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Sonnet 146 Theme of Death

Sonnet 146 is Shakespeare's big "Hey You! You're Totally Going to Die" poem. But hey, what do we expect from a poet who lived in age when the average life expectancy was 40 years and who lived through countless plagues that took away friends, family, and colleagues? The sonnet is all about the speaker facing his fear of his own physical mortality. At the same time, he also embraces traditional Christian theology, which says that good souls can kick death's butt by living for eternity in heaven. That said, we're not sure the speaker finds all that much comfort in the idea of defeating death. In the end, dying is still pretty scary.

Questions About Death

  1. Why do you think the speaker uses the metaphor of a "fading mansion" to describe the human body? Does that seem like an apt comparison to you? Why or why not?
  2. Read the final two lines of the poem. Why do you think the speaker repeats words that remind us of our mortality ("death," "death," "dead," and "dying")?
  3. Do you think the speaker is afraid of dying at the end of the sonnet? Why or why not? And how can you tell?
  4. Do you agree with the speaker that souls are immortal and live on after our bodies die? Do you have to agree with him in order to find meaning in this poem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker compares the human body to a "fading mansion" to remind himself that his body is getting older and will eventually die. Oh well.

In the sonnet, the speaker tries to turn the tables on death by suggesting that it can be defeated by achieving eternal life in heaven. Take that, death.

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