Lit. NotesPoetry

Shakespeare Sonnets: Short Questions & Answers

1: Whom does Sonnet 15 address?

Sonnet 15 is one of the “procreation” sonnets of those that are addressed to the fair lord. In it, the speaker contemplates that with time, the object of his poetry will age and lose his beauty.

2: What solution does the poet offer in the final couplet of Sonnet 15?

The solution in the final couplet is that the poet will immortalize the youth and beauty he experiences now in the fair lord in his poetry, and thus “engraft you new.”

3: What does the term ‘engraft’ refer to?

The term “engraft” refers to the process of a horticulturist grafting a new slip of wood onto an old root in order to create a new tree.

4: Why does the speaker call his rhyme barren?

The speaker calls his rhyme “barren,” drawing attention to the fact that although it is one way to immortalize the youth, it does not do as much good as procreation.

5: What does the poet say the world is in the opening lines of Sonnet 15?

In lines 2-3, “this huge stage” is a metaphor for the world. It “presenteth naught but shows,” meaning there is no real meaning to what we see in the world; all we see is illusory.

6: What the “secret influence” refers to?

The “secret influence” of the stars refers to the invisible fluid that was thought to emanate from stars, influencing the actions of people on earth.

7: What do lines 11-12 of Sonnet 15 personify?

Lines 11-12 personify Time and decay, as they debate with each other the best way to destroy youth and beauty.

8: Describe the line “in war with Time for love of you”?

Apparently, the whole world loves the fair lord’s beauty, and is “in war with Time for love of you,” to protect him against the ravages of time. Of course, this is a losing battle.

9: Why the theme of immortality achieved through poetry is Horatian?

The theme of immortality achieved through poetry is Horatian, in that it is not the poet who gains it, but rather the subject of the verse.

10: How does Shakespeare use language for effect in Sonnet 18? 

There are many ways in which Shakespeare manipulates language in Sonnet 18. The most obvious of these may be his extensive use of metaphor. Another interesting use of language includes economic or financial metaphors. Indeed, the speaker notes that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date”, and that the lover will not lose all “possession” of his or her beauty.

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Q11: Do we have any chance of permanence in Sonnet 18?

Youth is compared to a commodity that is not infinite; ultimately, it will run out, and we will die. It is only through poetry that we have any chance of permanence in love.

12: What is the idea behind Sonnet 18?

The idea behind the sonnet is that all the good things that one associates with summer apply to the poet’s beloved, but that she surpasses that season because of her own loveliness and constancy and because of the immortality she receives from his love.

13: What does the poet note while developing the thought of summer’s lack of reliability?

Developing the thought of summer’s lack of reliability, the poet notes that its gold eventually dims and its fairness “declines.” His lady, he asserts, will “not fade” because his love, immortalized by this sonnet, will keep her as “eternal summer.”

14: How does Shakespeare compare his beloved to a summer’s day?

The poet notices the differences between his beloved and a summer’s day. First of all, he notes that she is “more lovely.” Immediately this brings to mind physical beauty; a summer day has that with its greenery, blue sky, and flowers. Yet when we say a day is “lovely,” we often refer to more than its physical appearance. Summer days have a “lovely” quality that includes comfort, peace, and ease. Thus, the poet believes his lady creates more emotional comfort than a summer day.

15: How does Sonnet 18 begin?

The poem begins with the expectation that it will discuss the narrator’s love’s beauty or youth by thinking about it in comparison to a summer day. While that does happen, summer instead becomes a flawed thing that the poem’s subject far outshines.

16: How has the poet treated the subject of this sonnet?

The subject of the poem is immortalized in Shakespeare’s sonnet, granting them eternal life, beauty, and youth that summer does not have.

17: What is the word that signals a shift in the poem?

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, it is the word “But” at the start of line 9 that signals a shift in the poem. The “but” in line 9 serves as the transition from the concept of a beauty that fades to one that, through literature, lives forever.

18: What is the opening line of Sonnet 27?

“Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,” is the opening line of Sonnet 27 composed by William Shakespeare.

19: Write a short note on the use of the imagery of blindness in Sonnet 27.

The imagery of blindness permeates this sonnet since the speaker is unable to use his eyes as he lies awake in the dark. As his eyelids are “drooping” with exhaustion, his thoughts keep his eyes wide open so that he can look “on darkness which the blind do see:” the night is so dense that it is as if he has no sense of sight at all. Instead, his imagination, or “my soul’s imaginary sight,” conjures images of his loved one in his mind.

20: How, in sonnet 27, the word ‘shadow’ has been used by the poet?

In this sonnet, “shadow” is used to mean image. When the poet says that his imagination “presents thy shadow to my sightless view,” he means it is as if the image of the fair lord is there in front of him, though in the darkness he physically sees nothing. Shakespeare plays with the meaning of this word since “shadow” can also mean the darkness created by a person’s presence.

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21: What the noun phrase “zealous pilgrimage” refers to?

The “zealous pilgrimage” upon which the speaker’s thoughts embark in line 6 refers to a mental journey as if his thoughts are capable of traveling physical distance like his body.

22: What does the speaker imply in comparing the fair lord to a pilgrimage?

Pilgrimages were taken to a holy place, like a church or a shrine, and often involved weeks of traveling by foot or on horseback to show devotion. In comparing thinking of the fair lord to a pilgrimage, the speaker implies that his devotion borders on religious faith.

23: What is the theme of sonnet 27?

This sonnet is meditative, focusing on the sleeplessness that comes with restless nights. This theme of a restless night spent thinking of a lover from whom the speaker is separated echoes traditional sonnets. The poet describes himself as being “weary with toil” and trying to sleep. The somber mood announces a new phase in the relationship.

24: What has the poet said in the first four lines of sonnet 27?

In the first four lines, the poet likens his state of mind to traveling afar. Restlessly, he cannot sleep because his mind is filled with thoughts of the youth: “Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind, / For thee and for myself no quiet find.”

25: What is the idea behind sonnet 34?

Sonnet 34 expands the idea that the fair lord has denied friendship or love to the poet after having promised to be forthcoming with it.

26: Why the fair lord’s tears are valuable?

Only the fair lord’s tears, valuable because they demonstrate true regret, are enough to convince the poet to forgive him.

27: Write a note on the imagery of healing in sonnet 34.

The imagery of healing pervades this sonnet, with the idea that the fair lord can only cure the speaker’s plight by shedding tears. Lines 7-8, “For no man well of such a salve can speak, / That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace,” refer to the fair lord drying the speaker’s tears. A “salve” is a healing lotion, but in this case, it only heals the wound without curing the shame of having acquired that wound.

28: Write a note on the biblical hints present in sonnet 34.

Hints of sin in a biblical sense are apparent, specifically the apostle Peter’s denial of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. After denying his friendship with Christ three times, Peter repented and shed tears, as the fair lord does in Sonnet 34.

29: Briefly describe the final couplet of the sonnet 34.

The final couplet is a complete reversal of the speaker’s stance throughout the sonnet that no matter what the fair lord does, he will not forgive him for the betrayal. With the exclamation, “Ah!” in line 13, it is as if the speaker notices the fair lord’s tears at that moment.

30: Write a very short note on the metaphor “those tears are pearl.”

The metaphor, “those tears are pearls,” likens the tears to precious pearls. In addition to having a high monetary value, pearls could be ground up and used for medicinal purposes; thus, the healing theme is continued through the final couplet.

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31: Describe the word “loss” in sonnet 42.

The word “loss” is pervasive throughout this poem, appearing six times. The repetition of this word emphasizes how strongly the speaker feels that he has been deprived of the two most important relationships in his life: the fair lord and the mistress.

32: What is meant by the term “loving offenders”?

The use of the term “loving offenders” in line 5 can have two meanings: that the offenders (the fair lord and the mistress) are in love; but it can also mean that they seem to enjoy their offense.

33: How do you understand the biblical allusion to the cross?

The biblical allusion to the cross ties the poet himself to Jesus in his suffering so that others might be happy, and relieved of their sins.

34: Briefly describe the idea of happiness and sincerity in sonnet 42.

Though the final couplet seems to turn toward happiness, that happiness is feigned. The idea is that the fair lord and the poet are “one”. This weak reasoning, that since the poet and the fair lord are one, by loving the fair lord the mistress in fact loves the poet, is not sincere.

35: How would you describe the theme of flattery and dishonesty in sonnet 42?

The exclamation “Sweet flattery!” indicates this sarcasm, since “flattery” always indicates dishonesty or a false beauty, which does not compare to the true love the poet speaks of.

36: Why the use of the word “love” may be confusing to readers in sonnet 40?

The use of the word “love” may be confusing to readers, for “love” in this sonnet means at least three different things. Two of these meanings are addressed in the first line, “Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all.” Here, “my loves” refers to the poet’s possessions, both physical — the sonnets themselves — and emotional. Following this, the phrase “my love,” set off by commas, refers to the young man himself, whom the poet is addressing.

37: What kind of feelings does the poet undergo for the young man?

In an almost pathetically timid voice, the poet wavers between anger at and forgiveness of the young man.

38: What is the rhyme scheme of sonnet 40?

Sonnet 40 is composed of three quatrains followed by a final couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of the English sonnet, abab cdcd efef gg. It is written in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic metre based on five pairs of metrically weak/strong syllabic positions. Line four exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:

Q39: Briefly describe sonnet 53.

Sonnet 53, presumably addressed to the same young man as the other sonnets in the first part of the sequence raise some of the most common themes of the sonnet: the sublime beauty of the beloved, the weight of tradition, and the nature and extent of art’s power.

40: What is the dominant motif within the first two stanzas of Sonnet 53?

A dominant motif within the first two stanzas of Sonnet 53 is the contrast between shadow and substance.

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41: What G.L. Kittridge has said about Shakespeare’s sonnets?

According to G.L. Kittridge, in Sonnets of Shakespeare, “Shadow, often in Shakespeare is contrasted with substance to express the particular sort of unreality while ‘substance’ expresses the reality.”

42: Why does the speaker praise youth’s fidelity in the last lines of sonnet 53?

Landry argues that the speaker in the last line praises the youth’s fidelity not because he is confident of the youth’s constancy but because he fitfully hopes that the youth will have a constant heart.

43: How the youth has been presented in sonnet 53?

In the sonnet, spring can only offer shades of the beauty of the youth. The youth is presented as the ideal Beauty, the form, from which all other beautiful things come. This idea is summarized in line thirteen of the sonnet: “In all external grace you have some part.”

44: How the fair lord has been presented in the final couplet of the sonnet 54?

The final couplet of Sonnet 54 reveals the comparison of the fair lord to a sweet rose. The word “vade” in line 14 is a variant of “fade,” and can be understood as referring to the beauty of the fair lord’s youth, the fair lord himself, or both.

45: Whom the “truth” that is “distilled” by the poet refer to?

The “truth” that is “distilled” by the poet refers to the essence of the fair lord, or his inner beauty. In line 2 it is described as giving a “sweet ornament,” or decorating a person who is already beautiful in the way a piece of furniture is decorated.

46: What the distillation process is compared to?

Here, the distillation process is compared to the immortality the poet hopes to create for the fair lord through his “verse.” In the “procreation” sonnets, the distillation process refers to the passing on of the fair lord’s beautiful essence to his children.

47: How, according to the poet, do sweet roses live beyond their own death?

“Sweet roses” live beyond their own deaths, because when they die their petals are distilled into perfume. This process is referred to in line 12: “Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made;” the “sweetest odours” refers to the rosewater.

48: How does the poet describe the behavior of the wild roses?

Lines 7-8, “Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly / When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses,” describe the behavior of the wild roses that would deceive someone into thinking they are worth as much as the fair lord.

49: What is a sonnet?

The term “Sonnet” has been derived from the Italian word “Sonetto”. This word stands for the meaning of “A Little Song”. By the 13th century, it had come to signify a poem of fourteen lines. It followed a strict rhyming scheme and a specific structure.

50: How does “Encarta World Dictionary defines sonnet?

“Encarta World Dictionary defines sonnet as a short poem with fourteen lines, usually ten syllable rhyming lines, divided into two, three, or four sections. There are many rhyming patterns for sonnets, and they are usually written in iambic pentameter.”

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