William Shakespeare is best known as the greatest dramatist of all time. However, he is also considered the first national poet of England, who brought his country much prestige at a time when nations such as France and Italy had led the rise of the European Renaissance. He is remembered as the ‘Bard of Avon’, for his place of residence was Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare was baptized on 26th April 1564. From roughly 1594 onward he was an important member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men – an eminent company of theatrical players. After the crowning of King James I, in 1603, this company changed its name to the King’s Men. The King’s Men company was very popular, and records show that Shakespeare’s works were published and sold as popular literature. Over the course of 20 years, Shakespeare wrote plays that capture the complete range of human emotion and conflict.
In the 16th century, many of the nobility were good patrons of the performing arts and friends of the actors. Early in his career, Shakespeare was able to attract the attention of Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, to whom he also dedicated his first – and second – published poems: “Venus and Adonis” (in 1593) and “The Rape of Lucrece” (in 1594).
Tradition has it that Shakespeare died on his birthday, 23rd April, 1616, though many scholars believe that this is a myth. However, church records show he was interred at Trinity Church on 25th April 1616.
About the Poem Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” is the eighteenth sonnet in a collection of sonnets entitled Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This is a collection of 154 sonnets accredited to William Shakespeare. All of the sonnets deal with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. The collection was first published in a 1609 quarto with the full stylised title: SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Never before imprinted. (although sonnets 138 and 144 had in fact previously been published in the 1599 miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim).
The subjects of the sonnets are usually referred to as the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady. The poet expresses admiration for the Fair Youth’s beauty, and later has an affair with the Dark Lady. It is not known whether the poems and their characters are fictional or autobiographical.
Sonnets 1 – 17 in the sequence recommend the benefits of marriage and children. With Sonnet 18 the tone changes dramatically towards romantic intimacy, and this tone persists throughout the rest of the collection.
Setting of the Poem
This poem is set on the very page on which the poet is writing. It is on this page that the beauty of his beloved is described and immortalized. It is also this page that he thinks will survive when both he and his beloved are long gone.