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Relevant BackgroundSummaryThemes | Style 

Fear No More the Heat of the Sun
William Shakespeare [1564-1616]

Relevant Background

  • William Shakespeare was born in 1564.
  • Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was of the landed gentry.
  • His father, John, was a glover and commodities merchant who at one time became the equivalent of mayor of his town.
  • William attended the local grammar school in Stratford where his parents lived. He probably studied Latin rhetoric, logic, and literature. He left school at the age of 15.
  • Shakespeare spent his first 20 years in Stratford, which include his schooling, early marriage, and fatherhood.
  • At the age of 18 William married Anne Hathaway, a local farmer’s daughter aged 26. Susanna Shakespeare was born with six months of their wedding. They had twins Judith and Hamnet [who died aged eleven] in 1585.
  • For 25 years, soon after the twins were born, Shakespeare worked as an actor and playwright in London. Shakespeare began a career with a London acting company and became well known as an actor and playwright within three years. 
  • Shakespeare spent his last five in retirement back in Stratford where he was reasonably well off as a result of his successes with plays. 
  • ‘Fear No More...’ is an extract from one of  Shakspeare’s plays, Cymbeline. In the original play the dead one is called Imogen, though disguised as a boy, Fidele. In fact Fidele or Imogen has just taken a drug that only fakes death.
  • Two friends immediately begin to mourn. Their poetic dialogue has often been treated as a poem about death ever since

Summary

  • The poem is a type of funeral song in four stanzas of six lines each. The song is an attempt to find consolation in the death of a loved one.
  • There are two speakers, Guiderius and Arviragus. For the sake of simplicity these notes will just refer to the speaker. The poem is addressed to the body of Fidele/Imogen.
  • In the first stanza, the speaker seems to address a beloved one, who has apparently died. The speaker begins by offering advice about death.
  • Death is a removal from extremes of weather, hot sun in the first line and severe winter in the second line.
  • According to lines three and four, at the end of a natural life, a person has completed their work or mission in life and should be on their way to their reward in heaven.
  • In lines five and six, the speaker claims that death comes equally to rich and poor, ‘golden’ people and ordinary chimneysweeps.
  • In the second stanza, lines seven and eight, the speaker claims that death is a benefit as it frees one from dread of the all-powerful. 
  • In line nine, death is a benefit because it frees one from economic pressure.
  • In line ten, the speaker points out that difference between strength and weakness makes no difference after death.
  • In lines eleven and twelve the speaker lists three important types of people who cannot avoid death: king, professor and doctor.
  • In the third stanza, in lines thirteen and fourteen, the speaker suggests that death frees one from dread of violent weather and meteorites. 
  • In lines fifteen and sixteen, the speaker lists as another benefit the fact that the dead are free from vicious gossip and the emotional ups and downs of living.
  • In lines seventeen and eighteen, the speaker pronounces that all lovers eventually die.
  • In the final stanza, lines nineteen, twenty and twenty one, the speaker argues that death frees a person from fear of demons, witches and evil spirits that torment the living. Instead haunting spirits will have to avoid the recently dead person [the deceased] the poem is addressing.
  • In the final three lines, the speaker wishes the deceased freedom from evil, a quiet time rotting in the grave and fame after death.

Themes

1. Time

Young and old must die. The poet mentions ‘golden lads and girls’ as well as ‘lovers young’. Then he mentions ‘sceptre’ meaning rulers and ‘physic’ meaning doctor. All this implies that death may come at any age. ‘All must follow this’: nobody can avoid death. It comes to all in time.


2. Death

After a full life, one must face death calmly and with some confidence. The poem is an argument against mourning.  Death grants freedom or refuge from extremes of climate, abuses of political power, poverty, public opinion and gossip, witchcraft and roaming spirits. The main argument is that one should not fear death. In any case, it is repeated three times that all things ‘come to dust’. At the end of the poem the speaker wishes the deceased a happy death, freedom from evil, tranquillity in the grave and fame after death.

3. Life is brutal and horrifying.

The imagery of extreme weather, cruel rulers, lying gossip, meteorites all show that life is full of random dangers and fears. The ‘frown of the great’ and ‘winter’s rages’ show that unexpected torments and torture can happen at any time. Demons, witches and ghosts torment the living from the spiritual world. The repetition of the word ‘fear’ further emphasises the horrors of life.

Style

  • Form  This poem is originally a dialogue which reads as a formal funeral song. It may also be considered a sort of funeral speech.
  • Structure Although two characters originally spoke the lines, this text easily forms four stanzas of six lines each.
  • Language When Shakespeare wrote this poem, originally as a section of dialogue in a play, the language was considered simple and everyday. It is also formal and dignified in places. This is appropriate for a funeral song.
  • Diction  The words are simple, though somewhat archaic [old-fashioned]. The phrase ‘come to dust’ reminds us of the bible. Words like ‘art’ for ‘are’ and ‘thee’ for ‘you’ are examples of diction that are no longer in use. ‘Censure’ is more rarely used today to mean judgement. Sometimes as in the case of ‘censure rash’, the adjective or descriptive word comes after the noun and the reader must mentally change the word order.
  • Full Stops and Commas are frequently used and as a result the poem is easy to take in and understand.
  • Comparison The poem compares the peacefulness of death to the ‘fears’ endured by the living.
  • Imagery The poet provides images of extreme weather in the first two lines. Images of cruel rulers are mixed in with images of rich young people, social distress and the supernatural.
  • Metaphor Gaining heavenly reward after death is compared to taking one’s spiritual wages.
  • Symbol ‘Sceptre’ stands for a ruler such as a king, ‘frown of the great’ stands for strict authority.
  • Contrast [difference] Where life may be lived in fear, death is free of all fears. This is the opposite of many people’s normal attitude to death.
  • Mood/Atmosphere The poem creates an emotional atmosphere as it addresses and laments the death of someone who is loved. The speaker urges calm and acceptance, which creates a quiet and tranquil mood while reading the poem.
  • Hyperbole [Exaggeration]     The poet exaggerates the downside of life in order to promote acceptance of death: ‘furious winter’s rages’. 
  • Paradox [apparent contradiction]    Economic need is dismissed though ‘wages’, in a spiritual sense, are earned after death.
  • Allusion  The phrase ‘come to dust’ is a repeated allusion [reference] to a famous image in the bible for death.
  • Tone Though the subject may appear to be a sad one, the tone is dignified and uplifting. The speaker utters the lines in a very positive tone. The notion that death is a time of quiet is put across in a calm manner. The tone in the final stanza is upbeat: ‘renowned be thy grave’.
  • Repetition The main repetition reinforces the theme that death is not to be feared: ‘Fear no more’ occurs in stanzas one, two and three. A similar repetition reinforces the reality that death cannot be avoided: ‘come to dust’. Words like ‘harm’ and ‘charm’ close to each other create verbal music.
  • Rhyme There is a clear and consistent rhyming pattern: ‘un’/ ‘ages’/ ‘one’/ ‘ages’/ ‘ust’/ ‘ust’ in the first stanza. The second and third stanzas have a similar pattern. In the final stanza the pattern is simple and this increases the pace of the poem and adds to the optimistic atmosphere.
  • Assonance [similar vowel sound repetition]  The repeated long ‘o’ sounds in the opening line of the first and second stanza create a tone of lamentation. This soon changes to a more upbeat tone later. The repeated ‘o’ sound throughout the final stanza is cheerful and upbeat.
  • Consonance [similar consonant sound repetition] The ‘t’ repeated in line eight is a good example of a repeated consonant sound adding to the music of the poems.
  • Alliteration [repetition of consonant sounds at the start of nearby words] Some lines contain alliteration. This adds to the fluency and speed of the poem: e.g. ‘t’ in line three.
  • Sibilance [repetition of ‘s’ sound] Note how the four ‘s’ sounds in the fifteenth line help create a nasty sense of secret, lying gossip.

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