Historical Context in Sonnet 18

Historical Context Examples in Sonnet 18:

Sonnet 18 2

"shade..."   (Sonnet 18)

This line evokes both Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman conceptions of death. The “shade” can be read as a reference to Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” This reference frames the youth’s life in spiritual terms: his fairness extends to his soul, and thus he is worthy of salvation. The personification of death is a device from Greco-Roman tradition, as is the use of “shade” as human soul. This separation of soul from body relates to the poem’s central theme. Physical beauty fades and dies, but the fair youth’s essence can be captured and memorialized through poetry.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?..."   (Sonnet 18)

Shakespeare uses the question that begins this sonnet to challenge and question Petrarchan tropes. Petrarchan sonnets generally compare each part of the beloved’s body to a larger concept or natural system. This trope, called the blazon tradition, was used to describe the beloved as the most beautiful, or perfect embodiment of beauty. The speaker uses the question here to reject this trope: he will not compare his beloved to a summer’s day because the beloved is more lovely and more temperate.