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William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

More challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 20 January 2014
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The poet contemplates the concept of true love where there are no impediments and no changes.

Although love can be seen, its real value can never be measured. Neither is it the plaything of Time, something that shrinks with the onset of old age.

Indeed, the brightness of youth may disappear as old age advances, but love will continue even till death.


The poet speaks of true love in the image of a union of true minds.

The classical form of marriage was something that was indissoluble, could never be broken or set aside.

Indeed, even before the marriage was allowed to happen, the couple and their community were required to testify that they were aware of no impediments which would be in the way of the marriage. If such impediments existed, the marriage could not be sanctioned.

So it is with true love: no impediments can exist to get in its way. Once the marriage has happened, it is permanent. True love is not something that changes even in the face of change.

In Quatrain 2, the poet compares love to something that is permanent and unchanging, a lighthouse which can be lashed by storms and heavy seas but it does not move or crumble.

It is also like the stars at night which are used to navigate ships across the oceans. Just as a star can never be measured in terms of value, so is it for true love.

In Quatrain 3, the poet points out that Love is also not a clown -- the "fool" -- of Time.

Old Man Time -- the "Grim Reaper" -- is commonly depicted as using his sickle to harvest life, reaping all the beauty of youth like "rosy lips and cheeks".

Time, the poet argues, can never harvest true love which remains constant even to the point of death -- "edge of doom".

In the Rhyming Couplet, the poet concludes that he is so certain about what he has argued that he is prepared to stake on it even his reputation as a poet.

If he is wrong, he says, then he has never written any poetry and no-one in the whole world has ever been in love.

Since, however, we know that he is indeed a famous poet and we know people have fallen in love, it can be concluded therefore that his argument is quite correct.

The poem is therefore a controlled exposition of love but through it one is aware of a profound sense of awe and admiration of the concept of true love.

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

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
  • The poet speaks about a "marriage of true minds". Is he actually referring to marriage at all or does he have something else in mind? (4)

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  • What does the poet mean when he speaks about "impediments" to a marriage? (4)

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  • Would you agree that "love is not love | Which alters when it alteration finds, | Or bends with the remover to remove"? Justify your answer. (4)

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O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark
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.
  • Are the nautical images -- storms, lighthouses, stars -- valid as images of love? Explain. (6)

[Need help?]

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come.
  • When the poet speaks of "Time's fool", is he saying that love is not an idiot? Explain. (4)

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  • Why should "rosy lips and cheeks" within Time's "bending sickle's compass come"? (4)

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Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
  • Explain the image that the poet is using here. (4)

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  • Comment on the image "the edge of doom". (4)

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In our modern age of quick marriages and sometimes quicker divorces, why would you think this sonnet is an important one to contemplate? (10)

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