Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are the various figures of speech used in Shakespeare's "Sonnet 116"?

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The figurative language used in this poem is largely metaphorical. Shakespeare uses a number of metaphors to expound upon the idea of love as "an ever-fixed mark," something constant like a "star" by which ships might guide themselves because it is so dependable and unchanging. Like this star "to every wandering bark [ship]," love can endure "tempests" and yet never be "shaken" by them: true love can bear out disturbances, disruption, and unhappiness "even to the edge of doom."

Love in this poem is personified (and personification is a type of metaphor in itself). This is clearest toward the end of the sonnet, when the poet states that love is "not Time's fool." Though the "rosy cheeks and lips" that signify youth might "within his bending sickle's compass come," love itself will endure. This section is particularly dense with figures of speech. The "compass" of Time's sickle represents the circle within which his scythe can reach, like the circle that would be described in the grass around a person using a scythe to cut a lawn. Time himself is personified, and the description of him with a sickle evokes the traditional image of Father Time as an old man with a scythe and black cloak. Meanwhile, Love itself will not be cut down by this sickle, even if the trappings of youth are killed by Time—love will survive. We could argue, too, that love is personified from the beginning of the poem, being granted human attributes and agency—love does not "alter when it alteration finds," nor does it "bend with the remover to remove." Rather than love being something to which things are done by others, love is presented as something steadfast, with its own agency, which leads into the later metaphors.

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The sonnet is a veritable feast of metaphors!  Shakespeare compares love to symbols of constancy:

"an ever fixed mark" - love is permanent and cannot be changed or removed.

"star" - a guide to follow, to avoid becoming lost.

It also uses personification, saying that even as love ages (as a person does), it does not change.  Love will even last beyond death.

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