Shakespeare’s Sonnet 11 – Essay

Published 14 Nov 2016

Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,

Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish

The 16th century was a favorable one for poets. To be exact, it was the time during the reign of the Queen Elizabeth I. At that time poets opened such subjects as Englishness, love, violence and the turmoil of human emotions. Poetry was considered the most polished form of literary expression unlike the writing of plays which was often considered vulgar. One of the poetic forms was a sonnet. Shakespeare wrote his sonnets between 1594 and 1597. In the late 1500’s it was fashionable for English gentleman authors to write sonnets, lyric poems made up of 14 lines.

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This poetic form had its own peculiarity which lies in the following: no single sonnet can be picked out without looking at the meaning of the sonnets all together. Only by analyzing the entire set of sonnets one could discern their purpose as set forth by Shakespeare. The meanings of the sonnets were all relative. It might be fully admitted that the sonnets stood in a very different category from that of the plays (The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, 1907-21).

The eleventh sonnet is one of the Shakespeare’s first 26 sonnets which are clearly addressed to a young man whom the poet describes as “beauty’s rose” (Sonnet 1) and often refers to as “my love.” Shakespeare clearly defines his love for the young man as non-sexual (Sonnet 20). In 17 of the sonnets Shakespeare urges the young man to get married and have children. There are another one hundred and one sonnets, also written to a young man (probably the same young nobleman as in the first 26). These have a variety of themes, such as the beauty of the loved one; destruction of beauty; competition with a Rival Poet; despair about the absence of a loved one; and reaction toward the young man’s coldness. Shakespeare urges the young man to have children so that his beauty will be preserved in posterity and therefore time will not have won the battle (About Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets, 2004).

As said above, the eleventh sonnets belonged to this first group of Shakespeare’s sonnets dedicated to the young man. This sonnet is addressed to that man. Poet tried to encourage this young man to use his beauty and let it live in his children.

In the first lines Shakespeare calmed the young man by telling him that his fast ageing would be reimbursed by the fast growing of his offsprings. But one should use this time while one is young. Shakespeare was sure that this beauty, this youth could come only from young parents. He convinces the young man to take advantage while this youth is still in him.

Shakespeare tells the young man that when he grows old he will be young in his children and that ” Herein lives wisdom, beauty and increase; Without this, folly, age and cold decay.” No matter how old and ugly a man gets with his age, he still has beauty in his children. He can always be proud that his blood will never run dry but will flow in further generations. And so this development continues forever till the man realizes his important function.

Only youth may impart this strength and the youth itself and this is a great argument of why one should born children while young and born in general. If no people wanted to have children, the whole world would die. This is the idea of the evolution: one must put all the best into his children.

The poet thought that there was plenty of ugly people who had not to have any off springs; who were not worth of this reproducing gift. They were useless for the world. Those who were not meant to have children had simply to die out but the ones who had beauty, who had this wonderful gift to create children should pass these over to the future generations and thus make this world more beautiful and better, let it develop.

The poet then explained to the young man that nature had given him a gift of beauty and he had this honor to reproduce it. This sonnet argued that the youth to whom it spoke should defend himself, through procreation, against the rapid decline of his beauty. He had to save the world by borning children.

The poet tried to convince the young man that the future of the world lay in his hands. He was given this beauty and he could not be less generous than the nature had already been to him. And in the last two lines Shakespeare stated this clearly: “She [mother nature] carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die. “

Here one could see a very interesting usage of words: “print” (impress or reproduce) and “copy” (copy-text, original, or exemplar). This beauty must not be just copied but created every time, just like nature creates phenomenons every day (Costley, 2000).

Shakespeare names the exact function of the young man – “printing seal”. Costley states that this reading, by which the youth is an instrument of printing, could be nuanced by reference to the socio-political uses of signets and stamps in the late sixteenth- and early-seventeenth centuries. Addressing to the history one could find out that Elizabeth I amalgamated the offices of the Keeper of the Great Seal and the Lord High Chancellor into the office of the Secretary of State. It is known that it was the duty of the Secretary of State to authenticate, with the Great Seal, those documents of import that were issued in the name of the sovereign. And moreover, the Secretary of State soon came to be known, metonymically, as the “Greate Seale” himself. And so proceeding from this short overview one could conclude that if the youth of Sonnet 11 was named by Shakespeare a nature’s instrument of imprinting , then perhaps he was also the agent who utilized that instrument. In other words, the youth was meant to be the “Greate Seale” (or Secretary of State) of the monarch nature (Costley, 2000).

One could state that this sonnet was a praise to the miracle of birth, to the gift to have children gift. People do not always value this gift, it should be underlined: that not the right people value this gift. One should admit that the correct evolution of the world and mankind needs the best specimen. It might sound cruel but this gift of reproducing should be given to those who are worth it and who realize what an importance it has.

So do we, if having all these privileges: youth, beauty, the gift of giving birth, should use them and not let our world die.


  1. About Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004
  2. Clare Costley. Response Paper #3 “Card” for a “sale”. Originally published Spring 2000. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004
  3. Commentary. Sonnet 11. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004
  4. Critique of Sonnet 11. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004
  5. Shakespeare: biographical aspects of the sonnets. Originally published in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Cambridge, England: University Press, 1907-21. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004:
  6. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 11. Retrieved from the Web 10 July, 2004:
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