Sonnet 3 Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest Now is the time that face should form another, Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest, Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother. For where is she so fair whose uneared womb Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry? Or who is he so fond will be the tomb Of his self-love, to stop posterity? Thou art thy mother’s glass , and she in thee Calls back the lovely April of her prime; So thou through windows of thine age shalt see, Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time. But if thou live rememb’red not to be, Die single, and thine image dies with thee. Analysis Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. Three” was written in A B A B, iambic pentameter, it has fourteen lines and first two lines are couplet. The sonnet is about a husbands attempt to convince his wife to want to have children. Shakespeare’s audience consists of his wife who does not want children.
In the sonnet, he relies on her fear of mortality to try to convince her to have children in order to achieve immortality. The argument of this sonnet is if his wife does not want children, then not only does she deny herself immortality, but she also denies immortality to the family name. The first quatrain introduces the theme with the image of reflected beauty, “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest” (ll. 1). The audience, his lover, is supposed to say that she sees the face of youth and beauty.
It is assumed that the audience is the speaker’s wife, because if they weren’t married, it would be unlikely for them to hold such conversation. She is resistant to the idea of having children. The reason is not made clear in the sonnet, allowing the reader the opportunity to insert his own ideas as to why the audience does not want children. Thus allowing the reader to identify with the audience. But the speaker hopes to play on her fears of aging and dying to try and convince her to have children. “Now is the time that face should form another” (ll.
2). There is a double meaning here, now is the time one will be getting older. Now one will start to age and look like one’s mother. It is also the time to have a child, and pass on one’s beauty and youth. The speaker is also implying a sense of urgency, that if she is going to ever have children, it must be soon because now is the time “Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest/Thou dust beguile the world, unbless some mother” (ll 3-4).
Here he is saying that if one does not have a child, then not only does one go against nature, but one sin’s against one’s mother who hoped to achieve immortality through her children and their children their after. Here is where Shakespeare makes the first illusion that the audience is a woman by identifying the audience in reference to the audience’s mother. Shakespeare never makes it a point to say whether or not this is a married couple or not, or even if it’s a man talking to his lover or a woman talking to hers. “For where is she so fair whose uneared womb/Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?” (ll 5-6). Here Shakespeare creates an image relating to sex. He presents a new question to her, asking if she does not want children because she does not like sex.
This is also the first time that Shakespeare uses the pronoun ‘she’, which helps to further imply that the audience is a woman. But with the next two lines, “Or who is he so fond will be the tomb/ Of his self-love, to stop posterity” (ll 7-8), Shakespeare now uses the pronoun ‘he’, which is the basis of the unclearness as to whether or not the audience is a woman. But if the reader looks beyond this simple pronoun, then the reader will notice that with these four lines together, Shakespeare is describing how natural it is for both men and women to want to have children. When Shakespeare asks “Where is she so fair” (ll 5) he asks the question, ‘where can a woman be found who “disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?”‘ (ll 5). A similar question is asked about men, “who is he so fond..of his self love” (ll 7-8). These two questions are meant to show that it is just as unlikely to find a wife who disdains having sex with her husband, as it is unlikely to find a man who would rather masturbate then want to make love to a real woman.
This may be a little lurid for some tastes, but considering the speaker is dealing with someone who clearly doesn’t want to have sex, the audience needs to be reminded just how unnatural this really is. But these lines do not clarify yet that the audience is a woman only because this was not their purpose. Shakespeare only wanted to illustrate the normal behavior of men and women in matters of procreation. ‘Womb’ in line five is rhymed with ‘tomb’ in line seven to help further compare the similarities within the stanza. Wives are no more a prisoner of their virginity then men are prisoners to their ‘self-love’.
But by this point, Shakespeare still has not clearly stated if the audience is a man or a woman. Further evidence that the audience is a woman can be found in the lines “Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee/Calls back the lovely April of her prime” (ll. 9-10). Simply paraphrasing, the speaker says she is the embodiment of her mother’s youth, further comparing the audience to her mother and thus again implying that the audience is indeed at least a woman, if not the speaker’s wife. Supposedly, it can be interpreted that the audience is a man, merely because it is never clearly stated in the lines, however, it would seem unlikely that a mother would pass on the ‘April of her prime’ onto her son. Mothers would want their daughters to inherit their looks as fathers would want their sons to inherit their strength.
So if Shakespeare was writing this with the intention that the audience was a man, then it would seem likely that the speaker would be comparing the audience to the father wanting to pass on his eternal strength. But as it rests, it seems clear that the audience is indeed a woman. The speaker is also once again reminding the audience that her mother had hoped to achieve a sense of immortality by giving birth to her. If the audience choose to have children, then she too will be able to look into her children’s faces and see her eternal youth just as her mother sees her youth in the audience’s face. “So thou through windows of thine age shalt see/Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time” (ll 11-12). When she looks upon her self, she will be looking into a mirror that reflects her past beauty, basically a living mirror of years before.
This third quatrain expanded the mirror metaphor that was introduced in the first line and leads the reader to suspect that the audience suffers from narcissism. Perhaps the audience is so caught up with her self that not only does she not want the burden of children, but perhaps she doesn’t want the burden of the speaker as well. The audience does not yet realize that one day she will look into her mirror and see the face of departed beauty. The one chance that she had of granting her beauty immortality by passing it down unto her children has passed. Thus wasting the best years of her life on herself.
This revelation of the audience’s self absorbency explains the anger expressed in the final two lines, “But if thou live remembered not to be/ Die single, and thine image dies with thee” (ll 13-14). The speaker is giving his beloved an ultimatum as it were. The speaker want’s her to realize that she needs to quit thinking about herself. She needs to realize that there is someone who wants to be with her. Yet he’s not going to wait around forever and waste his time while she’s staring in the mirror all day. She will loose her one chance at immortality, and worse yet, she will die alone and unloved.
This situation also implies that they are currently in a relationship, whether it be husband or wife or lovers. It’s an intimate relationship that she does not care strongly for and he is willing to leave her if she doesn’t change her attitude. Throughout the sonnet, the speaker relied mainly on the promise of immortality through procreation to try and convince the audience into wanting children. He remained kind and gentle throughout the first twelve lines, but with the last two, he gave his audience an ultimatum, if she will not do it for herself, then at least do it for him, or he will have nothing to do with her. This is probably used to give her a taste of what it would be like to live and die alone, and to suffer the worst stings of mortality.