Text, performances, films, and commentary on Shakespeare's 154 sonnets.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012


 Sep 30, 2012

Please see the new site for videos about the sonnets:

Quick Flick's theme, Fragile, several months ago, I chose to make a film of Sonnet 65. The question Shakespeare asks, "How in this rage can beauty hold a plea?" seemed to me to suggest that Shakespeare's discussion of the fragility of beauty would make an appropriate film for this theme.

A study of the poem, however, reveals that it is not beauty that is fragile. The material things, even the most solid -- "rocks impregnable" and "gates of steel" --- are fragile. They "are not so stout. " Eventually, no matter what, "Time decays."

In fact it is beauty and love that become immortal through art and poetry.


(Note: In the context of all the sonnets, #65 would usually be taken as about an older man talking about a younger man or boy. However, nothing in the sonnet itself identifies the speaker or the subject in any way. In this film, the usual context is ignored, and "My Love" is taken to be a young woman. )

Meagan English as "My Love" from SONNET 65Posted by Picasa

I posted the film,
SONNET 65 , on Google video.


Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

In this poem, Shakespeare is just a little tentative about the power of poetry to preserve love, declaring...

...if this miracle have might
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

That is, he is not sure; it would be "this miracle" if it really works.

Shakespeare reaches a similar, and stronger, conclusion on the preservative power of poetry in sonnet 18, when he says, of the "...eternal lines..." of poetry,

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


Shakespeare is not one for simple readings, and there are two huge ironies.

First, there is the omnipresence of death shadowing the love. Specifically, in 65, the word "still" in the last line has spooky overtones of the stillness of death, harking back to

... where, alack
Shall Times best jewel from Time's chest lie hid

(where "Time's jewel" is "my love," and Time's chest is the grave).

I ended the film with a still photograph of "my love" to make this connection.

The second irony is that, of course, even though

...my love may still shine bright (65)


...this gives life to thee (18)

nowhere do we get any information about who "my love" or "this" actually refers to. So if Shakespeare had actually been promising someone eternal life though his poetry, he did not deliver on that promise!


  • It starts off with lots of "s's"
    brass, stone, boundless sea, with this, is no stronger...

  • Then in the middle the sounds are full of hard "k's" and "g's"
    alack, Time, chest, wrackful, back,

  • and the conclusion is a reconciliation of sounds,
    black ink, still shine, bright.

  • There are many negative words, including three "nor's" in the first line alone.
  • There are many words about time, including
    Time (3), mortality, summer, days

  • There are five lines that begin with the letter "O," including three that begin with "O" and two that begin with "Or".

  • Other key words are also repeated or paired:
    beauty, steel & brass, stone & rocks, hand & foot

  • Much of the poem is expressed in rhetorical questions, which convey great anguish.

  • The most unusual construction is
    "...what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?"

    On it's face, this is a strange mixed metaphor. The presumptive answer to the question is that it is the hand of the poet that can thwart the swift foot of Time marching toward decay and death.

In this poem, the speaker is anonymous. There is no clue to the character of the speaker except for the words, "my love" in the last line. The speaker and the love could be of either sex. (In the context of all the sonnets, #65 would usually be taken as about an older man talking about a younger man or boy. However, nothing in the sonnet itself identifies the speaker or the subject.)

  • Time wears all material things down.

  • Love and beauty gain immortality through art.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot - these notes are really going to help me with my english essay!! Where did you get them from?? I would really like to visit the website!!

9:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These notes are fantastic... a lot more interesting/insightful than anything my englsh teacher's managed to tell us this year! I just wish with all my heart that there was commentary posted for some of the other poems...
Hint hint?
But seriously, thanks for this, It's helped me a lot and got me thinking about what to look for in the other sonnets too.

6:08 AM

Blogger Mer said...

Great job! Thanks for sharing it! :)

2:24 PM


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