Thursday, March 10, 2011

Love is An Ever-fixed Mark: A Close Read of Sonnet 116

In my hub post, I mentioned that I wanted to take a closer love at the relationships immortalized in Shakespeare's sonnets. Sonnet 116 seems like an excellent choice, given that its emphasis is on constancy, as opposed to the aspect of volatility that I hope to make my focus.

Here is a video of Kate Winslet reciting the poem from Sense and Sensibility:

This poem has obviously been picked apart a million times (at least) due to its popularity, which is why I want to make this quick.

I just want to take a quick look at the words Shakespeare uses and their significance. "Let me not to the marriage of true minds..." Marriage refers to becoming one, as it has often been employed by past and current cultures. True minds suggests that there are other minds that could be considered false.

Then we have this paradoxical statement about love not being love, at least "when it alteration finds." Here Shakespeare is saying that if the emotion changes, fades, goes away, it isn't really love at all. So how does that fit in with the volatile kind of love that he portrays in his plays? Constancy is the one aspect of love that is really emphasized in this sonnet.

A good example of this is Othello, which I have already talked about in a previous blog. Although his emotions in general fluctuated to a large extent, his love for Desdemona did not change. It maintained the same form and the same depth as in the beginning of the play. So by Shakespeare's definition, Othello did in fact love.

If this is the case, volatility doesn't really come into the equation, at least if we're talking about actual love, not a sham. Nevertheless, sonnet 116 only contains one definition of love, and there are many more out there, both within and without Shakespeare.