Sonnet 116 Essay Questions

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Sonnet 116 Study Questions

Actually, there are two poems in the Sonnet 116 module.  An Italian sonnet by Petrarch is the subject of an opening review section; then Shakespeare's English sonnet (#116 of his sonnet cycle) follows.  Basically, you choose which of the pages in the module will be your focus.

Respond to a Question from the Sonnet 116 Module

Read the poem from your textbook or go back to your browser and click on the globe to get to the site map; the poem is printed on most of the instructional pages, such as “(Hyper)text.”  Select one of the following questions, ideally after you have read through the entire module.  Note: It's easier to get an A on an advancedor intermediatequestion than it is on a question rated just interesting.

1.  On the module cover, click on the link to comments by previous users of the site.  What can you tell about studying this site from these comments?  just interesting 

Answer all of the parts for this advanced question.

3.a. From the “Preview” page: Jot down your definition of love, and then read on.  How does your idea of love resemble or not the idea of love in Sonnet 116?

3.b. How is visualizing important for reading?  Comment on at least two of the hyperlinks to photos in the hypertext of the poem, Sonnet 116.

3c.  How do poets craft a poem to emphasize their meaning with sound as artists do with paint?  Before answering, consider the pages on sound repetition--alliteration and assonance--and even more advanced aspects of sound in a well crafted poem--"consonance" and "texture."  Make sure you apply these ideas to Sonnet 116 with multiple examples and that you explain each example by telling the effect of the sound and how it helps link the phrase to the theme of the poem.

3d.  Although you will be reading and answering questions about poetry, your goal should be learning how to say things about poetry in writing.  What have you learned in this module on Sonnet 116 that suggests it is a well crafted poem (the professional, published way to write poetry, even if much of the craftsmanship is subconscious) rather than a first draft jotted down in a burst of inspiration and left unchanged (the amateur way to write poetry)?  Examples add points; platitudes and unsupported generalities and ignoring Sonnet 116 subtract points.

4.  From “A Brief History of the Sonnet”: Jot down your best guess for these questions about the Italian sonnet concerning Petrarch's Laura:


·        What is the "problem" stated in the first 8 lines?

·        In what sense is the problem "resolved" in the last 6 lines?

·        So what shift in attitude seems to occur in lines 8-9 of the sample (the end of the second "stanza" and the opening of the third)?

·        Theme: What relationship among love, beauty, time, and mortality is depicted by this poem (the sample “Italian” sonnet)?

5.  On the metrics page, which helps you more to understand the sound pattern for an "iamb" and a "trochee"--the recording or the chart with the differently colored and sized print?  Explain.  intermediate (with sound in Real Player)

From the page “Reading a Poem”:

6.a. List any differences between the way you pictured Laura and the photo on the page. For example, does the Laura in the poem seem older or younger--why? Is she a bride or not--what words in the poem make you think she was or wasn't? Consider the eyes, face ("countenance"), hair, and "glance" or attitude in the poem vs. the photo.  just interesting

6.b. Which of the 11 considerations on the reading poetry page do you find most helpful to you for understanding the sample Italian sonnet? just interesting

7a.  For the page about Shakespeare, list up to 3 important facts about this famous sonneteer. just interesting

7b.  Which of the three websites listed as links on the Shakespeare page is the most useful and why?  just interesting

From the page “Two Readings of Sonnet 116”: advanced

8.a. What do you hear in these readings that is different (in addition to "beats" in line 12)? 

8.b. How do these affect the tone or even theme of the poem? (You need to listen to the pace, emphasis, and tone of the two recordings linked to from this page to report differences you hear.)

From the “(Hyper)text” page:

9.a.  Spend as much time as you need on page 9 with the text of Sonnet 116, clicking links to explanations of particular words to prepare to paraphrase the poem.  Note how much time that you spend studying this page; then write your paraphrase of this poem.  That is, tell line for line or sentence by sentence the idea of the poem without using the same words as the poem.  intermediate

9.b. From the page “What’s a Sickle?” linked to from the “(Hyper)text” page:  The traditional "connotation" of the word sickle is listed with old Father Time (go to the hypertext version of the poem and click the word “Time’s”), but the Cold War might leave modern readers with a more sinister implication because the sickle was part of the emblem for communism. What would such an interpretation of this line say? Is such a reading OK? Why or why not?  intermediate

10.   For page 10, tell how your paraphrase of the poem differs from the one on this page. just interesting

advanced for 11a AND 11b (sounds in Real Player)

From the page “A Scansion of Sonnet 116: Lines 1 - 8”:

11.a. Which of the louder syllables should be read as the loudest in the line? 

11.b. There are three [recorded] comparisons [which you must access through your Web browser with Real Player] in a box near the bottom of the page.  Select ONE to explain and tell which reading [emphasizing which syllables] makes more sense.   Tell which syllable is emphasized in the way you prefer the line to be read, and tell what meaning you associate with that reading as opposed to the other(s): Line 1, the second half of line 2, or Line 7.


advanced for 12a AND 12b (sounds in Real Player)

From the page “More Scansion of Sonnet 116: Lines 9 -14”:

12.a. Which of the louder syllables should be read as the loudest in the line?

12. b. Explain for ONE of the [recorded] comparisons [which you’ve still got to hear through Real Player by clicking the links on this page in your Web browser], which one makes more sense.   Tell which syllable is emphasized in the way you prefer the line to be read, and tell what meaning you associate with that reading as opposed to the other: the first half of line 9 or Line 12.


14.  For pages 14, 15, and 16 on sound effects, tell 3 highlights. (This is very technical stuff, but be sure to read the conclusion on page 16.)  intermediate

15.  After reading about symbolism, explain how the star in the sonnet might be a symbol and what it might symbolize. Be sure to review the page about the star that was linked to the text page.  advanced  Example: See one student's answer to question 15.

From the page on “Theme”: intermediate = 16a AND 16b

16a.  Type your own idea of the "theme" of Sonnet 116, its point, its main idea. Use one or two sentences to try getting across the same idea as the sonnet with the same attitude as you see in the sonnet. 

16.b. How is your idea of a theme similar to and different from the notes to the right of the poem on the “Theme” page?

17. How feasible would it be for you to write about this other sonnet, Sonnet 130, for an essay? An advanced answer would be a list of topic sentences with sublists of supporting evidence, e.g. phrases from the poem.

18.  Or Sonnet 138?  (Read my annotation about the Royal Shakespeare Company's reading of the sonnet before clicking the link to read it.)  An advanced answer would be a list of topic sentences with sublists of supporting evidence, e.g. phrases from the poem. 

19.  Which of these five musical selections comes closest to matching your image of a theme sonnet for Sonnet 116? Why? advanced with Real Player sound

20.  How useful has this module on Sonnet 116 been for increasing your ability to read a poem, make sense out of it, and see it as a well crafted cultural artifact?  (An advancedanswer would be detailed, even pointing out specific pages and their effects on your understanding.)

Sonnet 116 was written by William Shakespeare and published in 1609. William Shakespeare was an English writer and poet, and has written a lot of famous plays, amongst them Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare lived in the Elizabethan era. At that time, the literature and art was in bloom, and his works are clearly characterized by that era both as language and theme goes.

A sonnet is a poem consisting of 14 lines, three quatrains and a couplet, in which the beat follows the iambic pentameter. Sonnet 116 is, like the most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, about love. In this sonnet, Shakespeare tries to define love by using comparisons, metaphors and personification. The theme of the sonnet is definitely “true love” because of all his attempts to define it by describing what true love means, and why it is so important to human beings.

The first quatrain is sort of the “introduction” of the sonnet, while the two next quatrains are the body of the sonnet, where he elaborates the two first lines. The couplet in the end is the conclusion, and is used to sum up and close the sonnet. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, the last two lines are often about Shakespeare himself in some way. Either by sharing his own opinion on the topic he is writing about, or to praise himself as an artist. In the first one and a half line, he says “let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”. That means, that he won’t declare any reasons to why two people with true love towards each other shouldn’t get married. He continues with: “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove”, which can mean that love is not love if it changes or fades away when a better opportunity comes up. He elaborates this in the next quatrain, where he uses a metaphor and compares love to an ever-fixed mark, leading the ships like the North Star. The ships are meant to be the human beings lost in the search for life’s true meaning. The last line of the quatrain says: “whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken”, which is a clear comparison to love, and how it is measurable, but still more valuable than words can ever explain.

This metaphor makes the message more clear, because you can imagine this star guiding the lost sailors in the middle of the ocean and you understand the meaning of the words in an other way than if he had just written: “love is priceless”. In the third quatrain, he begins with: “Love is not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come.” First of all, “Love is not time’s fool” is a personification, because “time” is given a human quality by being a fool. The whole sentence means, that time is meaningless to love and that love doesn’t care about aging or death. The next two lines: “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Empathizes the fact that love is a constant concept and goes beyond death. This last quatrain is really powerful and to say that not even death can stop love makes it even stronger. This is actually the whole message in the sonnet, that true love is so strong, not even death can defeat it. With the couplet in the end, he turns the focus on himself by saying: “ If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” He kind of says, that if what he has just written is proved wrong, no one has ever loved, and he isn’t a poet. He probably means that he is so certain about this never-ending true love, that he would swear on his most precious ability, namely his skills as a writer. In some way, you can say that he ends up praising himself a little bit in this sonnet too. The same thing happens in the couplet of sonnet 18 “shall I compare thee..” where he ends up proclaiming that his poems makes people immortal. Another thing that sonnet 18 and sonnet 116 has in common is their many comparisons. Although the comparisons in sonnet 18 are a little more obvious in sonnet 116, it is still kind of the same concept, comparing love and beauty to nature. And of course, the theme of love is consistent through so many of his sonnets. The difference between these two sonnets is mostly the fact that sonnet 18 is written to a specific person (at least, we assume that), while the receiver of sonnet 116 can be anyone who is curious to know the definition of true love.

The “love” issue takes up a lot of space in both Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, and I think that it is the reason that his works never go out of fashion. It is simply a timeless theme, interesting no matter what race, age or gender you are. His works are known around the world, and can be
interpreted so it fits every mind everywhere in the world. With this sonnet, Shakespeare has defined love for the entire human race.

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