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Sonnet 116 is one of most well known of Shakespeare’s Sonnets as it speaks of love and constancy. It has often been read more as a prayer than as a poem and because of that people often do not think what the poem is saying. Although some may mock those that look on this sonnet as reverent it is also important to understand that the author wrote this poem to ascertain the reverence and purity of love. Shakespeare in a sense writes a definition for love by saying what love is and isn’t and making himself the keeper of the definition.
Keeper of Love
In the opening and closing lines, Shakespeare states “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments” and “If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” Essentially Shakespeare is saying, “I am the keeper of this sacrament ‘the marriage of true minds.’...And I pledge to keep it true.” By putting these lines at the beginning and end of the poem, Shakespeare becomes the beginning and the end, the person that everyone will have to answer to about what love really is.
What love is
Shakespeare protects his definition of love by saying what he will say love is. He does some of this definition by saying what love isn’t. “Love is not love/which alters” and doesn’t “bend with the remover to remove.” But rather “is an ever-fixed mark.” Love does not change, but remains the same and nothing can change that. Love is not even shaken by the most powerful “tempests.” Certainly, the author wishes to convey that love is only love if it is permanent and cannot change even in the direst of circumstances.
The Great Enemy of Love
There seems to be one thing that Shakespeare is most concerned with in “keeping from” love; time. Time is the great enemy of love as stated, “Love’s not Time’s fool” and “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/ But bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Time seems to be the one thing that Shakespeare is concerned about because it really is the only thing that can fight against love in his mind. Although he says that love is not “Time’s fool,” in previous poems he says contrary words. In Sonnet 15 he says, “And all in war with Time for love of you,/As he takes from you, I engraft you new.” Time wilts everything and sullies it, including love. Yet, in Sonnet 18 he speaks of how his love’s beauty “shall not fade.” It seems that one of the reasons Shakespeare wants to define love and be the protector of it is so he can set the record straight; that love defeats time and will truly last forever.
I want to share this video because I feel like it is an accurate representation of how some believe love to not change and have a romantic ideal of what love is really supposed to be like. While Willoughby's desires may have changed, Mary Anne clearly believes in love that does not change and is not so willing to look for another suitor.Conclusion
In the end Shakespeare uses this poem to protect his definition of love and to help others understand that love is only love if it is permanent and everlasting. This includes the test of time, tempests, and every other thing that tries to wedge between you and the ones you love. And if any has a problem with this definition, “If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”