I’m probably not going to break this essay down as I have done elsewhere, but it might be of interest to you anyway.
Examine the way Shakespeare uses nature and other images to comment on death in the following poem:
Fear No More The Heat of the Sun
Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o’ th’ great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke.
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak.
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor th’ all -dreaded-thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan.
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have,
And renownèd be thy grave!
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
In ‘Fear No More The Heat of the Sun’ Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy, weather conditions representing human emotion, and images of earthly struggle or difficulty to portray death as a relief. Although he presents death as inevitable these images are meant to comfort and sooth the dead and mourning as the departed will be moving to a better place.
The poem opens with the phrase ‘fear no more’, which is then repeated a further three times in the poem, which suggests death provides an end to particular earthly fears. The repetition not only serves to emphasis the many troubles we face in earthly life, but also acts as a soothing method for the poetic voice as if he is trying to convince himself that the deceased will be better off.
This repeated phrase is connected to natural images of weather conditions and seasons that are used by Shakespeare to represent human emotions. The contrasting weather of the ‘heat o’ th’ sun’ and the ‘furious winter’s rages’ represent emotional extremes of romance or passion and then misery, loneliness or despair. Although we often associate the sun with being a positive we must not forget its power to burn, which is also true of love that can give us unbelievable emotional highs, but is also prone to cause lasting pain and strife. Winter is used in a more traditional manner and the cold and harshness of the season clearly resonates with feelings of isolation and loneliness, but could also represent the ravages of old age (as winter represents the end of our lives as trees and flowers wither and die away) and the fact the deceased will no longer have to face this.
In addition, Shakespeare tells the deceased they will no longer have to worry about ‘lightning flash’ or ‘dreaded-thunder-stone’, both of which could represent emotions of shock or fear. I think he is uses these divergent weather conditions to suggest that death frees us from uncertainty and the ups and downs of human life. He presents our avoidance of this rollercoaster as a positive journey, but I believe that the words of the poem suggest that the poetic voice is not completely convinced this is true.
In the third stanza the poem claims the deceased has ‘finished joy and moan’. This is presented as a positive and that is understandable in terms of issues that cause humans to moan such as the financial difficulties suggested by having to care about ‘clothe and eat’ and being subject to a ruler’s whims and fancies implied by the phrase ‘the frown o’ th’ great’. These phrases both tell us that death allows us to escape earthly pressures, like supporting and feeding a family, and having to avoid upsetting others and becoming victim to their desire for revenge or punishment. However, Shakespeare also links death to the end of joy, which can surely not be a positive. This may just hint at the true feelings of the poetic voice, and gives the reader a hint of their regret that the deceased will never again experience the dizzying highs of life.
Alternatively this could be interpreted as being the state of things in the next life. Although heaven is supposed to be a kingdom of love it is also one free of extremes of emotion and thus romantic highs are not really something one would associate with the next life. There is a clear suggestion that the poetic voice feels the deceased will transcend to heaven in the opening stanza; Shakespeare says the deceased has gone ‘home’, which tells us that earth was only a temporary destination and has connotations of warmth and comfort. Further, they have ‘ta’en thy wages’ which implies that their actions on earth are converted to credit in the next life. This is clearly referring to heaven and the ‘wages’ must represent the morality and virtuous life the deceased has led, thus securing a spot in heaven.
Whether this person was truly virtuous we do not know, but the purpose of claiming they will ascend to heaven is again soothing. It is easier for the mourners to accept the death if they think that life will continue and be better for their loved one. In addition to this, Shakespeare repeats the idea that all ‘come to dust’ (whether they be wealthy or poor, distinguished or not, loved or loathed) to emphasise the inevitability of death. If all of us are going to meet the same fate then we need not fear it; death is thus presented as an inevitable part of life and something we should embrace and accept rather than curse and fear. However, the confidence in this ascension and in a peaceful life after death, expressed through the listing of various earthly worries, is undermined by the final stanza.
A series of imperatives command evil spirits and the likes not to interfere with the deceased. The use of exclamation at the end of each of these commands demonstrates the passion and intense mourning of the poetic voice. The prior calm and confidence of the opening three stanzas is completely dismissed and it is as if true grief has overcome the poetic voice at the end. However, the fact that the poet has to warn off ‘witchcraft’, ‘ghost’ and ‘exorciser’ suggest that the soothing confidence that everything will be better in the next life is not absolute. The warnings imply the poetic voice has worries about the afterlife and exactly what will happen to their deceased friend.
So Shakespeare has used a combination of weather imagery and pathetic fallacy alongside images of aspects of earthly struggle and toil to present death as a positive and inevitable part of life and something that will beckon a happier existence. However, there are a few slips in this presentation and a sense of regret and lamentation can be traced in the fact that the deceased will no longer experience the highs of human existence and there is also an expression of fear in the final stanza as the poetic voice tries to ward off evil spirits.