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William Shakespeare

To me,
fair Friend

Wrap your mind around these ones!

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:


In an earlier worksheet, it seemed acceptable to speak of the "fair Friend" as being, perhaps, a lover or someone whom the poet admires greatly. When one thinks carefully about this, however, one finds several problems with such an interpretation.
  • Examining the sonnet as a whole, can you identify these problems? (10)

[Need help?]

  • If one were to conclude, then, that the "fair Friend" was not a person whom the poet ardently admires, what then could this "Friend" be? (2)

[Need help?]

"To me, fair Friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed
Such seems your beauty still."
  • If the poet is indeed speaking of some earlier sonnet which he had written, then in what way could this fair Friend "never . . . be old"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What then would the poet mean when he says, "As you were when first your eye I eyed"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • And in what way would "Such [seem to be] your beauty still"? (2)

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"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."
  • Accepting that the poet is probably thinking of an earlier poem as being his pride and joy, how then could beauty "steal from his figure"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • In this context, then, what does the poet mean when he says, "So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand, hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived"? (4)

[Need help?]

"For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred, --
Ere you were born, was beauty's summer dead."
  • In the context of the "fair Friend" not being a person but a poem he had written some three years earlier, how then would you explain this outrageous exaggeration by which he concludes his sonnet? (4)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
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