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Death In The Twelfth Sonnet By William Shakespeare

3136 words - 13 pages

In a modern age with modern medicine, the young don’t often think of death. That prospect is years away and nothing to worry about for most. As a result, the young seldom think, and rarely, if ever, write about death. It becomes quickly apparent then, that William Shakespeare lived in a different era. Many of his earliest sonnets address and contemplate death, but why? Shakespeare lived in Elizabethan England at a time where the bubonic plague was still leaving its mark. A time where it was not common for people to live past what we consider middle age (Alchin). For Shakespeare, death was always a possibility and he knew his youth would not be long lived. This constant concern of dying shows itself in many of his sonnets, but becomes especially apparent in his twelfth sonnet, as a young William Shakespeare writes from his deceased self’s perspective, reflecting on life and giving advice to his younger self on how he might preserve his youth.
While this advice will eventually come, it is not quickly given. Instead, Shakespeare uses the first two lines to introduce an older, in fact deceased, version of him. Immediately in line one Shakespeare uses the pronoun “I,” identifying that the sonnet and all the images it contains, are from Shakespeare’s perspective. The age of this “I” starts to become clear when taking all of one line into consideration, as Shakespeare writes, “When I do count the clock that tells the time.” Shakespeare chooses to begin this line, and thus the entire sonnet, with the word “When”, showing that the following images are not something that happens continuously or even often, but are things that happen at a particular time. He continues to repeat “when” throughout the sonnet, showing just how important its message is to each of the separate images, as well as the poem as a whole. After the word “when,” the rest of line one refers to counting the tolls of the clock to tell the time of day. An ordinary and easy task by itself, but odd when found after “when.” In this order, the line now seems as if Shakespeare rarely bothers to listen or pay attention to the time and has only done it now for some special occasion. This entire circumstance seems strange, until age is taken into account. The young are carefree and not concerned with time, for they have a bounty of it laid out ahead of them. Only when one becomes old do they worry about the time, wondering just how much of it they have left. In this line Shakespeare, or this “I,” (line 1) is concerned about the time, indicating that the narrator is an older man. This arrangement is the first real sign as to the age of the Shakespearean “I.”
While the first line provides an indication as to the age of the sonnet’s Shakespeare, line two confirms the state of the narrator as he sees “the brave day sunk in hideous night.” Literally taken, the line seems to refer directly to the sunset, but it also perfectly personifies a human’s decent into old age. The line...

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