The Portrayal and Understanding of the Concept of Beauty

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Beauty, irrefutably, is a common theme throughout the Shakespearean sonnets. Generally, Shakespeare’s love of beauty is expressed with regard to an undefined person, or muse. Nowhere is the beauty of Shakespeare’s muse expressed more strongly than throughout his Sonnet 18. As tribute to the magnificence of his muse’s beauty, which is described as more glorious than even nature’s seasons, Shakespeare makes a point of supplementing this beauty by preserving and immortalizing it through the lines of Sonnet 18.

Before Shakespeare’s muse, or “Dark Lady’s” beauty can be immortalized, its grandeur must first be fully understood. Shakespeare wastes no time in undertaking the task conveying this beauty, and strategically does so through his first line, which he phrases as a question. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” It is clear that answering this question will be the Sonnet’s purpose, and Shakespeare begins to do so immediately, with line 2: “Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” This line not only answers the question put forth by line 1, but begins to set the poem’s theme: that Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is indeed more beautiful and magnificent than the seasons, namely summer. This theme also represents the thesis of the poem’s rhetorical dialectic form.

Lines 3 and 4 continue along this vein of thought, as Shakespeare describes the month of May as having “Rough winds,” and “summer’s lease” as being “too short.” The words “rough,” and, “short,” carry definite negative connotations, which evidence the fact that Shakespeare leans away from casting summer as being as pleasant or beautiful as his muse, and leans toward comparatively casting his muse in a more favorable light.

Following this pattern, lines 5 and 6 refer directly to the summer sun, or “eye of heaven” as sometimes “too hot,” or often as having “his gold complexion dimmed.” It is no coincidence that Shakespeare chooses the words, “dim,” and “too hot,” – which have relatively opposite denotations – to describe the sun. The sun, to Shakespeare, as is implied by this noteworthy diction, is very inconsistent. Shakespeare implies that it is too often either at one unpleasant extreme or the other.

It is this thought of inconsistency that guides the reader into Shakespeare’s next two lines. Line 7 states that, “every fair from fair sometime declines;” which is to say that everything that is beautiful, or “fair,” will at some point fall, or “decline,” from its beauty. By comparing his muse with the season of summer, Shakespeare implies that both are beautiful, regardless of whether his Dark Lady is the more beautiful. Basically, through lines 7 and 8, Shakespeare points out the fact that no beauty is forever; and henceforth that neither the beauty of the seasons, nor the beauty of his muse can last. This thought presents the antithesis of the Sonnet’s dialectic form: if Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is more beautiful and magnificent than the seasons, how is it possible that they should both “By…nature’s changing course,” undergo a decline of beauty?

Alas, it is not possible, and such is the reason that Shakespeare chooses to supplement his Dark Lady’s beauty with the immortality that is born out of the lines of his verse. Shakespeare begins introducing this immortality – the synthesis of the Sonnet’s dialectic form – in line 9, at the same time creating the poem’s volta, or dramatic change in tone. The tone shifts from that of one that speaks of beauty as something which will “decline,” to that of one which speaks of beauty as, “eternal summer,” which “shall not fade.” Shakespeare describes his muse in line 10 as someone who will never “lose possession” of the “fair,” or beauty, that she “ow’st,” or owns. Line 11 takes things to the next step, and makes the point that Shakespeare’s muse, along with her beauty, shall never die. Death is indeed portrayed as cocky or arrogant by Shakespeare – as a force that would “brag,” that Shakespeare’s muse, “wand’rest in his shade.” This line makes a direct contrast with Shakespeare’s earlier description of a sun that is “too hot,” or, too bright (line 5). The beauty of Shakespeare’s muse will neither shine too brightly, as the summer sun, nor be cast into the obscure shadow of death. It lies in a zone of happy medium, somewhere between light and dark, perfectly exemplifying the duality of which true beauty is composed.

The power of this beauty is derived most solely from the fact that it has been, to this day, preserved as immortal. To speak subjectively, if Sonnet 18 was anything less than timeless, the beauty of Shakespeare’s muse would have, by current day, been entirely forgotten. It seems that Shakespeare knew this fact, as he expresses it through the extremely cleverly written line 12: “When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.” Through this line, Shakespeare seems to be saying that the beauty of his woman grows constantly larger, running parallel to time, forming two “eternal lines,” that extend into infinity. At the same time, line 12 can be interpreted as referring to the actual composition of Sonnet 18: a series of “lines” of verse that will last in reader’s minds forever.

It is this second interpretation that is most strongly supported by the Sonnet’s couplet:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The couplet concludes sonnet 18 perfectly, with the complete synthesis of the poem’s dialectic form. “As long as men are alive, and can read,” Shakespeare proclaims to his muse, “they will read this poem, imagine your beauty, and henceforth preserve your immortality.” One might interpret Sonnet 18’s final lines as over-confident – as Shakespeare claiming that his poem will be read forever – but indeed, he has thus far turned out to be quite right.

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