What Does “Admit Impediments” Mean? Unpacking the Meaning of This Phrase in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is one of his most famous and beloved poems. In just 14 lines, Shakespeare eloquently captures the essence of true love. The poem has been widely quoted at weddings for centuries. One of its most memorable lines is:

What Does “Admit Impediments” Refer to in the Line “Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds / Admit Impediments”?

The phrase “admit impediments” appears in the opening lines of the sonnet:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.

The word “impediments” in this context refers to any obstacles or barriers that could prevent two people in love from getting married.

More specifically, it alludes to the moment in traditional marriage ceremonies when the officiant asks if anyone present has reason to object to or prevent the marriage from proceeding.

The Meaning of “Admit” in the Phrase “Admit Impediments”

The word “admit” here means to allow or accept. So when the poet says “let me not…admit impediments,” he is saying that he will not allow anything to obstruct the marriage between two people truly in love.

He is rejecting the idea that external factors, objections, or practical barriers should have the power to prevent a couple from marrying when they are bound by true love.

What Are Some Examples of Potential “Impediments” to Marriage?

There are many types of impediments that could potentially block or disrupt a marriage:

  • Legal restrictions: In Shakespeare’s time, laws prohibited certain social classes, religious affiliations, or ethnicities from intermarrying.
  • Family objections: Couples may face resistance from disapproving parents, siblings, or extended family who do not sanction the match.
  • Social conventions: Societal norms regarding issues like differences in age, social standing, or wealth between partners can impede marriages.
  • Prior marriages or betrothals: If one or both partners are not yet divorced from a previous marriage or still betrothed to someone else, this bars them from marrying again.
  • Financial circumstances: Lack of financial means to establish a household can obstruct marriage plans.
  • Personal opposition: One partner may have doubts, feel reluctance, or chang their mind, preventing the marriage from going forward.

The poet rejects the idea that any of these external factors or internal waverings should be allowed to bar the marriage of two souls who are perfectly matched in love.

What Is the Broader Meaning of These Lines in the Context of Sonnet 116?

These opening lines serve to establish one of the sonnet’s central themes: true love is unalterable, unaffected by any outside forces or circumstances.

By boldly rejecting any impediments to marriage, the poet stresses that if two people are united by a profound, spiritual love, nothing should prevent their union.

The lines also convey a sense of defiance against any authority or tradition that would claim the power to stand in the way of true love. The poet forcefully denies this power.

Finally, these lines set an optimistic, idealistic tone for the rest of the sonnet, which continues to praise the constancy of love and its ability to transcend all barriers.

So in short, “let me not admit impediments” expresses the poet’s conviction that true love cannot and should not be obstructed. It introduces the sonnet’s themes of love’s constancy and its resistance to all that would seek to divide lovers.

What Is the Importance of the Word “Marriage” in This Phrase?

The poet specifically mentions “marriage” rather than just love more broadly. Marriage represents the formal, public, and legal recognition of a couple’s union.

By insisting that this ultimate expression of commitment should not be hindered, Shakespeare emphasizes that true love merits full, official legitimization, not just private affection.

The reference to marriage also makes the line resonate with wedding ceremonies, where couples literally must declare any known impediments.

Finally, it elevates the lovers’ relationship to a dignified, socially validated institution rather than a fleeting, secret affair. The poem advocates marriage as the proper and fitting culmination of profound love.

What Is Meant by the “Marriage of True Minds” in This Line?

The phrase “marriage of true minds” is poetic and metaphorical, evoking a spiritual rather than literal meaning of marriage.

“True minds” implies souls, consciousnesses, or people perfectly compatible in their essential nature, like twomatching puzzle pieces. Their union through marriage represents the harmony of kindred spirits joining together.

This suggests a meeting of equals, of two people whose intellect, values, and spirits align so completely that they are all but destined for each other. It is a marriage first and foremost of their deepest selves.

The word “minds” introduces rationality and self-awareness into the conception of love, in contrast to more fleeting physical attractions. It emphasizes devotion stemming from who the lovers are at their core, not superficial qualities.

Overall, the “marriage of true minds” refers to the profound union of two ideal, perfectly matched souls, which the poet exalts as a wonderous occurrence that should be celebrated and revered, unimpeded by external factors.

How Does This Concept Relate to Sonnet 116’s Themes of Constancy and Defiance of Time and Change?

These opening lines elegantly set up two of the sonnet’s main themes:

The theme of love’s constancy

By insisting that the marriage of two perfectly matched minds should face no impediments, the poet sets up the notion that true love is steadfast, unshaken by “removers” or “alteration.”

True minds joined in love stand firmly together against all forces that would try to separate them. Shakespeare promises love is not susceptible to such changes over time.

The theme of love’s defiance of time and circumstance

Closely related is the theme that love is enduring and immutable in the face of temporal change or external circumstance.

Whereas false affections may “alter when it alteration finds,” true love remains constant even as people age or conditions shift. Neither time nor situation can “bend” it from its course.

This introduces the sonnet’s concept that the marriage of true minds is eternal and sublime, transcending human mortality and earthly limits. Whether through skillful metaphor or mystical insight, Shakespeare conveys a moving, inspiring vision of love’s power.

How Does the Line “Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds / Admit Impediments” Relate to the Role of the Speaker in Sonnet 116?

The speaker who urges not to “admit impediments” seems to take on a rhetorical stance as a defender of or authority on true love.

He assumes the role of one who can judge and comment on which loves are “true” and which are flawed or false.

The emphatic, commanding tone indicates a speaker who believes he can discern and dictate the standards for ideal love.

There is a hint of moral or legal authority in the language of “impediments” and “admit,” which comes across like a pronouncement of judgment or arbitration.

This suggests the adopted persona of a philosophical guide, priest, or even judicial officer on matters of the heart.

Overall, these initiating lines establish a speaker who believes it his right or duty to define the character of “true” love and deny any influence that would sully or challenge this ideal. He takes on the role of championing and protecting perfect love.

How Does This Line Allude to and Foreshadow Elements Found Later in the Sonnet?

This opening line elegantly introduces concepts and motifs that Shakespeare expands as the sonnet continues:

  • It invokes the convention of marriage vows, foreshadowing the extended metaphors linking love to marriage.
  • The notion of “impediments” anticipates the “removers” and changes that the speaker insists cannot shake true love.
  • The absolutism of “let me not admit impediments” sets up the uncompromising tone of love’s “alteration finding” to no effect.
  • The idea of “true minds in love” foreshadows the “marriage of true minds” that cannot “admit / variety” but remains “ever-fixed.”

So in deft, economic fashion, these first lines plant the seeds of images, arguments, and principles that Shakespeare will elaborate on over the following lines and in the sonnet’s closure. They form the foundation the rest of the poem is constructed upon.

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, the line “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments” means that the poet is denying that anything can come between true lovers, that is, be an impediment to their love. The word “impediments” refers to any obstacles keeping people from being married. The word “admit” in this context means to allow or accept. The use of the word “impediments” alludes to the moment in the marriage service when the minister invites the parties to state any objections they may have to the marriage. The persona adopted in the poem seems likely to be that of a judge in an ecclesiastical court, given the distinctively legal language used in the poem.

Why Has This Line and Sonnet 116 Proven So Enduringly Popular for Centuries?

There are a few reasons why Sonnet 116’s opening line and the poem as a whole have resonated so profoundly across cultures and eras:

  • It captures the magic and wonder of true love with elegant, evocative metaphors that feel fresh and innovative even today.
  • The poem has a pleasing symmetry and rhythm that gives it a haunting, incantatory quality, making the words easier to memorize and repeat.
  • It expresses ideals about love’s power and constancy that appeal to the romantic imagination and desire to believe in lasting love.
  • The verses offer beautiful conceits, like “marriage of true minds,” that add philosophical depth to the treatment of love.
  • It portrays love optimistically yet realistically, acknowledging love may falter but advocating its triumph over external forces.
  • The poem has an aura of wisdom and moral authority that makes it appealing for ceremonies, tokens, and shared quotations.

Few writers before or since have captured the essence of true love so succinctly and elegantly. The opening line elegantly sets the tone for a sonnet that continues to move and inspire readers centuries after Shakespeare’s era. It remains a testament to the enduring power of poetry to crystallize complex emotions and ideals in just a few perfectly crafted lines.


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