Analysis of Shakespeare's "Sonnets 3"- Look in Thy Glass and Tell the Face Thou Viewest

Aristocratic patronage, in Elizabethan England, was one of the most important assets that a profession writer could have, because it guaranteed money, protection, and prestige. Shakespeare's Sonnets were unlike other sonnets written by contemporaries. Most poets followed the Petrarchan model when writing sonnets, which usually consisted of a man lusting after a woman that he could not have due to the fact that she was already married or out of his social class; the woman is usually portrayed as being blond, beautiful, chaste, and moral. In Shakespeare's Sonnets, he chose to have to have a beautiful young man be the object of praise, love, and idealizing devotion. Shakespeare does not limit himself to the typical moods of a Petrarchan lover; instead his sonnets exude delight, pride, melancholy, shame, disgust, and fear. The first seventeen sonnets celebrate the beauty of this young man, and urge him to marry so that he can pass on his beauty to his children. It is uncertain if Shakespeare's Sonnets are in the correct sequence, since they were printed without his permission. Typically Shakespeare's sonnets follow the rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg, but Sonnets 3 is the only sonnet in this group of sonnets to have five rhymes-abab cdcd dede dd. His sonnets are comprised of three quatrains-each of which may develop a separate metaphor and a couplet-may either confirm or pull sharply against what has gone before. It is not known if the beautiful man described in these sonnets is real or fictional. Some scholars have posed that since Shakespeare dedicated these sonnets to a Mr. W. H. that it must either be Henry Wriothesley or William Herbert-Shakespeare had dedicated previous works to these men. In Sonnets 3, Shakespeare draws a lot from Ovid's Metamorphoses, especially from the Narcissus legend.

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

Now is the time that face should form another,

Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother. (lines 1-4)

The first quatrain starts out with a synecdoche-using a part to express the whole, or vice versa-where the face represents the lovely boy whom the speaker is addressing. The speaker tells the young man to look in the "glass" (mirror) and tell the face that he sees the mirror that it is now time to form another face of his likeness. He goes on to warn the young man that if he does not renew his reflection then he will be cheating the world and the potential mother of his child. The theme of regeneration begins in this first quatrain, which is indicated by the internal rhyme of -re/re- (another, fresh, repair, renewest). This quatrain also introduces the idea that all women want to be mothers-some woman would be blessed to have his child.

For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

Of his self-love, to stop posterity? (5-8)

The second quatrain uses the metaphor of cultivating land to talk about how profitable it would be to have a child. It would be stupid and unprofitable to let a piece of land go uncultivated just because you are too busy doing something else; it is stupid and a waste of beauty to allow a womb to be left unseeded. Where is she who's "uneared" (unplowed) womb that would disdain (scorn) the "tillage" (cultivation of land) of your "husbandry" (the cultivation or production of plants or animals; also the care of the household); or who is he that is so foolish to let his beauty die because he is so self-involved to stop "posterity" (the offspring of one progenitor to the furthest generation). The speaker tells the young man that there isn't any young woman who wouldn't want to be the mother of your children. The internal rhyme of -re/re- continues in this second quatrain (where, uneared, posterity), and introduces a new internal rhyme of -age (tillage). The speaker begins to distance himself from the final decision (whether or not to procreate) in this quatrain by asking questions so as to guide the young man to the "right" decision. There was a rise in maternal guidance books at the Shakespeare wrote this sonnet, and they assumed all women wanted to be mothers and the refusal to procreate by men or women was seen as a social evil that denied women their biological destiny.

Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time. (9-12)

The speaker tells the young man that he is his mother's "glass," and when she looks at him she recalls that lovely April (spring) of her youth; so you in time the young man will look at himself all wrinkled up and remember his "golden time" like his mother. In this quatrain, "glass" has two meanings-mirror and hourglass. This quatrain is concerned with the passage of time; everyone ages and when they are old they look back onto the happier and more carefree time of their youth. The speaker is telling the young man not to waste his youth, he should procreate so that when he is old he has someone to remind him of his youth. Internal rhyme of -age found in the word age; passage of time seems to be the theme in this quatrain.

But if thou live rememb'red not to be,

Die single, and thine image dies with thee (13-4)

The speaker warns the young man that if he does not procreate and dies single, then he will not be remembered and his image will die with him. Everyone wants to be remembered and cherished, especially by their family; so if he doesn't have a family there will not be anyone to help him live on long after he has died. "Image" contains the internal rhyme that reminds us that we will all age and eventually die; time is fleeting so we need to make good use of our time while we still have it.

Published by Sophia Brookshire

I love books! I love the smell of them and the words contained within. I received a Bachelor s degree in English and an Associates degree in Comparative Literature from UC Santa Barbara. I love to read other...  View profile