Sonnet 81 in the 1609 Quarto
Sonnet 81 is one of the 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare, which were published in a quarto titled Shakespeare's Sonnets in 1609. It is a part of the Fair Youth series of sonnets, and the fourth sonnet of the Rival Poet subsequence.
Sonnet 81 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of the form, abab cdcd efef gg and is composed in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic metre based on five pairs of metrically weak/strong syllabic positions. The 5th line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:
× / × / × / × / × / Your name from hence immortal life shall have, (81.5)
The 2nd and 4th lines feature a final extrametrical syllable or feminine ending:
× / × / × / × / × / (×) Or you survive when I in earth am rotten; (81.2)
- / = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus. (×) = extrametrical syllable.
The meter demands a few variant pronunciations: line 8's "entombèd" is pronounced as 3 syllables, and line 14's "even" as 1.
There are many theories to the identity of the young man. Shakespeare's one-time patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton is a potential fit, as is Shakespeare's later patron, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke.
Oxford further speculates that Henry Wriothesley is the likely inspiration "Oxford records the reason for what will become "the Shakespeare mystery" in a single verse. He testifies that he faces the obliteration of his identity "to all the world" because of his sacrifice to gain ultimate liberation for his royal son, Henry Wriothesley, from the Tower of London. He vows to construct the Monument of the Sonnets to preserve this truth "which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read." This sonnet is a glorious homage to Southampton as a king.
The first quatrain tackles the idea of achieving immortality through writing. "Sonnet 81 moves towards the topos of poetic immortality. The poet's claim that his 'gentle verse' will be a 'monument', evoking once more the loci classici of Horace and Ovid ..., was standard among sonneteers". In the second quatrain Shakespeare writes that his poems will immortalize the youth. Katherine Duncan-Jones writes in her book titled Shakespeare's Sonnets "When the poet dies, he will be quickly forgotten; but when the youth dies, he will continue to live as the subject-matter of the poet's verse." The third quatrain and couplet tie together and conclude the idea of poetic immortality.
- Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201.
- Booth 2000, p. 71.
- Boyd, William (19 November 2005). "Two Loves Have I". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
- The "Shakespeare" Sacrifice Your Monument Day Fifty-Five in the Tower,http://www.shakespeareoxfordlibrary.org 
- Larsen, Kenneth J. "Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets." Williamshakespeare-sonnets. N.p., n.d. Web.
- Shakespeare, William, and Katherine Duncan-Jones. Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Methuen Drama, 2010. Print.
- First edition and facsimile
- Shakespeare, William (1609). Shake-speares Sonnets: Never Before Imprinted. London: Thomas Thorpe.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1905). Shakespeares Sonnets: Being a reproduction in facsimile of the first edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OCLC 458829162.
- Variorum editions
- Alden, Raymond Macdonald, ed. (1916). The Sonnets of Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. OCLC 234756.
- Rollins, Hyder Edward, ed. (1944). A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets [2 Volumes]. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. OCLC 6028485.
- Modern critical editions
- Atkins, Carl D., ed. (2007). Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 978-0-8386-4163-7. OCLC 86090499.
- Booth, Stephen, ed. (2000) [1st ed. 1977]. Shakespeare's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). New Haven: Yale Nota Bene. ISBN 0-300-01959-9. OCLC 2968040.
- Burrow, Colin, ed. (2002). The Complete Sonnets and Poems. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192819338. OCLC 48532938.
- Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010) [1st ed. 1997]. Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5. OCLC 755065951.
- Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. (1996). The Sonnets. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521294034. OCLC 32272082.
- Kerrigan, John, ed. (1995) [1st ed. 1986]. The Sonnets ; and, A Lover's Complaint. New Penguin Shakespeare (Rev. ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-070732-8. OCLC 15018446.
- Mowat, Barbara A.; Werstine, Paul, eds. (2006). Shakespeare's Sonnets & Poems. Folger Shakespeare Library. New York: Washington Square Press. ISBN 978-0743273282. OCLC 64594469.
- Orgel, Stephen, ed. (2001). The Sonnets. The Pelican Shakespeare (Rev. ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140714531. OCLC 46683809.
- Vendler, Helen, ed. (1997). The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-63712-7. OCLC 36806589.