Shakespeare's Sonnet 3 Analysis

Shakespeare Writing
Shakespeare Writing. CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 3: Look In Thy Glass, And Tell The Face Thou Viewest is elegantly written and noted for its simplicity and efficacy.

The poet reminds us of the fair youth’s self-preoccupation; in the first line, Shakespeare mentions the fair youth looking into a mirror to remind us of his vanity: "Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest / Now is the time that face should form another."

The poet informs us that the fair youth is very much like his mother, suggesting that he is quite feminine. This comparison between the fair youth and a woman frequently features in Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Shakespeare suggests that his beauty reminds the world and his mother of how pretty she once was. He is in his prime and should act now – if the fair youth continues to be single, his beauty will die with him.

This analysis should be read in conjunction with the original text to Sonnet 3 from our collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

The Facts of Sonnet 3

  • Sequence: Fair Youth Sonnets
  • Key Themes: Procreation, a child providing evidence of one’s worth and former beauty, to abstain is to deny the world, preoccupation with the fair youth’s feminine features, death prohibiting the continuation of beauty, and obsession with the fair youth’s beauty
  • Style: Traditional sonnet form in iambic pentameter  

Sonnet 3 Translation

Look in the mirror and tell your face that now is the time your face should create another (to have a child). These youthful looks, if you do not procreate, will be lost and the world will be denied, as would the potential mother of your child.

The woman who has not been fertilized would not frown upon the way you do the fertilizing.

Are you so in love with yourself that you would let yourself perish rather than procreate? You look just like your mother and in you, she is able to see how beautiful she once was in her prime.

When you are old you will see that despite your wrinkles, you will be so proud of what you did in your prime. But if you live and you do not breed you will die single and your beauty will die with you.


The poet is frustrated at the Fair Youth's refusal to procreate so that his beauty can live on through a child, rather than be lost to aging and death.

Furthermore, by refusing to breed, the poet goes as far to suggest that the Fair Youth is denying a woman (or women in general) the pleasure of his beauty. In a later sonnet, it is referred to as a kind of "crime to nature!"

All of this argument is built up to highlight the Fair Youth's vanity once again - he was accused once again of self-love. 

The poet implores the fair youth to procreate now. This urgency is apparent and the speaker clearly believes there is no time to spare, perhaps because his own feelings for the fair youth's beauty are growing and he wants to deny these feelings by urging him into a heterosexual union as soon as possible before his feelings get out of control?

The tone of this sonnet is also interesting. It marks the poet's growing obsession over the Fair Youth and the intensity of the poet’s feelings towards the Fair Youth floods through. This continues to grow throughout the sonnets.