Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 and Donne’ the Flea, both seek to define marriage. Shakespeare’s sonnet holds a “marriage of true minds” to high level of sanctity. While Donne compares marriage to a flea. Their opinions are different yet hold some similarities. Donne’s, The Flea and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 both seek to illustrate marriage through their conceits but, come to very different conclusions.
In his Sonnet 116, Shakespeare seeks to define marriage. He does so by using conceits of true love. He portrays true love as unchanging as the North Star, “It is the star to every wand’ring bark” (7) and a beacon that storms cannot move, “it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken” (5-6). Shakespeare emphasizes the constancy of a “marriage of true minds” by stating that Time can only affect beauty but, not love, “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come” (9-10). He goes on to state that love, “bears it out to the edge of doom” (12), meaning that true love lasts until Judgment Day, implying that a “marriage of true minds” lasts even beyond the grave. Shakespeare finishes off by saying if his love proves to not be as unchanging as a “marriage of true minds”, then “I never writ, nor no man ever loved” (14). This essentially means that if his love is not a “marriage of true minds”, then there never has been one.
Donne’s, the Flea shows another side of marriage. Donne’s conceits all involve a flea, a lowly parasitic insect that many would not think to compare a sanctified ceremony such as marriage to. The flea itself represents all of the following in Donne’s poem: A holy trinity, marriage, the marriage bed, and the marriage temple. The flea’s holy trinity is composed of Donne’s blood his lover’s blood, and the flea itself, “It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee” (4), very different from the traditional Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Flea represents marriage because of the turning of their two drops of blood into one, because the flea is, “Where wee almost, yea more than maryed are.” (11). The flea is their marriage bed and marriage temple as their blood intermingles and becomes one inside the flea, Unfortunately, the flea is killed by his lover, despite his pleas to, “Let not that, selfe murder added bee, and sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three”. The sins being the killing of Donne because of his blood in the flea, the killing of herself because of her blood in the flea, and the sacrilege of killing the flea, due to all the holy things it represents.
Shakespeare and Donne show their different views on marriage through their poems. Donne compares marriage to a lowly parasitic creature, while Shakespeare compares marriage to such noble things as the North Star or a never wavering beacon of light. Shakespeare seeks to sanctify marriage and elaborate on the immortality of true love. Shakespeare reflects on how even time cannot destroy a “marriage of true minds”, and their love will outlast time to Judgment Day. Donne on the other hand, shows marriage as very mortal. The flea is killed by his lover, reflecting not on the timelessness of marriage but on its very real mortality. Marriage is not sanctified in Donne’s poem, but desecrated by Donne’s lover.
Shakespeare’s and Donne’s poems illustrate their conflicting views on marriage. Shakespeare’s poem reflects on the sanctity and immortality of a “marriage of true minds”. Donne’s, the Flea, reflects on the sudden end marriage can have and its fickle nature. In essence, Shakespeare regards marriage with optimism, while Donne’s view of marriage is very pessimistic.