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Beauty in Sonnets 55 and 106

Updated on June 2, 2014
William Shakespeare (c. 1564–1616)
William Shakespeare (c. 1564–1616) | Source

It is difficult to associate a sonnet with anything other than love. Sonnets are often held in a higher esteem than other love poems; however, none are as admired as those by William Shakespeare. His words sing repeated praises to love and the beauties responsible for setting the hearts of men on fire with passion. In his 55th and 106th sonnets, Shakespeare offers praise to a lady's overwhelming beauty. Although he does not provide specific descriptions of her features in either poem, he paints a picture of the lady through comparisons with both worldly and other-worldly things and ideas. In sonnet 106, Shakespeare provides a comparison between the lady's beauty and the descriptions of the beautiful women of Medieval literature; however, in sonnet 55, he is more convincing when he compares her beauty to the everlasting durability of strong and concrete objects that can withstand the tests of time.

Until the End of Time

Things printed in ink are not always reliable; ink can fade over the course of time or the pages themselves can simply be lost. In sonnet 106, by comparing the lady's beauty to the semi-permanence of "...the chronicle of wasted time" (1), Shakespeare does not offer a very convincing account of the durability of the lady's beauty. Not only are these ancient texts vulnerably written in ink, their "...praises are but prophecies" (9). By indicating that the lady's beauty is no more than a prophecy, Shakespeare further establishes a questionable level of durability in the lady's beauty; prophecies are merely predictions of something that may or many not become true.

In sonnet 55, however, Shakespeare's description of the lady's beauty turns toward more convincing comparisons. He begins by saying that "Not [even] marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes" (1-2) could last longer than the lady's remarkable beauty, and she "...shall shine more bright.../ Than unswept stone" (3-4). These solid images present a more reliable representation of the lady's incredible beauty than the inked pages of sonnet 106; marble, "gilded monuments", and stone are strong and durable things that can withstand the tests of time. By making these comparisons, Shakespeare is demonstrating his own assuredness in the unquestionable permanence of the lady's extraordinary beauty and providing overwhelmingly convincing evidence that her beauty is, indeed, remarkable.

The most convincing argument given in sonnet 55, however, is that which is presented in the poem's characteristic couplet. In these closing lines, Shakespeare reveals that the lady's beauty is the pinnacle of permanence and imperishability; he is so convinced of this woman's incredible and everlasting beauty that he says "So, till the judgement that yourself arise/ You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes" (13-14). This woman's beauty is so powerful that even when she rises at the final judgement, her lovers' eyes will still see her as flawless and perfect; he beauty will endure until the end of time.

"The Sonnet" by William Mulready (1786-1863)
"The Sonnet" by William Mulready (1786-1863) | Source

The Conclusion

Although both sonnets 55 and 106 are undoubtedly works of a master poet, the argument presented in sonnet 55 is far more convincing. Shakespeare's use of concrete, sturdy images helps to establish the sincerity of his beliefs about the lady's amazing beauty. To be able to endure even until the end of time and rise on Judgement Day as stunning as ever, assures the reader that this lady's beauty is truly everlasting.

© 2014 SLGraham

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