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Shakespeare Sonnet 55 Essay Format


William Shakespeare was born in London and spent his childhood there. He received some formal Education. Suddenly he  appeared in London in connection with the theatre, and spent most of his life there writing for the stage. He spent the last few years of his life in his native town without any literary activity.

Shakespeare is the greatest playwright England ever produce, and his sonnets are among the best in the English language. The poetry of his plays, though written primarily for the stage, and often with a certain actor in mind, is characterized by variety of style, subject matter, and mood. His language can soft tender at other times. It is easy to detect certain verbosity in his poetry at certain times, while in others, especially in his later plays, his language tends to be condensed, almost terse, and both thought and feeling are revealed in brief, but clear image and description. Since he tried "to suit the word to the deed", his style can be high, middle, or low and even vulgar. With a sharp mind and intense imagination he was able to see into the complexities of human nature. His poetry also reveals wide knowledge of man in various social, political, or moral situations

If his plays reveal the greatness of his dramatic poetry, his sonnets are a record of his great lyrical power. He brought the English sonnet into  perfection, hence it is called the Shakespearian sonnet. It consists of Three quatrains and a final couplet. While a single is developed in the three quatrain the final couplet is conclusion that clinches the meaning or a twist in meaning which stands in contrast to the idea developed in the three quatrain.

The theme of Shakespeare's sonnet are death, love, immortality of poetry, and the vicissitude of life, and time. They are the most personal poems Shakespeare ever wrote, yet they tell us about his life. In these sonnets the plain and the ornate styles are to be found. The power of feeling, the depth of thought, and intense imagination are all to be found in these sonnets.    


In this sonnet, Shakespeare intended immortalize his friend W.H through poetry. For him, poetry will last longer than the greet monuments which where built to immortalize king or prince. Shakespeare says that the memory of his friend will be immortalized through his poetry because time will not affect his poetry and it will out-live because time can affect only the material things like the marble and the monument, but it can not effect poetry because it is kept in books and in the minds of the people. The great monuments are neglected, they are besmeared by time. They are often placed in open place, so, they are affected by the weather, rain, sun, storms…etc, and hence they lost their bright and became grime and dirty, also they will be ruined.

Also the statues and masonry will be ruined and destroyed by wars and civil disturbance, but the poet says that not even the sword of Mars (the god of war) not the wars fire could burn or destroy "the living record" of his friends memory. Also his friends memory will not be affected by the oblivion that comes with enmity and death, built will lasts and finds room in the minds' of the coming generation and it will last till. Judgment day Shakespeare says that till memory of poems. Judgment day comes, his friend memory will lives in his poem and he will dwell in the lover's eyes because the lovers when they read the sonnet as an expression of their own feeling for each other. They will think of the object of Shakespeare affection. In brief, the whole poem is like a firm declaration of the durability of love and art. The poet believed that through poetry he will immortalized his friend until judgment day.

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments (1): This line is likely an allusion to the lavish tombs of English royalty; in particular, to the tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, which contains a large sarcophagus made of black marble with gilded effigies of King Henry and his queen, Elizabeth of York.

with sluttish time (4): i.e., by filthy time.

 In Elizabethan England the word "sluttish" could describe either a sexually promiscuous woman or a grubby, unkempt woman. Here Shakespeare personifies Time as the latter.

broils (7): angry, violent quarrels or riots.

all-oblivious enmity (9): i.e., the war and decay that would render the subject of the poem forgotten.

 Sonnet 55 is one of Shakespeare's most famous works and a noticeable deviation from other sonnets in which he appears insecure about his relationships and his own self-worth. Here we find an impassioned burst of confidence as the poet claims to have the power to keep his friend's memory alive evermore.

 However, many believe that such an analysis ignores Shakespeare's paramount desire to immortalize his friend in verse, and not himself (as was the motive of most classical poets). "The Romans say: Because of my poem I will never die. Shakespeare says: Because of my poem you will never die....What distinguishes Shakespeare is that he values the identity of the beloved; he recognizes that the beloved has his own personal immortality, in no way dependent on poetry" (Martin, 158). By focusing on the word live, Shakespeare uses the language itself to emphasize his authorial intentions. Notice the word choices of outlive (2), living (8), oblivious (9), and live (14).

The Theme

The theme of the sonnet is the immortalizing power of poetry. It is a stock theme which had been treated by many poets, but nearly all of them were mainly concerned with their own fame in the future, while Shakespeare uniquely thinks of poetry as a means to an end. He is not concerned with his own personal glory.


The sonnet is divided into three parts.

In the first part (lines 1-4), in which Shakespeare speaks about the marble and monument of great men. He recalls ornate lambs in English church. He personifies time as a sluttish woman who allows the monuments to be besmeared with dust and grim.

In the second part (lines 5-8), he speaks about something which is more dangerous, than more neglect, it is the wars and civil disturbance which destroy and ruin the statues and the masonry.                                           

In the third part (lines 9-12), the poet speaks about the immortalization of the memory of his friend and how it will outlast the oblivion that comes with enmity and death. He concerned about his poetry as a means to immortalized his friend.

Language Elements in the Sonnet

1. Rhyme scheme:

The sonnet rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg. This a typical English sonnet.

2. Rhythm and Meter

The sonnet is written in Iambic pentameter lines.

3. Poetic Devices 

a. sound devices


The lines of the sonnet are knit together by alliterated initial letters

e.g: Marble/ monuments - prince/ powerful.. etc.


Alliteration in the sonnet is supported by assonance as when "Mars" echoed in the same line by "wars" and "pace" by "praise".. etc.

Meaning devices

in the fourth line "Time" is personified as a sluttish woman who allows the marble and monuments to be besmeared with dust and grim, and in line six, "broils" is personified as a person who rout out the work of masonry.

The imagery of the sonnet is magnificently concrete as the words "besmeared" in line 4, "rout out" in line 6, and "pace forth" in line 10 exemplify.        

Posted in: Alliteration, Analysis, and, Assonance, Devices, meaning, Meter, Organization, PARAPHRASE, Paraphrasing, Rhyme, scheme, Shakespeare, Sonnet 55, theme

  • Not mar / ble nor / the guil / ded mon / uments

Interestingly this sonnet starts off with a negative, the adverb not, introducing the reader to think about what is not important in life, which is fine stone and crafted stonework. Note the double alliteration and the allusion to grand palaces.

This is iambic pentameter, five feet of unstressed then stressed syllable, English poetry's most dominant metre (meter in USA). Shakespeare uses it a lot in his sonnets but also mixes it up with spondee and trochee - watch out for the changes.

Note also the enjambment, the first line carrying on straight into the second, no punctuation.

  • Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

So the stone work is royal, or at least, belongs to a young royal male. Is this a clue as to who the sonnet is written for? Another young male, but not a prince? Or is this generic royal stone? Either way this material doesn't get to outlive the power of this poetry.

Again iambic pentameter is to the fore, with assonance and alliteration in evidence.

  • But you shall shine more bright in thesecontents

The third line helps the reader put things in perspective because now there is a person or figure involved...you shall shine...in the contents of the poem, which will endure.

Note the alliteration again and the trochee which comes as a surprise after the steady iambics - but contents is pronounced with the stress on the con - and leaves a feminine ending with enjambment.

  • Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

Time is here given a physical quality, unusually, and the word sluttish is associated with the world of whores and dubious morals. The suggestion is that material things eventually become dirtied and degraded but that this will not happen to the person.

Regular iambics returns. Note the prominence of the letter s. Besmear is to cover with a sticky or greasy substance.

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