Shakespeare is the author of over 150 sonnets, first published in 1609. My first introduction to the sonnets happened when I watched the 1995 movie of Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Marianne Dashwood, the younger of two sisters, is a passionate girl with great sensibility, and has a great love of passionate poetry!
My favourite is, without doubt, number 116.
Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility the movie (1995)
Let me not with the marriage of true minds Admit impediments; love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no, it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
This sonnet talks about the nature of love, saying that love does not change, even when it finds changes in the one that it loves. Love is constant and never shaken. Love is likened to the guiding North star that ships used to estimate their position and direction. This star does not change position in the sky, and can therefore be relied upon to be constant.
Love will not be made a fool of by Time. Even though Time, like a harvester, brings his sickle to cut down and age youthful attractiveness, Love will not alter and instead bears it all despite the difficulties. The sonnet, by way of conclusion, declares that if these truths about Love are proved to be error, then no man has ever loved before (which they clearly have).
The interesting thing about this sonnet, in the context of the movie, is that it represents the perspective of Marianne Dashwood perfectly. She believes love should be passionate and true to itself. Love should be constant and unwavering. It should be strong enough to bear all difficulties encountered in life.
Yet her first experience of love in her life, with Mr Willoughby, is quite different. He is initially all she could dream a suitor to be. He is handsome and rich, but what is even more important to Marianne is that he is passionate and does not hide his affection. When Willoughby is suddenly disinherited by a rich aunt, and having some very large existing debts, he is forced to reevaluate his love in the face of poverty. He sacrifices his love for Marianne – who has no dowry – to pursue marriage with Miss Grey and “her 50,000 pounds”.
Marianne is devastated. Her idealogical view of love has been pitted against the realism of life with the attractiveness of wealth and advantage and has come a miserable second.
However, despite her pain she rallies again and her passionate, wild, giddy love passes to one side, as she realises that Willoughby’s love was not really true at all. A more mature love takes its place within her; one that is calm and content; sober and soothing; reflective and restful. She marries the sedate, but chivalrous, Colonel Brandon.
So what is true love? Shakespeare’s sonnet seems to suggest that true love is of the realm of the divine, of heavenly substance, and hardly humanly possible. Is it attainable at all? Marianne seemed to think so.
A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart – a poem from 1765
Sources and Relevant Links
Shakespeare’s sonnets – online
Sense and Sensibility – the movie (1995)