Shakespeare (1599) Of the 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare, the first 17 form what is known as the procreation sonnet set. These poems urge the reader to have sex both for enjoyment and for procreation. They also emphasize marriage as the fulfillment of social obligations and the underlying structure of society. Part of the encouragement to procreate is a desire for preservation (of family, humanity, and English society), and Sonnet 3 emphasizes this idea of continuation.
in the poem, the speaker urges the audience, in this case, the "lovely boy," to begin considering producing offspring. The idea is that the lovely boy is so attractive that if he does not produce an heir, the world will be cheated forever when his image is lost. Finding a willing woman should not be very difficult, either, since few women exist who would deny the lovely boy. The speaker goes on to remind his audience that he is the mirror for his parents, as his child would be for him. The poem concludes with a dire warning: If you die without reproducing, you will be forgotten and your image will go to the grave with you.
Sonnet 3 is fairly unique among the procreation set. unlike its companions, which focus primarily on images of life, Sonnet 3 contains paradoxical alternatives that combine life and death. For instance, bleak images such as an unblessed womb (l. 4), disdained husbandry (l. 5), and stopped posterity (l. 8) are paired with corresponding images of life, such as replication (l. 2), the accepting woman (ll. 5-6), and the not-foolish man (ll. 7-8). This series of complications is connected to the notion of dédoublement, which is an integral part of all of Shakespeare's sonnets. In literature, dédoublement (French for "split") is the process of aesthetic self-doubling, or double consciousness. It can occur within a single character or within a literary construct. A character might be involved in an unexpected situation, which results in a sudden escape from his or her self-conception, and thus be forced to reevaluate his or her fundamental identity. Textually, dédoublement is a simultaneous fragmentation and binding through writing and images. Linking constructive and destructive ideas within a text leads to a cycle of division and repetition that both informs and interprets the world surrounding and created through the text.
Despite the name of the subset, procreation sonnets, the focus is predominately on the male reproductive role and not on motherhood. However, Sonnet 3 introduces the idea of woman-as-womb, suggesting that no woman would refuse her womb to the young man. Moreover, the phrase "unbless some mother" (l. 4) has been connected to maternal guidance books, a new genre developed in the early modern era. These advice books suggested that mothers contributed more to their children's existence than simply incubation and later nurturing. They advocated a prominent role in childhood education and instruction for mothers. These books also assumed that all women wanted to be mothers and implied that the refusal to reproduce, by either men or women, was a real social evil and denied women their biological destiny.
Sonnet 3 is written in iambic pentameter, has three cross-rhymed quatrains, and ends with a couplet. Sonnet 3 is the only one of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets to have five rhymes: abab, cdcd followed by dede, dd. Although this structure, technically an octave followed by a sestet, seems closer to the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form, in theme the sonnet remains aligned with English sonnet structure. Sonnet 3 also features a series of internal rhymes (couplet ties). In particular, the repetition of -re (or re-) both connects the poem internally and recalls the "theme" of regeneration and renewal. Words featuring -re include: fresh, repair, renewest, where, unear'[e]d, remember'[e]d. Another internal connecting rhyme is -age: tillage, age, image.
The first two lines of the poem form a synecdoche, in which "face" represents the lovely boy whom the speaker addresses. His fundamental goal is to persuade the youth of the advantages of producing a child. He begins rather directly by imperatively instructing the youth that "now is the time" that he "should form another" (l. 2). He follows up this charge with flattery and then with a series of rhetorical questions. By asking open-ended questions, the speaker distances himself from the final decision but guides the lovely boy toward making the "right" choice by presenting logical scenarios. All of these rhetorical strategies are contained within the octave. The sestet, on the other hand, witnesses a return to flattery of a sort, although this adulation is tempered by a quiet admiration and a sincere regret. The speaker wistfully closes the poem with the solemn reminder, "die single, and thine image dies with thee" (l. 14).
There is no singular controlling image found within Sonnet 3; however, there are consistent ideas. With the governing objective being procreation, Shakespeare employs a number of agricultural metaphors. Like the fertile field waiting to be planted, all attractive, virginal women are waiting to be approached by the lovely young man. This idea is emphasized through uneared (l. 5), tillage (l. 5), and husbandry (l. 5). Agricultural images, particularly the plowing metaphor, can also be traced throughout some of Sonnet 3's allusions to classical works. Besides the clear reference to the Narcissus legend from Ovid's Metamorphoses, the poem contains a number of additional ovidian references. These include book 15 of Metamorphoses, Medicamina Faciei, and Ars amatoria. All include a connection between age and wrinkles, which are created through plowing.
Besides agricultural metaphors, the sonnet depends on a number of references to glass to convey the message of procreation. In early modern English, glass often means "mirror." In Sonnet 3, the youth's image is replicated in the mirror, as it would be in his chil-dren—an idea confirmed by his mother's use of him as a "glass" of her youth (l. 9). People can be copied both by looking in a mirror and by procreating.
However, in Shakespeare's sonnets, the word glass sometimes refers to an hourglass instead of a mirror. Although "mirror" makes the most sense in Sonnet 3, if the dual meaning is explored, there are temporal implications. Glass is used in the first line, and the second contains time. Line 10 combines glass with calls back, implying a function of time. All of these subtle reminders serve to underscore the main message of the poem's speaker, who is urging the lovely boy to produce offspring before it is too late and he runs out of time.
See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).
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