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Themes

There are two key themes in this poem which feature often in Shakespeare's first 126 sonnets, which are all addressed to the unknown Fair Youth.

The first is the theme of youthful beauty, in and of itself, as a worthy subject for art and a compulsion for man. The speaker discusses reading about beautiful things in "chronicles" from years gone by and thinking only of the beauty his beloved now "master[s]"—he imagines, in the descriptions of all these past "lovely" creatures, only his own beloved. However, he feels that the beauty of his beloved is, in fact, beyond the skill of human writers to capture—it is not possible to "praise" it adequately with human "tongues." The beauty of the speaker's beloved is a "wonder," something which draws artists over and over again like a muse, but which is in the end impossible to capture.

The second theme is that of writing as a means of immortalizing a person or concept. This is conveyed more vividly in some other sonnets, but, certainly, this sonnet is very concerned with art as a vehicle for memorializing beauty. Shakespeare describes this theme in an interesting way, suggesting that older writers who never knew his beloved were actually prophets, anticipating his beauty. But the speaker returns to the idea that while the "skill" of the older poets was inadequate to properly capture true beauty, so too do poets of "present days" lack that skill. However, this will not stop them from trying to immortalize beauty.

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 106 is in many ways a typical love poem filled with conventional techniques. While it does not offer significant insight into the many mysteries of the sonnets, it does provide a glimpse of an idea far too often overlooked in much criticism—that Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers depended upon the authors of the past. It is often perceived that the literary works of Renaissance England rely solely upon the classical traditions or spring from an author’s sudden burst of inspiration. Sonnet 106 proves that is not true, for it clearly displays Shakespeare’s debt to medieval authors and their works.

Shakespeare was influenced by the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, whose “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) is a major source for the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595-1596). While Shakespeare somewhat alters the myth surrounding the marriage of Hippolyta and Theseus, the Chaucerian influence is abundant. This type of borrowing is continued in Sonnet 106. In this poem, Shakespeare clearly reminds readers of his debt to the older works. He also shows an understanding of the themes...

(The entire section is 660 words.)