Sonnet 3 – A Plea for Progeny

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 3 is especially interesting when considered in light of the other poems we’ve read this week. While those poems were propositions, in which the voice was trying to convince his beloved to have sex, this one is the other way around. The voice is trying to talk someone into fathering a child.

“Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest / Now is the time that face should form another.”  The voice is essentially saying that it’s time to man up and have a baby. Later, he clarifies that the problem is that he is “so fond” of “the tomb / of his self-love.” The man is so self-enamored and selfish that he doesn’t want to have a child.  It’s a very different story than was told previously, when it was the woman who was refusing. Granted, we don’t know that the man in Sonnet III is remaining chaste, but at the very least, he’s using some decent Shakespearean birth control.

The voice uses the man’s narcissism against him, however, by saying that having a child would perpetuate his own image. Again, it’s the opposite of what you’d expect – the baby would not be born out of love, but vanity. In fact, the mother of the child isn’t even mentioned here, except to say that she can’t be so beautiful not to want to carry the man’s son. There is no beloved here.

It’s certainly not what I normally think of when I think of pregnancy. In fact, Shakespeare calls the process renewal. It’s the start of a new life, but also the regeneration of the old lives. Without this,  you’re “remember’d not to be” and “thine image dies with thee.” Without a child, there is no way to remember “thy golden time.” Sonnet 3 isn’t only a plea for a child to carry on the family features, but also a plea for somebody to remember (and thus value) the father’s time on earth.


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