AD's English Literature : William Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 130 Describes his Beloved’s Beauty in a Practical Way

William Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 130 Describes his Beloved’s Beauty in a Practical Way


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

  William Shakespeare’s sonnets are highly metaphorical. The sonnets derive their artistic unity less from the story that runs intermittently through them than from their exploration of the universal human themes of time, death, change, love, lust, and beauty. Shakespeare’s deep seriousness permeates even the most lyrical passages. 

Making that drama interesting we meet Sonnet No. 130.  William Shakespeare in this Sonnet No. 130 describes his beloved’s beauty in a practical way. Like other poets, he did not compare his beloved with fairy. To him beloved’s eyes are not like bright sun, her lips are not as red as corals, her breasts are not as while as snow but ‘dun’. He compared her hairs with wires. One final note: To Elizabethan readers, Shakespeare's comparison of hair to 'wires' would refer to the finely-spun gold threads woven into fancy hair nets. Many poets of the time used this term as a benchmark of beauty, including Spenser:
“Some angel she had been,
Her long loose yellow locks like golden wire,
Sprinkled with pearl, and pearling flowers atween,
Do like a golden mantle her attire,
And being crowned with a garland green.” 

William Shakespeare
The poet had seen many roses red and white but his beloved’s cheeks cannot be compared with those roses. There are perfumes which pleases his auditory nerves than the body o dour of her. Her voice is not so musical that heals his mind but he loves to her speak. She is totally a human being who ‘treads on the ground’ but not a goddess. Yet, the poet loves her too much. Whatever be her appearance, she is rare to him. Sonnet 130 is the poet's pragmatic tribute to his uncomely mistress, commonly referred to as the dark lady because of her dun complexion. The dark lady, who ultimately betrays the poet, appears in sonnets 127 to 154. Sonnet 130 is clearly a parody of the conventional love sonnet, made popular by Petrarch and, in particular, made popular in England by Sidney's use of the Petrarchan form in his epic poem Astrophel and Stella.

If we compare the stanzas of Astrophel and Stella to Sonnet 130, we will see exactly what elements of the conventional love sonnet William Shakespeare is light-heartedly mocking. In Sonnet 130, there is no use of grandiose metaphor or allusion; he does not compare his love to Venus, there is no evocation to Morpheus, etc. The ordinary beauty and humanity of his lover are important to Shakespeare in this sonnet, and he deliberately uses typical love poetry metaphors against themselves. 

The poets of all age generally describe their beloved’s beauty with fairies but here the poet presents her as a simple girl with her nature beauty. Every beloved is singular in their lover’s eyes; one may imagine her as a virgin lady to another she appears as a simple girl without charms. Whatever may be the appearance of the beloved she is the most beautiful lady before her lover. In Sidney's work, for example, the features of the poet's lover are as beautiful and, at times, more beautiful than the finest pearls, diamonds, rubies, and silk. In Sonnet 130, the references to such objects of perfection are indeed present, but they are there to illustrate that his lover is not as beautiful -- a total rejection of Petrarch form and content. Shakespeare utilizes a new structure, through which the straightforward theme of his lover’s simplicity can be developed in the three quatrains and neatly concluded in the final couplet. 

Thus, William Shakespeare is using all the techniques available, including the sonnet structure itself, to enhance his parody of the traditional Petrarchan sonnet typified by Sidney’s work. But Shakespeare ends the sonnet by proclaiming his love for his mistress despite her lack of adornment, so he does finally embrace the fundamental theme in Petrarch's sonnets: total and consuming love.

In the Elizabethan time the verse writers had got into the habit of drawing the same comparisons over and over again. Such much – produced comparisons had spoiled the originality of the versification. William Shakespeare protested this type of easy practice and his Sonnet No. 130 is an eloquent protests this respect.


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