‘Sonnet 112′ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. The poem is directed towards a young man known as the “Fair Youth.” This person has never been identified in real life, nor has the true nature of the poet’s relationship with him been uncovered. This has led many readers and scholars to speculate about Shakespeare’s sexuality or if the poet is meant to be the speaker in these lines at all.
Explore Sonnet 112
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 112,’ the speaker begins by stating conclusively that the world’s opinion means nothing to him. He could be scorned, criticized, celebrated, or loved, and he wouldn’t care. The Fair Youth’s opinion is the only one he values. In fact, he says, the only one he feels at all. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy for him to interpret it, though. He still has to figure out how the Youth feels about him so that he might consider himself on the same terms. He ends the poem by saying that the rest of the world might as well be dead for all he cares about them and their opinions.
Shakespeare engages with several interesting themes in ‘Sonnet 112.’ These include love/devotion and self-worth. The latter is seen through the speaker’s obsessive focus on how the Youth regards him. If the youth thinks he’s good and talented, so too will the speaker consider himself. Any praise or scorn he gets from the rest of the world is completely disregarded, as are any opinions he has independently about himself.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 112’ 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 112’. These include but are not limited to examples:
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse, for example, line ten, which reads: “Of others’ voices, that my adder’s sense” and line five, which reads: “You are my all the world, and I must strive.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “scandal stamped” in line two and “green” and “good” in line four.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six.
Your love and pity doth th’ impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o’er green my bad, my good allow?
In this poem’s first lines, the speaker begins by addressing rumors and how they don’t impact him. He knows that he’s sometimes called various bad names and has been branded in different ways in the past. None of these things bother him. All he cares about is how the Fair Youth feels about him. What the youth sees in him, the good things, are what he worries about. No one can emotionally touch him besides this young man. Readers should note the use of alliteration in these lines and how it adds to the poem’s overall rhythm. These lines are also a great example of a rhetorical question.
You are my all the world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steeled sense or changes right or wrong.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 112,’ the speaker adds that the youth is the world to him. This young man represents everything the speaker cares about and is willing to sacrifice for. He also reveals that he only knows what’s good about himself by interpreting the youth’s experiences. He isn’t sure about his negatives and positives. It requires work to figure out how this young man perceives him. The youth’s opinion is the only thing that determines what’s right or wrong in life. This applies, seemingly, to the speaker, as well as to the rest of reality. If the youth says it’s good, then it’s good or the opposite.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others’ voices, that my adder’s sense
To critic and to flatt’rer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides methinks y’are dead.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 112,’ the speaker reemphasizes the contempt he has for “others’ voices.” They are annoying and worthless. He doesn’t hear flattery or criticism when they speak, neither matters to him. In fact, the speaker says in the last line of the quatrain, he doesn’t care at all how the world neglects or ignores him. He depends on the youth as the only thing to make him happy or sad or to even make him feel alive. The final two lines emphasize this by saying that the rest of the world might as well be “dead,” that’s how little he cares for it.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 112’ should also consider reading some of the other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘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 116’ – also known as ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds,’ depicts the speaker’s opinion on what true love is.
- ‘Sonnet 134’ – also known as ‘So no I have confessed that he is thine,’ explores seduction, control, and love.