Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is a commentary on the true nature of love. That is to say, the narrator states that love is not some highly romanticized, delusional and mystical force of nature which is removed from all imperfections, nor is it so weak that it cannot stand the test of time and folly. Rather, Sonnet 116 explains that love is a connection between two people which is not a victim of situationalism but a guiding feeling which unites two people through ease and difficulty.
Sonnet 116 begins with “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments.”, which explicitly informs the audience that Shakespeare does not believe there is any reason why two people who love one another should not marry. He elaborates upon this point with “Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds,”, or that if someone fears marriage because they think it may diminish the intensity of love, whether because they fear it may remove the mystery or create a sense of comfort counterproductive to romance, true love was not present to begin with. Rather, Sonnet 116’s narrator asserts that true love is a constant force which can never be adulterated or forgotten. Shakespeare even claims love cannot even be forgotten is a lover mistakenly becomes involved with someone else if they repent when he writes “Or bends with the remover to remove:”.
In supporting this, Shakespeare compares the constant force of love with that of a light house when Sonnet 116’s narrator says “O no! it is an ever-fixed mark” (as “marks” generally referred to marks at sea to help navigate ships). The metaphor is extended when with “That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/ It is the star to every wandering bark,/ Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”, which means that love endure the most difficult situations, though it’s worth can never be accurately measured.
Sonnet 116’s narrator extends upon the invulnerability of love when he says “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.” or that while youth and physical appeal may fade or change, love remains until death. The closing couplet,
“If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”, is especially powerful because Shakespeare is claiming that if his interpretation of love is incorrect, not only has he never loved personally, but he has never written anything of merit. Given the longevity of his notoriety, this statement is quite significant.
Shakespeare, William, and Stephen Booth. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. Print.