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Shakespeare's Sonnets

by William Shakespeare

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Literary devices used in Shakespeare's sonnets


Shakespeare's sonnets utilize various literary devices, including metaphor, simile, personification, and imagery. These devices enhance the emotional depth and thematic complexity of the sonnets, allowing Shakespeare to explore love, beauty, time, and mortality with vivid and poignant expressions.

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What literary devices are used in Shakespeare's sonnets?

By far the most common literary devices used in Shakespeare's sonnets are metaphors and similes. Another common literary device is poetic conceits, but it is Shakespeare's metaphors and similes that have made them nearly immortal, as he himself suggested. He had a gift for figurative expression, and he knew it, and he used it in his poetry and in his plays. A striking characteristic of Shakespeare's metaphors and similes is that they are almost always simple, natural, unpretentious, common, ordinary, familiar, one might even say "democratic." He did not have an academic education like many contemporary poets. He had "small Latin and less Greek," as Ben Jonson said of him. So he made a virtue of necessity and refrained from drawing on classical literature for his comparisons. Instead he drew on nature and on everyday sights. The one sonnet that best illustrates Shakespeare's simplicity is Sonnet 73.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

He evokes the images of trees with yellowing leaves and totally bare trees shaking in the wind; twilight; night; a dying fire. He compares birds singing in the trees to people, perhaps children, singing in church choirs. 

Each of the three stanzas in this sonnet contains a metaphor within a metaphor. It is these that make this particular sonnet so remarkable. In the first four-line stanza the poet compares his time of life and his physical appearance to late fall, when the trees are almost totally bare. Then he compares the leafless boughs to ruined choirs—the part of the church behind the altar in which the choir sings. An example of a poetic conceit is his saying that the boughs shake against the cold. He is suggesting that they are cold because they are naked, while in fact they cannot feel the cold but are shaking because of the wind.

In the second four-line stanza, the poet compares his time of life and his haggard appearance to the twilight time of day, a time when the sun has set but a little light remains in the sky. Then he compares the coming on of night to death.

Finally, in the third four-line stanza he compares his condition to the glowing remains of a fire. Then he compares the ashes of the metaphorical fire to a bed on which the fire is slowly dying and will eventually be consumed by its own ashes. Each of these three stanzas contains a metaphor within a metaphor, and yet all the images are easy to visualize because they are all so familiar and unpretentious.

Sonnet 73 is crowded with metaphors, but in some of Shakespeare's other sonnets he is frugal with imagery. He uses one single image which is all the more striking because it stands alone. There is little difference between a metaphor and a simile. Perhaps Shakespeare's most dazzling simile is to be found in his Sonnet 29, which begins with:

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state...

He dwells on his melancholy thoughts until he suddenly remembers the paramour to whom this sonnet is addressed.

Yet in these thoughts, myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate....

The image is of a common skylark, but we visualize it leaving the ground in one line and soaring all the way up to heaven in the next. The alliteration and consonance of "S" sounds is profuse and suggests a real outburst of joyful singing which contrasts with all the gloomy thoughts that went before. The "S" sounds are contained in "arising," "sullen," "sings," "hymns," and "heaven's."

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What five literary devices are used in Sonnet 12?

1. personification - "Time's scythe" in the 13th line makes Time sound like a human that can hold a scythe and that marks the passage of time by cutting years away

2. antithesis - opposite ideas or images opposed to one another - "And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard," - the green youthful beauty of summer versus the white bristly winter (old age - beard)

3. metaphor - the sonnet is a metaphor for the fact that all youth must eventually become old:
"Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;"

4. rhyme/iambic pentameter/sonnet - Don't forget the 14-line sonnet format used by Shakespeare - this is also a literary device. The first 12 lines are broken into 3 quatrains (stanzas of 4 lines each), with their rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef); then the final two lines are a rhyming couplet (gg), which usually wraps up the ideas contained in the rest of the sonnet.

Check the link below for more information on these and other literary devices! Good luck!

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What literary devices are used in Shakespeare's Sonnet 12?

Shakespeare utilizes a number of literary devices in this poem, which is concerned with the inevitable passage of time. He makes particular use of metaphor and personification in order to convey his theme.

For example, in the opening line he invokes a metaphorical "clock" which ticks out the passage of time in terms of human (and other) lives. In the final stanza, he uses a different image to depict Time, personifying him as a creature carrying a metaphorical "scythe" with which he cuts down everything that lives, and against whom we can have no defense.

Shakespeare emphasizes the universal quality of Time's power over the beings of earth by also ascribing human-like qualities to non-human entities, such as "brave day" which is overtaken by "hideous night," and "lofty trees" which are "barren" of leaves due to the fact that time has turned summer into winter. Shakespeare's imagery pertains to flowers and trees inevitably dying away; he parallels these with the "beauty" of the person he is addressing, who must also wander into "the wastes of time". These wastes are metaphorical, but the word choice is a pun, making the reader consider how far a person's beauty is inevitably "wasted" when Time takes it from him.

This is an idea to which Shakespeare returns over and over, lamenting the fact that time has the power to take away all beauty—except that which has been inscribed in his poems, and therefore will have some measure of immortality forever.

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What literary devices are used in Shakespeare's Sonnet 12?

Shakespeare uses the literary device of an extended metaphor or comparison in this sonnet. He compares human mortality both to day turning into night and to the change of seasons. Day, Shakespeare's narrator observes, sinks into "hideous night." Here, night is not beautiful but ugly and frightening, as is death. Likewise, the narrator watches as the leaves die and fall from the trees. He also sees summer's green grass either mowed down to make hay ("girded up in sheaves") or covered up with snow as if in a grave. All of these images remind him that his friend will also die. He compares his friend's life to the cycle of day and night as well as to the cycle of the seasons to make the point that it is natural that all things must pass, but are also reborn.

Shakespeare also uses the device of repetition, for example, repeating the word "brave" twice. It appears in both line two and the sonnet's final line and connects those two lines. "Brave" in both contexts means not only to be courageous but to challenge something. Just as day challenges night (the sun will rise again), so must the narrator's friend challenge death—in his case by having a child that will carry on life.

The poem also employs antithesis, the juxtaposition of opposites. Summer's green is "borne on the bier" of winter. A bier is the frame on which a corpse or a coffin is carried to the grave. The word "borne" means carried, but it is also a pun on the word "born," which means birth. Summer will be (re)born on the corpse of winter, life and death intertwined.

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What literary devices are used in Shakespeare's Sonnet 12?

In addition to the sound devices used in this poem, such as the alliteration ("count the clock," "tells the time", "past prime") identified in the earlier educator answer and the rhyme scheme typical of Shakespeare's sonnets, there are also a number of notable uses of figurative language in this sonnet.

"Time" in this poem is capitalized to indicate personification, and the image of "Time's scythe" is an allusion to the popular presentation of Time as an old man, whose "scythe" serves to cut us down like "sheaves." Only if we "breed" do we avail ourselves of a way to "brave him" when he approaches us; in this case, the act of reproducing is a defensive one, a means of continuing our existence beyond ourselves.

There are other vivid images in this poem to help convey the idea that all "among the wastes of time must go." For instance, "sable curls all silver'd o'er with white" is an image immediately suggestive of elderly people, its details sparse and yet evocative. "Brave day sunk in hideous night" is depicted as analogous to the "day" of our lives as it is overcome by the "night" of passing time; in the same way, the "violet past prime" is another example of how time affects living things. The speaker cannot help but "question make" on the subject of his beloved's beauty, distressed at the thought that "sweets and beauties do themselves forsake."

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What literary devices are used in Shakespeare's Sonnet 12?

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. In a sense, the act of rhyming is a use of assonance. But assonance is usually cited when vowel sounds are repeated in a line. For example, in the second line, "brave day" repeats the long 'A' sound. In the 13th line, "Time's scythe" uses assonance and links the two words, thus emphasizing how quickly time passes en route to one's death. 

In the third line, the violet is "past prime." This is an example of using plosives and alliteration with the repetition of the letter 'p.' Plosive consonants such as b, p, t, d, and k have sharp, stopping sounds. Here, the 'p' is used for emphasis about how the violet is in decline. Again, the effect is to startle the reader and make him/her aware of the quick passage of time. The plosive sounds happen quickly. This is useful in emphasizing the quick passage of each second. 

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds. It is more broad than alliteration because alliteration only refers to repeating the first letter of successive words. So, "past prime" is alliteration and consonance. Alliteration is a kind of consonance. In this sonnet, Shakespeare relies mostly on alliteration ("green all girded") and ("Borne on the bier"). 

Shakespeare uses the imagery of nature in decay to stress the passage of time. He uses these images to illustrate how quickly a life passes. Since nothing can stop Time, the only way to live on is by having children ("breed"). 

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What are some literary devices in Shakespeare's sonnet 152?

The literary elements in Shakespeare's Sonnet 152 work together to establish a tone of outrage that effectively ends the relationship with the "dark woman," who is the subject of the preceding sonnets in this series.

First, the speaker leans not on language of love in this sonnet but on the formal language of law. On one hand, he tries to justify all the feelings he has held for this woman and all the ways he has tried to change her into the woman he desires her to be. Yet his efforts have fallen short; in fact, they have failed each other in this relationship. Thus, he is left weighing out the efforts versus the outcome, judging his own failings—and hers. The language is passionate on the side of this judgement, with the speaker noting that

But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjur’d most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee

While he realizes that she has broken oaths to him (a much more formal language than, say, "promises"), he has committed perjury in all his "oaths" that were given only to mislead her. Thus, he removes himself from any form of intimacy through this language.

There is also a pun in the final rhyming couplet, depending on which text you use:

For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie.

The "eye" here is sometimes replaced by "I" in other texts, which is worth a note. But in this version, the speaker plays on the word "eye," meaning both that his eyes have deceived him in believing that this lady is fair and that he ("I") is more perjured by testifying to her fairness when it was so clearly a lie.

Also worth noting is the use of end stops in all lines except the first line. Most of these come in the form of visually hard punctuation, such as colons, semicolons, and exclamation points. Thus, the speaker visually pounds his frustration into the lines, demanding that each line of justification be heard and considered, the pause giving time to process the legalities of this relationship.

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What are some literary devices in Shakespeare's sonnet 152?

Sonnet 152 is highly rhetorical in tone, opening with anaphora and parallelism (e.g., "In loving," "In act," "In vowing") and repeating other key words (e.g., "forsworn") and patterns (e.g., "new faith," "new hate," "new love") with intricate formality. While Shakespeare's sonnets often use legal language, it is particularly abundant here. "Forsworn" is used four times, as is "oaths." "Truth," "faith," "vows" and "perjured" are all used twice; "swear" or "swearing," three times. This gives the poem an insistent, dogged quality, as of a lawyer exhaustively pleading a point.

The long, flowing lines of an eloquent speech in the law courts are further suggested by the three sets of feminine rhymes, making six of the lines eleven syllables in length. There is further rhetorical repetition and grammatical parallelism in such phrases as "deep oaths of thy deep kindness" and "thy love, thy truth, thy constancy" (which is also an ascending tricolon). Although the word "blindness" is not capitalized in most editions, the notion of giving eyes to blindness may be regarded as a form of personification.

This is the antepenultimate sonnet in Shakespeare's sequence, succeeded only by the two Cupid sonnets, which have an entirely different tone. It can therefore be regarded as the legal, rhetorical, public summing-up of the entire sequence, and the literary devices and diction employed are entirely appropriate for the purpose.

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What are some literary devices in Shakespeare's sonnet 152?

Some literary devices in Shakespeare's Sonnet 152 are as follows:

Alliteration: Alliteration is using the same consonant at the beginning of words that are placed closed to each other. This creates a rhythmic effect. In the final couplet of the sonnet, the "sworn" in the second-to-last line is alliterative with the "swear" in the last line, while, similarly, the "fair" in the second-to-last line is alliterative with the "foul" in the final line.

Antithesis: Antithesis is balancing contrasting words against each other. Shakespeare does this repeatedly: "new hate" contrasts with "new love," for example, "enlighten" contrasts with "blindness," and "fair" with "foul."

Apostrophe: Apostrophe is addressing an absent person as if present, or addressing abstract or inanimate objects. In this poem, the speaker is addressing his lover, with whom he is deeply disillusioned. We know this because in the first line he says "in loving thee" Directly addressing someone who is not present can add emotional intensity to a poem.

Parallelism: Parallelism is repeating a similar grammatical structure for effect: Shakespeare writes: "thy love, thy truth, thy constancy."

Repetition: Repetition adds emphasis to certain words and lends a sense of rhythm. Shakespeare repeats "swear," "oaths," "sworn," "vows," and "perjured," building up the idea of a contract violated.

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