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Alliteration in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Alliteration Examples in Shakespeare's Sonnets:

Sonnets 21–30

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"But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,      And night doth nightly make grief's length seem stronger...."   (Sonnets 21–30)

In an attempt to demonstrate the effect of the fair youth’s unreciprocated love, the speaker explains that he is restless both day and night. He personifies day and night as misanthropic individuals who “consent” and “shake hands to torture” him. In the final couplet, the speaker emphasizes this theme through alliteration and the use of consonant-laden monosyllabic and disyllabic words, which draw the sentences out. With the repetition of the d, s, and l sounds in lines 13 and 14, readers must take pause and slow their reading speed, a process which mimics the speaker’s arduous and enduring grief.

"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

Throughout the first line, specifically the phrase “sessions of sweet silent thought,” the speaker employs alliteration of the s sounds. This consonance is continued throughout the following three lines in words like “summon,” “remembrance,” “things,” “past,” “sigh,” “sought,” woes,” “time’s,” and “waste.” This literary device creates a wistful, seemingly nostalgic mood of solitude and reflection.

"And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste..."   (Sonnets 21–30)

This line as well as the next eight lines are littered with “o” vowel sounds in words like “woe,” “fore,” “foregone,” “drown,” and “fore-bemoaned moan.” The subtle use of this sound evokes the wails or moans one might release during the mourning process.

"warning to the world..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

Notice the alliteration of the w sounds in this phrase. Perhaps these sounds mimic the diminishing din of metal on metal after the bell tolls, creating an echo following the strong “s” alliteration of the “surly sullen bells.”

"No longer mourn for..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

The assonance of the o sounds in the first four words of the sonnet, in combination with the evocative imagery and consonance in phrases like “surly sullen bell” and “this vile world with vilest worms to dwell,” establish a morose mood as the speaker envisions his own passing.

"vile world with vilest worms to dwell..."   (Sonnets 71–80)

The word “vile” has two definitions, referring to both the physical and the intangible. In the former definition, “vile” can characterize something that is physically repulsive; in the latter, it can describe an idea that is morally despicable. The speaker highlights his disgust by coupling the consonance of the scathing v sound with the abhorrence he feels for both the abstract world as well as the physical worms which dwell upon the earth.

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