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Love is forever. It is stalwart and unchanging – for if it changes, then it was not truly love. In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, he discusses this sort of unchanging love, a love that exists until the end of life. Clearly stated in this sonnet, readers and listeners can understand the true nature of love.
At the beginning of the sonnet, the phrase “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments,” can be seen as a way to describe or only show the strength of love. In this line, admit could be taken to mean that there is strength in love, or that love can be a weakness and therefore must be shown as a strength so as not to be made fun of (as discussed on Slack). However, I feel that it is striving to show the strength of love. Therefore, as the sonnet begins by showing that love is a strength, it continues discussing it as unchanging: “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove.” These lines demonstrate that if love changes, it is not love, for love lives through alterations of attempts of removal. It is “an ever-fixed mark” that is “unshaken” by tempests. All of these lines demonstrate a strength in love. Further in the poem, love acts as a compass, guiding people to safety. The line "Love's not Time's fool... within his bending sickle's compass come,” demonstrates the eternal nature of love, as it will not go away, and it will remain. This sonnet is a powerful demonstrator of true love and its strength, particularly shown in the volta after line eight, for if someone truly loves and cares for another, their love will last and not waver because it has withstood the test of time.
Similarities to other Sonnets
Sonnet 116 has similar themes to Sonnet 18. Both clearly discuss an unchanging and everlasting love that exists. Sonnet 18 discusses time being short, but not too troublesome of a factor. For the love discussed in sonnet 18 mirrors the test of time as in sonnet 116 – both sonnets discuss love’s triumph over death, and everlasting qualities as a result, frozen in time.
Outside References – Whether they be scholarly or not
After a little bit of researching, sonnet 116 makes an appearance in the movie Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is quoting it to Willoughby, and you can feel the power of love written in the sonnet in their performance of it. Marianne is discovered to be reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and Willoughby pulls out a pocket sized version of the book. The two begin to quote the sonnet, and there is an obvious connection that is sparked through the sonnet recitation. However, like the poem states, love is not love if it alters, and the spark between Marianne and Willoughby was not love, for he ended his relationship with her to ensure better financial prospects. This sonnet can be viewed as a foreshadowing of this event, and of the inevitable nature of the relationship between Marianne and Colonel Brandon.
In Jane Roessner’s text “The Coherence and the Context of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116,” she states “the poem, with its weighty affirmation, is more for our admiration than for our scrutiny: we apprehend its truths whole, and rely on them.” Roessner discusses that people have tried to analyze and transport the sonnet, but meaning is lost and changed when this happens. Instead, she claims that the speaker, instead of making a bold declaration, is attempting to reclaim powers and credibility through this poem. She further discusses the effects of these changes, and the way the poem changes as a result, “for to define something is literally to set limits on it; the poet, in defining love, claims to establish it in its true nature, to say what it is and what it is not.” Roessner claims that by attempting to define something undefinable, the true character of the speaker is given, someone attempting to make amends for errors. Whether or not this be the case, the sonnet does make a bold declaration of love and loyalty.
Sonnet 116 is a complicated and multifaceted poem, and can mean anything from what true love actually is, to an attempt at the reformation of credibility. While we may not ever know the intended meaning, we do know this: love is unchanging and forever, but is also subject to hardships – it is not always easy.