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Shakespeare Sonnet 3: “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest”

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford—the real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford—the real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 3: “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest”

As in sonnets 1 and 2, the speaker in Shakespeare sonnet 3 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence pleads with the young man to marry and procreate in order to pass on his handsome features. The speaker employs many tactics to persuade the young man to marry. His clever entreaties are entertaining and often amusing, as it seems the speaker has an unlimited number of rhetorical tricks in his possession.

The speaker’s ability to argue and persuade is bested only by his ability to create colorful poetic scenarios of drama. As he argues, he never fails to keep his arguments cloaked in humanitarian offerings. He never stoops to silly comparisons but instead keeps his images fresh and appropriate.

Sonnet 3: “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest”

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb,
Of his self-love to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

Reading of Sonnet 3

Commentary

Shakespeare Sonnet 3 from the “Marriage Sonnets” concentrates on the young man’s image in the looking-glass.

First Quatrain: Check the Face in the Mirror

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb

In the first quatrain, the speaker demands that the young man carefully check his face in the mirror and tell himself, as he does so, that the time has come to produce offspring whose faces will resemble his own. The speaker insists that if the young man fails to produce another face like his own, he will be depriving others, including the mother of that new infant, of his prepossessing qualities.

The speaker is appealing to the young man’s sympathy by insisting that the lad’s failure to reproduce children will “unbless some mother,” that is, he will prevent some mother from having the blessings of giving birth and experiencing the glory of offering to the world a new life. The speaker again demonstrates his cleverness finding arguments of persuasion that would not only benefit the young man but others.

Second Quatrain: Questions to Persuade

For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb,
Of his self-love to stop posterity?

As he often does, the speaker uses questions in attempting to persuade the young man to accept the speaker’s insistence that the young man procreate is not only quite reasonable but is also the only ethical and moral thing to do. The speaker feels he must make his argument so tight that the young man cannot possibly disagree with him. The speaker is obviously convinced that his own position is the only correct one.

In this second quatrain, the speaker queries the young man as to whether the latter believes it could be possible that some young lady exists who is so well endowed that she would not be open to the chance of serving as the mother of the young lad’s comely offspring. The speaker then refers to the young man’s hesitance again, asking him if there could be any handsome man so selfish and self absorbed that he would prevent the next generation from seeking life.

Third Quatrain: Same Beauty as His Mother

Thou art thy mother's glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.

The speaker then pleads to the young man to consider his relationship to his own mother, reminding him that he possesses the same beauty that his own mother possesses. And because his own mother had the good fortune to have given birth to this beautiful young man, she can be reminded of her own youth just by looking at her handsome son.

Quite logically then it follows that after the young man has lived to be an old man, he will also be able to relive his own “April” or “prime” by simply glancing at the lovely face of his own beautiful offspring. The speaker’s notion of remaining youthful and vibrant are bound up in the next generation, or so he would have the young man believe in order to remain persuasive. Sometimes one will employ an argument simply because it may sound plausible, whether the truth of the claim has been determined or not.

The Couplet: The Young Man's Appearance

But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

Throughout sonnet 3, the speaker has concentrated on the young man’s physical appearance, while looking in a mirror. The speaker reminds the lad of his youthful image and the young man’s mother’s image when young that the lad now reflects. Focusing distinctively on image, the speaker hopes to move the young man through his ego.

By shining his light brightly on that physical image, the speaker wishes to impart a moral sense of duty in the young man. If the young man fails to procreate lovely offspring, the young man’s image will die with him. Appealing to the innate human desire for immortality, the speaker attempts to convince the young man that his immortality depends upon producing images made after his own.

Shakespeare Identified Lecture, by Mike A'Dair And William J. Ray

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 10, 2020:

Thank you, Louise. Good to hear from you again. Yes, the Shakespeare sonnets are a remarkable set of works—always entertaining as well as enlightening. The craftsmanship alone is reason for studying these sonnets. But the fantastic little dramas they present simply captive the mind and heart. The clever Shakespeare speaker keeps us enthralled with his dedication to love, truth, and beauty.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 09, 2020:

Thankyou for another informative hub about Shakespeare's sonnets. I'm learning so much from reading them.