What is the theme of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18?

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Hollis Sanders eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is hands down the most famous of Shakespeare's sonnets. The speaker compares the subject to a summer's day and points out the many trivial imperfections that a summer day might have, while implying that the sonnet's subject is perfect in those regards. The speaker insists that summer days are often too hot, and the season itself is too short but that the subject's manner is temperate and their beauty eternal.

The theme is one of immortal beauty. The speaker has encouraged the subject in past sonnets to have children. In sonnet 17, he states that, "were some child of yours alive at that time, you should live twice." In this sonnet, it is the first time that the speaker does not make mention of the subject's lineage. The speaker realizes that as long as people have "eyes to see," the subject's beauty will live on through the sonnet itself. Seeing as we're discussing it hundreds of years later, it seems the speaker was right!

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The theme of this particular sonnet can be interpreted as the idea that poetry can immortalize a person so that, in a way, they never die. The speaker of the poem describes a person he (or she) finds to be quite lovely and attractive, in so many ways, even when compared to something as beautiful as a summer day. The person addressed is even more beautiful than such a day because summer days can be too hot, too windy, or even too dimmed by clouds. However, the speaker acknowledges that all beauty "declines" as a result of aging or other natural causes, like the change of seasons. The speaker reassures the person he or she addresses, though, that their "eternal summer shall not fade," nor will death ever claim their loveliness, because the speaker has preserved the person and their beauty in "eternal lines" that will "give life" to them forever.

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