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Musings On Mortality: The Theme Of Mortality In Spenser’s “Amoretti: Sonnet 75”, And Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” And “Sonnet 65”

1727 words - 7 pages

Death is the powerful force that defines the boundaries of life. Awareness of mortality is the influence behind many decisions that living beings make. In Spenser’s “Amoretti: Sonnet 75” and Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” and “Sonnet 65” the common theme is mortality. In the three sonnets, mortality is referred to with fear and anxiety. The principle of “Ars longa, vita brevis”, meaning, “art is long, life is short” (Eggleston), is captured by the sonnets in their goal to suppress mortality through poetry. Shakespeare’s sonnets focus on an adored young man and develop from the fear of his mortal demise as well as the “transience and destructive power of time” (Greenblatt 539-540). Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” intends to create a monument of writing that will benefit the boy’s memory until he attains eternal life. Insecurity and the fear of mortality are the basis for “Sonnet 65”, representing the unease that mortality creates. Spenser’s “Sonnet 75” uses mortality to emphasize the love between two people and the ability to immortalize said love through verse. “Amoretti: Sonnet 75” by Edmund Spenser, and “Sonnet 55” and “Sonnet 65” by William Shakespeare utilize the theme of mortality and develop the theme in divergent ways, encapsulating the ranging emotional factors surrounding mortality and its defeat.
Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” harnesses the inevitability of time in its development of the theme of mortality. The speaker does not object to or ignore the inevitable brutality of time. The poem demonstrates time’s certainty as it describes how supposedly timeless items are destroyed by time. Shakespeare uses images of marble, “gilded monuments”, statues, and masonry (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 55” 1, 5-6) as examples of presumably everlasting objects to develop the theme of all-encompassing mortality. When contrasted with the poem’s subject, a young man of the speaker’s affection, the timeless objects serve to intensify the powerful cruelty of time and epitomize the weakness of human life. “Sonnet 55” aims to represent a monument more eternal than physical monuments like those “of princes” (2). Shakespeare’s ”Sonnet 55” mimics Horace’s conceit “Exegi monumentum aere perennius” meaning “I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze” (Yeats 469) when Shakespeare declares, “Not marble nor gilded monuments / Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme” (“Sonnet 55” 1-2). Analogous to Horace’s conceit, “Sonnet 55” aims to surpass the presumed immortality of bronze through a monument of the speaker’s verse. The metaphor of the poem enduring longer than physical monuments aids in the development of the theme. The sonnet succeeds in this development by clarifying that despite the sonnet’s increased fortitude in comparison to physical monuments, all objects and beings face mortality when confronted with “ending doom” (12). Although the speaker states the young man will “shine more bright in these contents” (3) and his “praise shall still find room” (10), total...

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