Black is Beautiful in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Astrophil and Stella

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Black is Beautiful in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Sidney's Astrophil and Stella

Germinating in anonymous Middle English lyrics, the subversion of the classical poetic representation of feminine beauty as fair-haired and blue-eyed took on new meaning in the age of exploration under sonneteers Sidney and Shakespeare. No longer did the brown hair of "Alison" only serve to distinguish her from the pack; the features of the new "Dark Lady" became more pronounced and sullied, and her eroticized associations with the foreignness of the New World grew more explicit through conceits of colonization. However, the evolving dichotomy between fairness and darkness was not quite so revolutionary; in fact, Sidney and Shakespeare lauded the virtues of fairness with the same degree of passion as their predecessors, albeit in a cloaked form. To counter their mistresses' exterior darkness, the poets locate an interior lightness that radiates beyond the funereal veil of hair or eyes‹raven-hair or jet-eyes is acceptable only if there is an innate brightness that illuminates the sensuality of the superficial.

Most of the poems addressing the light/dark antithesis choose at some point to make an open declaration that embraces or undermines the dichotomy and lays the groundwork for the rest of the poem. The dichotomous lines tend not to be as straightforward as they suggest. "I can love both fair and brown," from John Donne's "The Indifferent," seems to blur the line between the colors, but by revealing the gracious equanimity of his desire, Donne implicitly reinforces brown's aesthetic inferiority. Shakespeare parodies the antiquated contrarieties, which he acknowledges in Sonnet 127: "In the old age, black was not counted fair" (1). In...

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...line "But being both from me" as the couple's being "away from" the speaker, the line can also imply that the two inhabit his mind (11). With this reading, "To win me soon to hell, my female evil/ Tempteth my better angel from my side" means not that the Dark Lady will cast Shakespeare into misery through her upsetting the triangle, but that her power will shift Shakespeare's mind to the dark side. Her temptation is filled with reference to dirtiness of sin: "And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,/ Wooing his purity with her foul pride" (7-8). "Proud flesh" is the swollen flesh surrounding a wound; thus her "foul pride" may be a pun on her genitalia. The eroticization of her darkness is a salient pointer towards the fascination the poets hold toward darkness; beneath that impure exterior lies a devilish promiscuity unlike that of all the other fair-haired maidens.

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