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Comparison: John Donne and William Shakespeare

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Published: Thu, 28 Sep 2017

In light of Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary a comment has been questioned about his sonnets relevance in today’s time. Many students arguing and questioning why it is relevant for Elizabethan sonnets to be studied in today’s literature. The question of how Shakespeare relates in todays times is always been asked and through this reflective essay I will demonstrate how and why it is relevant. I will be discussing in a number of paragraphs why it relates in todays time through the understanding of the theme, structure and the poetic techniques through the use of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10 and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

The themes of the poems draw on ideas of different types of power, including the power of religion and the power of the written word. Donne captures the power of belief flawlessly in his metaphors and personification of death. By Donne highlighting a person’s fear of death and playing on the idea a person’s soul can survive death; through this he successfully creates a powerful theme and a paradox of immortality. This theme can be seen throughout his poem for instance line 8: ‘rest their bones and soul’s delivery’. Donne’s theme s plays on the ideas of the role of death in a normal life. He portrays it as the way to break free from the troubles that accompany one lifetime. Donne may seem to be mocking or attacking death but he is in fact not but instead he opposes the normal idea that death is horrible which can be seen in line 2 “Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so.” These themes in sonnet 10 still relates to today’s time for many reason. Firstly, throughout the sonnet Donne gives the idea of life after death, or the fact that you will ‘break free’ after you die. These lines help relate to many religions that are still around in todays time. The thought of life after death has been a ‘hot topic’ in today’s time as it was in Donne’s time. This belief of your soul’s eternal life helps relate to countless people, since just like me people are afraid of death and believe in an eternal life after death. Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare focuses on the power of the written word and how the poem itself makes love eternal. In sonnet 18 Shakespeare emphasizes the idea that, when envisioned in a poem, love never dies: “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (lines 13 and 14). This sonnet relates to todays times, as many people including myself believe that love never dies. In the movie “The Notebook” the theme “love never dies” demonstrates itself well throughout it. With the idea of the two characters being in love from such a young age proves to me that love never dies which relates sonnet 18 in todays time through the use of movies.

Both Donne and Shakespeare wrote and both used many necessary techniques of this form of poetry. Both poems consist with the use of quatrains and a couplet in a 14 line sonnet. In Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10 he used a rhyming scheme that is similar to a Petrarchan sonnet which is made up of 14 lines and a rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme will usually goes ABBAABBA which is then usually followed by CDCDCD. However, in sonnet 10 Donne finishes it slightly differently. The sonnets last six lines are made up of CDDCAA and if you look carefully you can notice some different things happening. In line 13 the word “swell’st,” which rhythms with previous words “dwell” and “well.” Donne has just placed an extra rhyme which is known to be a bit strange. Donne has structured his poem in a way that would require you to pronounce certain words to make them rhyme. For instance you would have to pronounce the words form “eternally” and “die” to “eternal-lie” just to make it rhyme. This can relate in today’s time through the use of music. For instance, a famous rapper named Eminem was able to rhyme the word orange to a number of other things that didn’t spell the way of a rhyme but instead through the use of the pronunciation a rhyme was made just like Donne in sonnet 10. Rap is great example of how these sonnets still relate to todays time as they both use the structure of rhyme. If you were to think of music in today’s time you would be able to notice that most artists would consist of a certain structure to their music to keep it flowing especially rhyming. The Holy Sonnet 10 also used the iambic pentameter to help assist with emphasizing particular words which are important. These especially occur at the beginning or ends of the sonnets lines.

Sonnet 18 has structured their sonnet with the use of rhetorical questions. For instance, the first line of sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” This line has used rhetorical question to improve the exaggerative language and comparisons which create the story and are common in most poetry. The rhyming in sonnet 18 contains an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. Voltas are also evident in sonnet 18as the author uses end stop lines to help enhance the system of control which helps strengthen the story. Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 successfully uses Iambic pentameter to create a feeling of obviousness as well as a peaceful sense. This structure is evident in today’s time. Just like Donne’s sonnet 10 the use of rhyme in music helps tell me that the structure of sonnets is still relevant to this day.

There are a number of poetic techniques that can be found in Donne’s sonnet 10. Donne’s poem often uses alliteration to support in rhythm and rhyme which can be seen in line 4 and 6; “much pleasure then from thee much more must flow (line 6). Donne’s sonnet uses conceits throughout the sonnet as it proclaims that sleep and death are similar. The sonnet also uses personification of death to help express to the reader that death is not the end, and expectantly the reader will relate to it which then increases the theme of eternal life. The sonnet then uses an wide paradox about eternity as Donne submits that death does not kill but only puts you to sleep, this paradox helps improve and highlight the intended theme and story of the poem which is eternal life. These poetic techniques can still be seen in today’s times. For example in many children books the use of alliteration to help rhyme words can be seen. This can be seen in a famous author Dr Seuss who specialised in alliteration to ensure his poems would rhyme. This helps me realise that poetic techniques are still relevant today and are used to help develop young children’s brains.

Shakespeare’s sonnet uses various amounts of poetic techniques. Firstly the use of alliteration can be seen in lines 7; “And ever fair from fair sometimes declines”. Which helps keep a sense of rhythm and rhyme in Shakespeare’s sonnet. Just like Donne’s poem Shakespeare also uses conceits in his sonnet which can be seen when he compares a person to a summer’s day. Shakespeare also uses hyperboles throughout his poem which helps exaggerate and highlight the comparisons of his friend or lover to nature.

Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary has raised many question of why it is still relevant in today’s time. In this reflective essay I have discussed why it is still relevant in today’s time through the use of theme, structure and poetic techniques. I have discussed how themes are still relevant in today’s time through the use of movies and how structure and poetic techniques can be seen in music and books. I believe it is still relevant in today’s time through all the present day things that require and use these ancient techniques.


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