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Complete List of  Shakespeare Plays on DVD and VHS Formats
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Selected Sonnets and Their Meanings
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Cummings Guides Home..|..Shakespeare Videos..|..Shakespeare Books
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Annotations and Interpretations by Michael J. Cummings.©
Sonnet 1 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
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From fairest creatures we desire increase, increase: reproduction, offspring, children
That thereby beauty's rose might never die, so that your beauty will live on in your children
But as the riper should by time decease, riper: riper person--that is, older person or aging person 
His tender heir might bear his memory: tender: young
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes, contracted to . . . eyes: married to yourself, in love with yourself
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel, burn with love for yourself
Making a famine where abundance lies, famine . . . lies: depleting your own abundant beauty
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel. You are your own worst enemy
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament ornament: young person
And only herald to the gaudy spring, gaudy: shining brilliant, gleaming
Within thine own bud buriest thy content bud . . . content: seed, source of new life
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding. tender churl: young miser; niggarding: being stingy
Pity the world, or else this glutton be, Share yourself or your gluttony will consume potential offspring
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
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Sonnet 1 Meaning
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......We want beautiful people and things to reproduce themselves so that their good qualities will be passed on to their offspring (children, plants, etc.) It's true that an aging person or thing will eventually die, but the memory of that person or thing will continue to live if offspring are produced. But you, who are in love with yourself, seem to devote all of your attention to yourself. You're like the flame of a candle that burns only for itself instead of providing light for others.You are your own enemy. Right now, you are young and new to the world. But instead of procreating and sharing yourself by marrying, you keep your procreative seed inside yourself, unused (thine own bud buriest thy content).
......Thus, young miser, you waste your good qualities by refusing to spend them on others In the end, by thinking only of yourself and not mingling with others, you will consume your ability to procreate and go to your grave without any children or memories to immortalize you.


Sonnet 3 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest glass: mirror
Now is the time that face should form another form another: beget a child
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb unear’d: not tilled, unplowed
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry? tillage: fertilization; cultivation; reception of the male seed
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb Your fondness for yourself will be a tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity? because, failing to marry, you will not have a child like you
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee You resemble your mother
Calls back the lovely April of her prime: and I can see her beauty in you
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
......But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
......Die single, and thine image dies with thee.  If you remain single, you will not pass on your image

Sonnet 3 Meaning

......Look in a mirror and tell yourself that now is the time to beget a child (“form another"). There is no woman, after all, who is so outstanding that she will refuse to marry you and engage in intimate relations. It is not right that a man should love only himself, refusing to take a wife and pass on his good qualities to a child. Your mother bequeathed to you your excellent attributes, and you in turn should bestow them on your own child, who will reflect your youth when you are old. If you choose not to marry and have a family, no one will remember you. 



Sonnet 9 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye wet a widow's: Are you afraid to marry because you will sadden your 
That thou consumest thyself in single life?  wife when you die? 
Ah! if thou issueless shalt hap to die. issueless . . . die: if you happen to die without children
The world will wail thee, like a makeless wife; makeless . . . wife: spinster or childless woman
The world will be thy widow and still weep "w" words: example of alliteration
That thou no form of thee hast left behind, no . . .thee: no offspring
When every private widow well may keep may . . . mind: may be reminded of her late husband by her children's 
By children's eyes her husband's shape in mind. resemblance to him
Look, what an unthrift in the world doth spend Lines 9, 10: When a spendthrift dies, his money continues to 
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it; circulate among people
But beauty's waste hath in the world an end, Lines 11, 12: When an unmarried man dies, he leaves nothing behind
And kept unused, the user so destroys it. and thus destroys his image
......No love toward others in that bosom sits Lines 13, 14: He who wastes himself in this way has no love for others.
......That on himself such murderous shame commits. 

Sonnet 9 Meaning

......The first two lines ask whether the young man is afraid to marry for fear that he will leave behind a saddened widow when he eventually dies. If he remains single because of that fear, the sonnet says, he should keep in mind that the world itself will weep for him because he died without children to preserve his image in them. He will become less than a wastrel, who lives on after his death in the still-circulating money that he spent. Shakespeare ends the sonnet by saying that the young man’s avoidance of marriage is shameful. 



Sonnet 12 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
When I do count the clock that tells the time, count the clock: count the times the clock strikes the hour
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; brave: splendid, shining
When I behold the violet past prime
And sable curls all silvered o'er with white sable: black
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd erst: formerly, at one time; canopy: cover, like an umbrella 
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves green . . . sheaves: harvested grain stalks tied in bundles 
Borne on the bier withwhite and bristly beard bier: cart, wagon; beard: tufted growth on the head of a cereal grain
Then of thy beauty do I question make, question make: think about
That thou among the wastes of time must go, among . . . go: must die, just as the violets, leaves, crops, etc.
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow.
......And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defense scythe: sickle, symbol of death, the grim reaper
......Save breed, to brave him when takes thee hence.  breed: offspring, children; brave him: mock death, taunt death

Sonnet 12 Meaning

......The toll or tick of a clock, the setting sun, withering flowers,  falling leaves, the autumn harvest all make me aware of the passing of time, reminding me that you (the young man) too will grow old and die. Therefore, now, while you are still young, you should marry and breed (have children) who will live on after you. Only in this way can you defeat death.



Sonnet 17 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts high deserts: superior qualities
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb it is but a tomb . . . parts: see line below
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts. my poetry is like a tomb because it hides your qualities
If I could write the beauty of your eyes 
And in fresh numbers number all your graces, numbers: verses, poems
The age to come would say 'This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.' touches: qualities, attributes
So should my papers yellow'd with their age papers: poems
Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue, scorned like lying old men
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage rage: zeal, passion, enthusiasm
And stretched metre of an antique song: stretched: exaggerated
......But were some child of yours alive that time,
......You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.  You would live on in your child and in my poetry.
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Sonnet 17 Meaning

.......Will future readers of my verse believe me when I tell them about all of your superior qualities? So far, I have only hinted at these qualities because a full description of them would make readers doubt that anyone could have such extraordinary attributes.  They would call me a liar. They would say I am exaggerating (with “stretched meter"). However, if you marry and father a child, people will see a reflection of you in the child and, thus, my poetry about you will be taken as the truth. 



Sonnet 18 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)

.......This sonnet is presented and explained on the main page (The Sonnet: A Study Guide). It is probably the most popular of all the sonnets because of the beauty of its poetry and rhythm. It is differs from the previous 17 sonnets in one key respect: It does not urge the young man to marry and have children. The reason for this new approach is that the author is now convinced that his poetry alone is enough to preserve the memory of the young man's outstanding qualities. 



Sonnet 22 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
My glass shall not persuade me I am old, glass: mirror. Lines 1-2: I will never grow old as long as you remain
So long as youth and thou are of one date;  as young as youth itself (a personification in which youthfulness is a 
But when in thee time's furrows I behold, person who never ages). time's furrows: aging, wrinkles
Then look I death my days should expiate. Line 4: Then let death claim me as payment for my sins (days) 
For all that beauty that doth cover thee  Lines 5-8: My heart wears your beauty like clothing (seemly
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart, raiment); this beauty lives in you and me, so how can I be older
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me: than you?
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary be . . . will: be concerned about your welfare; be as concerned about 
As I, not for myself, but for thee will; it as I am
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary chary: safe; free from harm
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
......Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain; Lines 13-14: Do not presume that your heart will go on beating
......Thou gavest me thine, not to give back again.  when mine stops, for your heart and mine are the same. These lines
could be a warning not to cross the poet.
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Sonnet 22 Meaning

.......Even though my mirror tells me that I am aging, the poet says, I will not grow old while you remain young. However, when I see wrinkles (“time’s furrows") on your face, then I will look for death to come for me and take me as payment for any offenses I may have committed in my life. Your heart and mine are bound together, and I will guard yours as carefully as a nurse caring for a baby. But do not presume that you will be unaffected when my heart is no longer able to beat for you. Here, the poet appears to be warning the young man that ending their relationship would have adverse consequences.



Sonnet 33 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man) 
 
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,  Flatter: beautify; sovereign eye: majestic sunlight 
Kissing with golden face the meadows green, Kissing with golden face: shining on
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;  heavenly alchemy: reflected sunlight, dancing sunbeams
Anon permit thebasest clouds to ride Anon . . . basest: but soon the morning permits the darkest 
With ugly rack on his celestial face, rack: mass of drifting clouds
And from the forlorn world his visage hide, visage: face
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace: moving westward above the cloud cover
Even so my sun one early morn did shine my sun: the young man; did shine: looked (on me) favorably
With all triumphant splendor on my brow; the young man 
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine; alack: alas. Something came between them. 
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now. region cloud hath mask'd: cloud above me hid him from me
.....Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth; But I won't hold his behavior against him
.....Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth. Problems darken human relationships, just as clouds hide the sun 
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Sonnet 33 Meaning

.......This sonnet is a metaphor that compares the young man to the sun. In the morning the sun turns its “sovereign eye" (light) on the mountaintops, then on the green meadows and streams. (In other words, when all is well between the poet and the young man, everything is cheerful and bright.) However, dark clouds come between the sun and the earth (just as a barrier–perhaps a disagreement–has apparently come between the two men). Then, obscured by the clouds, the sun continues on its daily journey across the sky. Nevertheless, the poet says, he will not diminish his love and admiration for the young man. After all, the last two lines say, human relationships cloud over from time to time just as the sky does. The implication here is that the clouds will eventually move on and the sun will shine again.
.......The word flatter in the second line could indicate that the poet–despite the forgiving attitude he mentions in Line 13–may be a bit peeved. In most dictionaries, one of the definitions for flattery is insincere praise. Thus, it could be that Shakespeare is chiding the young man for giving perfunctory, artificial praise, then returning to his “celestial orbit" and remaining there.
.......In the fifth line, basest clouds appears to refer to despicable persons or regrettable circumstances that estranged the two men. 



Sonnet 35 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:  Do not fret over your offense (see "Meaning" below) 
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;  Nothing is perfect
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, stain: darken, pollute
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.  canker: plant disease caused by bacteria or fungi
All men make faults, and even I in this, I myself may be faulted 
Authorizing thy trespass with compare, For excusing your offense with my comparisons (in Lines 2-4)
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss, I corrupt myself by playing down your offense (amiss)
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are; Offering greater forgiveness than your sins require
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense-- sensual fault: perhaps lust; bring in sense: bring reason, common 
Thy adverse party is thy advocate-- Although I am the offended party, I am your defender
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence: In fact, I even bring accuse myself of an offense
Such civil war is in my love and hate For I am so concerned in my love for your and hatred for what you did
.....That I an accessary needs must be  That I have become your accomplice in forgiving you
.....To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me. You who have robbed me of your presence.
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Sonnet 35 Meaning
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.......The poet continues to reprove the young man for an offense, which the poet does not specify. The word sensual in Line 9 suggests that the offense may have been a sin of the flesh. Using legal terms such as advocate (Line 10), lawful plea (Line 11), and accessary (accessory) (Line 13), the poet says he, too, is guilty, since he has decided to overlook the offense. 


Sonnet 42 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man, Chiding Him for Stealing the Poet's Female Companion)
 
That thou hast her, it is not all my grief, 
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly; 
That she hath thee, is of my wailing chief, That she has you is a source of misery for me
A loss in love that touches me more nearly. 
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye: Loving offenders: young man and woman as betrayers; loving is an 
Thou dost love her, because thou knowst I love her; .....adjective; loving offenders is used in direct address
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me, abuse: deceive, betray
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her. allowing my friend to have an affair with her
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain, The loss of my friend is the woman's gain
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss; My loss of the woman is my friend's gain
Both find each other, and I lose both twain, twain: together
And both for my sake lay on me this cross:
.....But here's the joy; my friend and I are one;  my friend and I are the same person--that is, united in love
.....Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.
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Sonnet 42 Meaning
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.......You now have the woman whom I love dearly. That she has given herself to you deeply hurts me, although I will excuse both of you for offending me. You love her because you know I love her, and she abuses me by allowing you to love her. If I lose you, my loss is her gain. And now that I have lost her, my loss is your gain. Both of you have found each other, meaning I have lost both of you and now have a cross to bear. But here's the saving grace of it all: My friend and I are united in our love and friendship; therefore, if she loves him, she also loves me. 


Sonnet 49 (Addressed to the Unidentified Young Man)
 
 Against that time, if ever that time come, Against: In preparation for
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum, cast . . . sum: taken a full accounting (evaluated the poet)
Call'd to that audit by advised respects; advised respects: by your observance of me 
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass strangely pass: walk by like a stranger
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye, that . . . eye: your eye, which is like the sun
When love, converted from the thing it was, converted  . . . was: diminished, lessened
Shall reasons find of settled gravity,-- you will find serious reasons (to go your separate way)
Against that time do I ensconce me here do . . . .here: do here entrench myself like a warrior
Within the knowledge of mine own desert, With the knowledge of my own qualities, including shortcomings
And this my hand against myself uprear, And am ready to disclose my faults
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part: In order to defend you against criticism
.....To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,  You have good reasons to abandon me