Shakespeare | Sonnet 4 | Text with Critical Study


Shakespeare | Sonnet 4 | Text with Critical Study

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Shakespeare Sonnet 4 Text with Critical Study

Shakespeare | Sonnet 4 | A Critical Study

(Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4: Text, Analytical Study | Word Notes | Faqs)

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4 – Text

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free.
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thyself alone,
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be. 0 0 0.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4- An Analytical Study

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4 is a poem that critiques the wastefulness of beauty and the vanity of self-love. The speaker addresses an unnamed individual who he accuses of squandering their beauty, describing it as an “unthrifty loveliness” that is being spent on oneself. He argues that beauty is not a possession but a loan from nature, and that it should be shared with others rather than hoarded selfishly.

The sonnet begins with a rhetorical question that sets the tone for the rest of the poem: “Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend / Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?” The word “unthrifty” suggests that the beauty is being wasted or misused, while “legacy” implies that it is an inheritance to be passed down to others. The speaker then goes on to explain that nature does not give anything freely, but instead lends it to us for a time. This suggests that beauty is not a permanent possession, but rather a temporary loan that must be repaid.

The second quatrain continues this argument by accusing the individual of being a “beauteous niggard” who hoards their beauty rather than sharing it. The word “niggard” suggests that the individual is stingy or miserly, refusing to share what they have. The speaker argues that this is a betrayal of the natural order, which expects us to use what we have been given for the benefit of others. He compares the individual to a “profitless usurer” who lends out large sums of money but gains nothing in return.

In the third quatrain, the speaker accuses the individual of being self-deceptive, suggesting that they are using their beauty to deceive themselves about their own worth. He argues that by only “having traffic with thyself alone,” the individual is isolating themselves from others and denying themselves the opportunity to make meaningful connections. The speaker concludes by asking what kind of legacy the individual will leave behind when they die. He suggests that their beauty will be “tomb’d with thee” and that it will be lost forever, except for the memory of those who saw it in its prime.

The final couplet drives home the point of the poem by contrasting the fates of beauty that is used and beauty that is wasted. The speaker argues that if the individual had used their beauty to benefit others, it would have lived on after they died, becoming “th’ executor to be.” In contrast, because the beauty was wasted on the individual themselves, it will die with them and be forgotten.

In terms of literary devices, the poem makes use of metaphor, personification, and rhetorical questions. The metaphor of beauty as a loan from nature is particularly effective, as it sets up the idea that beauty is not something to be possessed but rather something to be shared. The personification of nature as a generous lender adds to this metaphor by suggesting that nature expects us to use what we have been given for the benefit of others. The rhetorical questions throughout the poem also serve to emphasize the speaker’s arguments, making them more forceful and memorable. 0 0 0.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4 – Word Notes

“Unthrifty loveliness”:

“Unthrifty” here means wasteful or reckless, and “loveliness” refers to the beauty of the fair youth the speaker is addressing.

“Why dost thou spend”:

The speaker is asking why the fair youth is wasting his beauty by not procreating and passing it on to future generations.

“In single blessedness”:

This phrase means being unmarried and celibate, which the speaker believes is a waste of the youth’s beauty.

“Nature’s bequest”:

Nature’s gift or inheritance, in this case the youth’s physical beauty.


In this context, “livery” refers to the clothing or outward appearance that the youth’s beauty provides him with.

“Thou art thy mother’s glass”:

The speaker is saying that the youth is a reflection of his mother’s beauty.

“And she in thee calls back the lovely April”:

This line means that the youth’s mother sees her own beauty reflected in her son, and that the youth himself is like the month of April, which is associated with new growth and beauty.

“Wasting thy [beauty’s] scent”:

The speaker is again lamenting the youth’s failure to procreate and pass on his beauty to future generations, comparing it to a flower that withers and dies without spreading its fragrance.

Overall, the sonnet is a plea to the fair youth to use his beauty wisely and not let it go to waste. The speaker believes that the youth’s beauty is not just his own, but a gift from nature that should be shared and passed on to future generations. 0 0 0.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 4 – Faqs

Q: What is the theme of Sonnet 4?
A: The theme of Sonnet 4 is the idea of wasting beauty and the consequences of not sharing it with the world.

Q: What is the meaning of “Unthrifty loveliness”?
A: “Unthrifty loveliness” refers to beauty that is wasted and not put to good use.

Q: Who is Shakespeare addressing in this sonnet?
A: Shakespeare is addressing an unnamed person who is hoarding their beauty and not sharing it with the world.

Q: What is the metaphor used in the line “Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend”?
A: The metaphor used is that of borrowing money. Nature gives beauty, but it is only lent to us and must be used to benefit others.

Q: What is the significance of the word “niggard” in line 6?
A: The word “niggard” means someone who is stingy or hoards things for themselves. Shakespeare is using this word to criticize the person he is addressing for not sharing their beauty with the world.

Q: What is the consequence of not sharing one’s beauty with the world?
A: The consequence is that when one dies, their beauty dies with them, and they will not have made a positive impact on the world.

Q: What does the final line of the sonnet mean?
A: The final line means that if one uses their beauty and shares it with the world, it will live on after they die and continue to have an impact. If one does not, their beauty will be buried with them and forgotten. *0 0 0*

N.B. This article originally belongs to the book entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets-Critical Studies‘ by Menonim Menonimus.

Books of Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:

  1. World Short Story Criticism
  2. World Poetry Criticism
  3. World Drama Criticism
  4. World Novel Criticism
  5. World Essay Criticism
  6. Indian English Poetry Criticism
  7. Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
  8. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  9. Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  10. Critical Essays on English Poetry
  11. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
  12. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
  13. Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
  14. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period (500 AD-622 AD)
  15. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Early Islamic Period (622 AD-661 AD)
  16. Reviews on William Shakespeare’s Works
  17. Reviews of Charles Dickens’ Works
  18. Reviews of John Milton’s Literary Works
  19. Reviews of Some Iconic Travelogues
  20. Shakespeare’s Sonnets-Critical Studies

Additional Searches:

  1. Shakespeare’s Sonnets-Study Guide
  2. Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  3. Shakespeare Sonnets
  4. The Elizabethan Sonnet Sequence
  5. Thematic Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  6. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 1
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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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