hear the surly sullen bell (2): At funerals during the Renaissance, one could pay to have the "passing-bell" rung as many times as the deceased was alive, as a tribute to his or her life.
Sonnets 71-74 are usually grouped together and are linked by the poet's thoughts on his own mortality. In the relationship with his dear friend, the poet is the older man, and, believing he will die before his young man, he creates this verse, in part, to help console his friend. It becomes clear as we read the many sonnets focused on the ravages of time that Shakespeare was consumed by a profound melancholia brought about by persistent pondering on loss and death. In other sonnets, the poet finds solace in his dear friend, who is presented as his redeemer, both spiritually and emotionally. But even his lover cannot release him from the sadness that comes with knowing he will die, and "with vilest worms to dwell." The hopelessness expressed in this sonnet seems to indicate that the poet's faith, at least at the time of writing this particular poem, was deeply lacking. Moreover, the last two lines reveal the poet's intense insecurity and anxiety over his relationship with the idealized young man, as he fears that their friends will mock the lover's regard for him, illustrating the lover's lack of good taste and judgment.
With Sonnet 71 we can see the tremendous influence Shakespeare had on the great romantic poets like Keats and Shelley. Keats was known to work next to the bust of Shakespeare at all times, and we can imagine he had worn thin his copy of this sonnet.
In terms of the form, the three quatrains of this sonnet are of a parallel structure, serving to persuade the young man to forget the poet, and, in the final couplet, the reason for the request is revealed. And, to find out more about the man who many scholars believe to be the object of Shakespeare's devotion, the Earl of Southampton, click here.
Forrest, H. T. S. The Five Authors of Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Chapman & Dodd, Ltd., 1923.
Martin, Philip J. T. Shakespeare's Sonnets: Self, Love and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972
Ransom, John Crowe. Shakespeare at Sonnets. Shakespeare, the Sonnets. Ed. Peter Jones. London: Macmillan Press, 1977. 107-8. 1924.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. H. Rollins. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1944.