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William Shakespeare

To me,
fair Friend

Questions of a more challenging nature!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 1 March 2014
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The poet looks at the beauty of his "fair Friend" and decides that this beauty is ageless. Indeed, he has known this "Friend" for three years now and believes that she is quite as beautiful as when he first met her.

Later in the sonnet he does appear to have some hesitation about the lasting impact of aging, but then concludes rather outrageously that the beauty of this "fair Friend" is beyond even Beauty herself.


William Shakespeare, commonly known simply as "The Bard", was born in April 1564. Although he lived a mere 52 years, he has won himself the reputation of being the greatest of all English poets and playwrights.

He grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon where, at the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children. Modern scholars love to question whether or not he was actually gay -- but such is the energy-sapping research of these scholars.

The Bard established a most successful career for himself in acting and in writing for the stage. Ultimately he became the part-owner of The Lord Chamberlain's Men, a theatrical company which eventually came to be known as The King's Men.

In his early years in theatrics, Shakespeare focussed his attention on writing comedies and histories. Only later did he produce a series of tragedies such as Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, the works for which he is preeminently known.

Although he wrote two lengthy narrative poems as well as several other shorter poems, his reputation as a poet was established through his amazing collection of sonnets -- 154 in all.

Indeed, his particular style of sonnet, commonly known as the Elizabethan form, is also referred to simply as "the Shakespearian sonnet".

In about 1613, he returned to Stratford-upon-Avon and died there in April 1616.

Scholars would later come to question not only his sexual stance but also whether or not it was he who actually wrote all the work attributed to him.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived."
  • What is the purpose of this reference to "a dial-hand"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Can you explain why the poet has chosen to use the word, "steal"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • On the other hand, what would be in the poet's mind when he writes, "Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand, steal from his figure, and no pace perceived"? (4)

[Need help?]

The poet has made some very bold statements about his "fair Friend" in the first two stanzas, and yet he appears to hesitate in Stanza 3.
  • What words in the Stanza 3 suggest this hesitation? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet appear to undergo this hesitation? (4)

[Need help?]

"For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred, --
Ere you were born, was beauty's summer dead."
  • The poet concludes his sonnet with a truly outrageous exaggeration. Can you explain what this is? (4)

[Need help?]

  • The poet is addressing a "person" whom he refers to as "thou age unbred". Who is this person? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why then does he speak of him as "thou age unbred"? (4)

[Need help?]

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