This poem is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. Sonnet 111 is dedicated to the “Fair Youth,” a beautiful young man. The poet, who many assume to be the speaker of the poems, addresses the youth throughout a series of 126 sonnets. He starts out berating him for not having a child, for wasting his beauty on things unworthy of him and then spends a great deal of time speaking about his admiration and passion for the young man.
Explore Sonnet 111
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 111,’ the speaker begins by addressing Fortune. He is chastising Fortune for not providing him with the life he wanted. He is forced to cater to the public’s whims. His success is based on their interest in him. The speaker feels that this has degraded him somehow, and he compares himself to a dyer who gets their own dye on their hands. This sullies him, and he’s attempting to cure himself of it. The speaker is willing to take whatever medicine he needs to, no matter how bitter. But, he concludes, the Fair Youth’s affections are the best possible medicine he could conceive of.
Shakespeare engages with several common themes in ‘Sonnet 111.’ These include fate/fortune and change. Throughout the poem, the speaker depicts his opinion of the life Fortune has bequeathed him. It’s less than he would’ve given himself. There are several things, such as the fact that he has to depend on the common people to support himself. He doesn’t like the creative and emotional positions this puts him in, and it’s something he’s seeking to change. He uses a simile comparing himself to a sick patient to depict the way he hopes to alter his fortunes.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 111’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line Shakespearean sonnet that follows a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. It is written in iambic pentameter, the most common of all English meters. In iambic pentameter, each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. The fourth line of the poem is a great example of iambic pentameter at its best/most accurate.
The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet. The last couplet usually comes after the turn or volta. In this case, the couplet acts as a final summary of everything the poet’s speaker has said so far.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 111’. These include but are not limited to examples:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines five and six.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse, for example: “Potions of eysell, ‘gainst my strong infection” and “Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye.”
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially clear and memorable descriptions that appeal to human senses. For example, these lines from the final quatrain “Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink / Potions of eysell, ‘gainst my strong infection; / No bitterness that I will bitter think.” They trigger several different senses making them interesting to imagine.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “what” and “works” in line seven and “correct correction” in line twelve.
O, for my sake do you with fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide,
Than public means which public manners breeds.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 111,’ the speaker addresses the goddess of Fortune and berates her for not providing the poet with the life he wants. The fortune she has given him is the reason that he’s been behaving badly. He’s been made to perform in public in front of the common people. He feels that this life has degraded him in somewhat.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu’d
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew’d;
It’s due to the fact that the poet has to seek out the common person’s admiration that he is the way he is. He believes he’s come to have a bad name due to this degradation. IN the next two lines, he compares himself to a dyer who becomes stained by his own colors, a very interesting example of a simile. The speaker admits that he hopes he’ll be regenerated and be able to reclaim a version of himself that he respects more.
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eysell, ‘gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.
A second simile appears at the beginning of the third quatrain. He says that he’s going to act like “a willing patient” who takes his medicine against a “strong infection.” He’s doing everything he’s supposed to remedy his situation. The speaker also determines that despite its bitterness, he’s not going to think about it as bitter. It’s something he wants and needs to do. It is “penance” to correct the influence fortune has had on him.
In the couplet, Shakespeare provides the reader with a traditional “turn” or volta. The poem shifts, and his speaker addresses the Fair Youth. He asks the young man to pity him because the youth’s pity is “enough to cure” him. With the youth’s affections, he’s sure to improve.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 111’ should also consider reading some of the other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 27’ – dwells on exhaustion and hope and how both are associated with a young man.
- ‘Sonnet 18’ – one of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnets which also goes by the title ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
- ‘Sonnet 38’ – focuses on the importance of the speaker’s muse, the Fair Youth, and how integral the young man is to the poet’s writing.