of effective metaphors: "O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, /That looks on tempests, and is never shaken." In these lines, he compares love to a lighthouse that is not destroyed by storms, and then Shakespeare compares love to a star that guides each "bark," or ship. The poet then says that even Time, with "his bending sickle," or trademark scythe, cannot change love, even though Time can affect love and make it look older. The use of Time is a well-known image in Shakespeare's poems and other poems of the era. In the final couplet (which ends all sonnets): "If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved," Shakespeare claims the truth of what he's said and sets up a very powerful inverse. He says that if he's wrong, no one was ever in love. Since this statement can't be true (someone has loved), he must be right, and the last couplet establishes the truth of what he's said.