The sonnet as the poetic form was created long ago, and its classical development was in Renaissance Italy. In the sonnet there are always 14 lines, and classic sonnet form is constructed as follows: two quatrains and two three-line poems with a certain system of rhymes.
Shakespeare is well known for his beautiful classical sonnets. The poet has written a cycle of 154 sonnets, which are the one of the most brilliant examples of Western lyric poetry of the Renaissance. Sonnets were popular among the English poets, but Shakespeare’s sonnets are the most the most amazing and beautiful in their poetic form and content, with an extensive range of feelings and thoughts – from the intimate experiences to the deep philosophical thinking and generalizations. Shakespeare in his sonnets affects the most important themes and problems, is talking about happiness and the meaning of life, the relationship between time and eternity, about the transience of human beauty and grandeur of the art to overcome the inexorable passage of time, the high mission of the poet. (Vendler, 1997)
Speaking about the Sonnets of Shakespeare, it is first necessary to accurately represent the requirements of the composition itself. As a rule, Shakespeare follows the usual pattern: the first quatrain contains an exposition of the theme, the second – its development, the third – brings to a head, and the final couplet expresses the conclusion. In some cases, Shakespeare violates this principle of composition, as some of the sonnets are consistent from beginning to end, developing a theme through a variety of images and comparisons that illustrate the main idea. (Schiffer, 1999)
Each sonnet develops only one theme, but the poet was able to find new means of expression, new images and comparison to express the well-known ideas in new ways. Shakespeare could achieve this: while reading the sonnets, we can see how he can express a variety of feelings and thoughts in them, to show the whole world, a great dramatic content of feelings, thoughts and passions.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are grouped into two major groups: the first 126 sonnets are devoted to his friend, and other sonnets 127-154 to the beloved woman. In this work it is necessary to consider and compare the sonnets 18 and 63, which are included in the first group. Both sonnets are similar in many aspects, as they are devoted to the love for one person. Both sonnets are designed to express love and beauty of a loved one, that will live forever in the poetry. The eternal theme of love, one of the central problems in the sonnets, is intertwined with the theme of friendship. In love and friendship the poet finds the true source of inspiration regardless of whether they bring him joy and bliss or torment of jealousy, sorrow.
The Sonnet 18 is titled “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”¯ and is the first in the cycle of the Procreation sonnets. It starts with a question to the loved person “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”¯, and the author calls him “more lovely and more temperate”¯. In this sonnet the author speaks about the beauty that will never fade:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
(Shakespeare, p 130)
The sonnet 63 “Against my love shall be, as I am now”¦”¯ belongs to the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love to young man. In contrast to the sonnet 18, here Shakespeare says that the beauty is fading:
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanish’d out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring”¦
In both the sonnets there is an opposition of frailty of the beauty and relentlessness of time. The time embodies the law of nature, under which everything is born and is blooming, and then is doomed to withering and death. Here we find an optimistic view on life processes: time can kill a single creature, but life will go on. The poet show one of the ways to combat time: it is art that provides a human immortality. So the task of the poet is to preserve the human perfection of his great friend in the verses.
So, one of the biggest similarities in two sonnets is the theme of immortality of love and beauty. In the Sonnet 18 Shakespeare writes:
“When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (Shakespeare, p 130)
In the sonnet 63 the poet writes:
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
These two parts represent the idea that the poet in his works preserves the beauty and love in the lines of his poems. But the different are the things that the poet preserves about his friend: in the sonnet 18 Shakespeare more speaks about the lover’s wonderful personality and how he is “more lovely and more temperate”¯ than a summer day; while in the sonnet 63 Shakespeare mostly describes the lover’s look, and how he wants to preserve the “sweet love’s beauty”¯.
Another difference between the poems is the mood. In the sonnet 63 the mood is dark and sad, words are cold; the author uses such words as: “drain’d his blood”¯, “cruel knife”¯, “lines and wrinkles”¯ that brings dark feelings to the poem. In the sonnet 18 the mood is bright and warm, Shakespeare uses such words as: “darling buds of May”¯, “eternal summer”¯ to bring warm and light feelings to the poem.
In both sonnets there is an inner duality: the ideal and reality coexist in Shakespeare’s sonnets in a difficult combination. Shakespeare appears here as a poet who gives back to the sublime and elusive romance of aristocratic poetry, and also as a realist, who fills in the traditional form of the sonnet a deeply vital meaning. But all of his sonnets are full of genuine human feelings, great passions and humane ideas. (Vendler, 1997)
Shakespeare, W. The Sonnets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Schiffer, J. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New York: Garland Pub, 1999.
Vendler, H. (1997). The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.