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Shakespeare Sonnet 3

Updated on May 5, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 3: "Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest"

As in sonnets 1 and 2, the speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 3 is pleading with the young man to marry and procreate in order to pass on his handsome features.

Sonnet 3: "Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest"

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb,
Of his self-love to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

Reading of Sonnet 3

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles


The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Commentary

Shakespeare Sonnet 3 from the “Marriage Sonnets” concentrates on the young man’s image in the looking-glass, with the purpose of continuing the speaker's plea to the young lad to marry and produce pleasing progeny.

First Quatrain: Check the Face in the Mirror

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb

In the first quatrain, the speaker demands that the young man carefully check his face in the mirror and tell himself, “the face thou viewest," that the time has come to produce offspring whose faces will resemble his own. The speaker insists that if the young man fails to produce another face like his own, he will be, in fact, swindling others of the beauty he possesses, including the mother of that new infant. The speaker is appealing to the young man’s sympathy by insisting that the lad’s failure to reproduce children will “unbless some mother,” that is, he will prevent some mother from having the blessings of giving birth and experiencing the glory of offering to the world a new life.

Second Quatrain: Questions to Persuade

For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb,
Of his self-love to stop posterity?

As he often does, the speaker uses questions to try to persuade the young man that the speaker’s persistence that the young man procreate not only is quite reasonable but also is the only ethical and moral thing to do. In this second quatrain, the speaker queries the young man if the latter believes it could possible that some young lady exists who is so well endowed that she would not be open to the chance of serving as the mother of the young lad’s comely offspring. The speaker then refers to the young man’s hesitance again, asking the young man if there could be any handsome man so selfish and self absorbed that he would prevent the next generation from seeking life.

Third Quatrain: Same Beauty as His Mother

Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.

The speaker then pleads to the young man to consider his relationship to his own mother, reminding him that he possesses the same beauty of his own mother. And because his own mother had the good fortune to have given birth to this beautiful young man, she can be reminded her own youth just by looking at her handsome son. Quite logical then it follows that after the young man has lived to be an old man, he will also be able to relive his own “April” or “prime” by simply glancing at the lovely face of his own beautiful offspring.

The Couplet: The Young Man's Appearance

But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

Throughout sonnet #3, the speaker has concentrated on the young man’s appearance, looking in a mirror. The speaker reminds the lad of his youthful image and the young man’s mother’s image when young that the lad now reflects. Focusing distinctively on image, the speaker hopes to move the young man through his ego. And by thus shining his light brightly on image, the speaker wishes to impart a moral sense of duty in the young man. If the young man fails to procreate lovely offspring, the young man’s image will die with him. Appealing to the innate human desire for immortality, the speaker attempts to convince the young man that his immortality depends on producing images made after his own.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

Katherine Chiljan – Origins of the Pen Name, “William Shakespeare”

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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