Shakespeare And Immortality The search for immortality has troubled philosophers since the dawn of human race. Numerous historic figures, including Ramses XV of Egypt and Julius Caesar of Rome, have tried to achieve physical immortality through various superficial measures. Magicians of the ancient kingdoms have struggled to find a way to stop the aging process of a human being. All those attempts have proved to be unsuccessful and as of today there is no proven method that enables a person to live forever. However, the Renaissance age brought radical changes to human perception of life.
No longer a person could remain passive about the course that their life takes. Renaissance man was expected to strive for higher achievements in every aspect of life. This included political, financial and cultural aspects. These ideas paved way for a new concept of immortality – immortality through art. Da Vinci painted “Mona Lisa” and became immortal through legacy that he left behind him. Beethoven wrote his “5th Symphony” and he is still remembered for it.
These ideas of eternal life were mirrored in poetry of William Shakespeare – the Renaissance man of England. In a number of his sonnets Shakespeare talks about immortality from diverse points of view. It is a wonder how Shakespeare can take an issue and approach from different perspectives and each time the same issue is presented in new light, and charged with new emotions. There are two basic ways in which Shakespeare relates to the idea of immortality. In first approach the author describes eternal life through a chain of comparisons and multiple meanings of the same words.
In sonnet number 5 poet associates a person with a flower. A flower that is beautiful in its younger years yet as the time Will play the tyrants to the very same, And that unfair which fairly doth excel; (5.3-4) it makes unattractive that which now excels in beauty, and eventually leads to flowers death. The sonnet goes on to mention the process through which fragrances are extracted from flowers, and it further states that even after the flower is long gone, it is remembered every time someone recognizes its sweet smell. In this poem, Shakespeare makes a direct comparison with real life, because just as a plant is remembered for its attractive smell, people are remembered for their good deeds even long after their death. Similar ideas are presented in sonnet number 54. In this sonnet the author talks about people who are beautiful on the outside, but empty and unattractive inside. The poet states that as life goes on, the outer beauty fades, and death follows, and only those people who were more then empty shells, will be remembered.
And so of you, beauticius and lovely youth, When that shall fade, by verse distills your truth. (54.13-14) Another way through which Shakespeare perceives immortality is by writing directly about it. There is a number of poems in the author presents eternal life in plain and precise language. In sonnet number 15 the author says, And all in war with time for love of you, As he takes, I engraft you new. (15.14-15) It is obvious that what poet means is that even though time makes people older, poetry can rejuvenate a person by bringing back memories about the past.
It can even resurrect a dead person in human mind, every time that the poem about that person is read. In his writings, Shakespeare truly believes that poetry brings immortality to people. In sonnet number 16 he writes, But wherefore do not you a mightier way Make war upon this bloody tyrant, time, And fortify yourself in your decay With means more Blessed the my barren rhyme (16.1-4) thus asking a simple question, “What better way to immortalize yourself then through poetry?.” Eternal life seems to be perceived by the writer as a gift from beyond, a blessing that only a few chosen will receive. It can be traced further in sonnet number 18, which states that once a poem about someone is written, that person is immortal for as long as human eyes can see. This is a very optimistic approach to poetry but it raises some questions. Besides the fact that a person must be able to see in order to read, a person should also have at least nominal interest in what he is reading. Shakespeare tends to overlook this fact.
Finally in Sonnet number 55 the writer states, Not marble nor the guilded monuments Of princes shall outlive the powerful rhyme, (55.1-2) This is a direct statement, that says loud and clear that even after the greatest of deeds are destroyed by time and forgotten, poetry will still remain a part of human folklore. Nothing can destroy a word because it is not a material subject. The concept of immortality through legacy is described colorfully in the sonnets. The author uses various techniques to approach the issue. He employs comparisons as well as direct language.
The ideas presented in Shakespearean poems are clear examples of changes in human mentality that occurred during Renaissance period of European history. The poetry of William Shakespeare is coherent with and reflective of, the time epoch of its production.