Tag Archives: Titian

“Sonnet 1: From fairest creatures we desire increase” by William Shakespeare

Titian_WomanWithMirror

Titian

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

As I read this poem, I couldn’t help but think how little has changed in 500 years. We are still obsessed with physical beauty.

The opening line states the obvious—we desire sexual relations with those who possess physical beauty. But the word “increase” ties in with the next several lines. Humans not only desire physical beauty in their partners to satisfy their own pleasure, they also seek attractive partners so that they can pass the traits of physical beauty on to their children, thereby creating a fair bloodline. This was probably more important in Shakespeare’s time when upward mobility along the social ladder was usually gained through advantageous marriages. Having a beautiful daughter could certainly score you a nice dowry.

The middle section of the poem has an interesting shift. Here we see the obsession with beauty from a woman’s perspective. The woman is “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” or obsessed with her reflection in a mirror. She knows that if she is to secure a husband, she must do so while she still has the beauty of youth. She examines every aspect of herself and ornaments herself in order to highlight her appearance.

The ending of this sonnet has a dark, ironic twist. While we may focus on beauty, procreation, and securing our lineage, ultimately, we all face the same end: death. Our flesh will rot and we will become food for the worms. Which begs the question—Is it worth it? I’d like to say it’s not, but I have to be honest with myself. There are advantages to being good-looking. It would be naive to think that unattractive people have the same workplace opportunities as attractive people. While I think we have made progress in this area, your appearance will still have an impact on the opportunities that are presented to you.

I wish I could say we have evolved past this, but alas, tis not so. We may have come a long way as a society, but the fact is, human nature is very slow to change.

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