A Critical Analysis of Remembrance by William Shakespeare

“Remembrance” is a poignant Shakespearean Sonnet that revolves around a deep love the poet harbors for a fair young man. It embodies a sense of dejection and weariness caused by the poet’s physical separation from his beloved friend. As the poet embarks on a journey far away, a melancholic mood settles upon him, enveloping him in sadness.

This sonnet delves into the poet’s past sorrows and losses, although it does not possess the grandeur of a great poem. Its impact on the reader’s heart may not be profound. Nevertheless, it has earned its place in the hearts of many through the sheer beauty of its opening lines:

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past”

The epithet “sweet” was a favorite of Shakespeare’s. In this context, it conveys the meaning of “fresh,” “unspoiled,” and “unseasoned,” rather than the modern derogatory connotations of “sugared” or “sugary.” The sonnet’s ornate texture is indicated by the use of alliteration in the opening lines. Notably, the bold metaphor of a court of law is employed, where witnesses are called forth to testify. Similarly, the poet summons memory as a witness. The testimony offered by memory is laden with sadness. The poet mourns the loss of many things he longed for and regrets the squandering of his precious time. He feels that his time has been wasted in seeking things that he now lacks. His eyes, once dry, are now drenched in tears as he contemplates the death of his beloved friend. He weeps for the forgotten sorrows of love and laments the cost of what he has lost. The remembrance of past sorrow only intensifies his pain. He must carefully reconcile his past grief, likening it to a financial transaction. He portrays himself as burdened by heavy debts incurred from previous sorrows and pains, with the responsibility of repaying this debt. In essence, the poet undergoes the experiences of sorrow and pain anew, as if he had never experienced them before.

A Shakespearean sonnet typically consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet. For Shakespeare, a strong pause in both sense and rhythm at the conclusion of each quatrain is the primary principle of sonnet-harmony. In the couplet, the poet affirms the thoughts of his dear friend’s love, bringing an end to his sorrows and replenishing his losses. Finding solace in the remembrance of his young friend’s love, the poet rises above his depressive state. Thus, thoughts of his “dear friend” soothe the melancholic recollections that plague him.

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Usually, the couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet imparts the moral or conclusion toward which the preceding twelve lines have been building, encapsulating the essence of the poem. However, this sonnet presents an exception. Here, the couplet introduces a surprise or contradiction, as thoughts of the poet’s dear friend alleviate his sadness and restore what he has lost. This conclusion abruptly shifts the reader’s perspective to one that contradicts the sentiments developed in the quatrains. Hence, there exists a dramatic shift in the poet’s thinking.

In “Remembrance,” Shakespeare may not showcase his utmost brilliance. He primarily plays with words to achieve decorative effects. The alliteration in “And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste” serves a decorative purpose. Nevertheless, the second line of the sonnet has garnered global recognition in twentieth-century literature, particularly due to its contemplation of time.

“Remembrance” embodies Shakespeare’s exploration of emotions and themes, although it may not be considered one of his finest works. The sonnet exhibits his penchant for wordplay, employing decorative devices to captivate the reader. The alliteration in “And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste” adds to its ornamental quality. However, it is the second line of the sonnet that has permeated the literary landscape of the twentieth century, resonating with its timeless contemplation of the nature of time.

The sonnet’s structure adheres to the Shakespearean form, with three quatrains followed by a concluding couplet. For Shakespeare, a distinct pause in both meaning and rhythm at the end of each quatrain is the essential principle of sonnet-harmony. However, this particular sonnet deviates from convention. Instead of offering a moral or conclusion that encapsulates the preceding twelve lines, the couplet introduces an unexpected twist. The poet’s thoughts of his dear friend dispel his sorrow and restore all that he has lost. This sudden reversal presents a counterpoint to the sentiments developed in the quatrains, creating a dramatic shift in the poet’s perspective.

While “Remembrance” may not showcase Shakespeare’s genius at its zenith, it remains a testament to his mastery of language and imagery. The sonnet delves into the depths of human experience, evoking melancholy and longing through its vivid exploration of memory and loss. The beauty of its opening lines, coupled with its intricate metaphors and heartfelt emotions, have secured its enduring place in the hearts of readers.

In conclusion, “Remembrance” encapsulates the bittersweet essence of longing for a distant friend and the power of memory to both haunt and heal. Shakespeare’s masterful craftsmanship shines through the sonnet’s decorative language and evocative imagery. Although it may not rank among his most celebrated works, its contemplation of time and the human condition resonates across generations, making it a remarkable addition to his vast literary repertoire.



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