Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 – Maritime Metaphors

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 argues that love remains a constant, guiding force in an otherwise uncertain lifetime through a series of metaphors, describing both love and lovers. Beginning with an implicit metaphor, the speaker establishes love as a binding, intrinsic force, comparing love to a “marriage of true minds” (1). The use of marriage as a vehicle highlights that love, like marriage, binds the two participants for life while the qualifier “of true minds” reinforces the contrast that while marriage is an externally enforced, legal state, love binds intrinsically based on internal and “true” qualities. Later, in an explicit metaphor using the pronoun “it” to represent love, the speaker begins a series of comparisons along a maritime theme by comparing love to an “ever fixed mark…the star” (7-8). Several implicit metaphors build around the maritime theme established in these explicit metaphors, which emphasize love’s constancy by comparing it to Polaris, the star used by sailors to discern true north on a shifting sea. The first implicit metaphor invokes “tempests”, storms over the ocean, as a vehicle for strife in a relationship (6). Later, the speaker uses “wandering bark” as a vehicle for lovers (7). This vehicle specifically highlights the lack of guidance available to ships at sea, as well as their susceptibility to dangers like the tempests mentioned a line earlier with the modifier “wandering” as a comparison to highlight the lack of guidance and inherent risk in romantic relationships (7). Continuing with the string of maritime metaphors, the speaker continues to describe a lover in terms of the vehicle of a “bark”, using the vehicle of the bark’s “height” as a comparison for the tenor of a lover’s superficial appearance (8). These metaphors, paired with the earlier metaphor comparing love and marriage, present love as constant, intrinsically-rooted force which serves as guide through life’s uncertainty.

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