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Close Reading of Shakespeare´s Sonnet 130

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Sonnet 130 is Shakespeare’s harsh yet realistic tribute to his quite ordinary mistress. Conventional love poetry of his time would employ Petrarchan imagery and entertain notions of courtly love. Francis Petrarch, often noted for his perfection of the sonnet form, developed a number of techniques for describing love’s pleasures and torments as well as the beauty of the beloved. While Shakespeare adheres to this form, he undermines it as well. Through the use of deliberately subversive wordplay and exaggerated similes, ambiguous concepts, and adherence to the sonnet form, Shakespeare creates a parody of the traditional love sonnet. Although, in the end, Shakespeare embraces the overall Petrarchan theme of total and consuming love. Sonnet 130 openly mocks the traditional love sonnets of the time. This is, perhaps, made most apparent through the use of subversive comparisons and exaggerated similes. The intention of a subversive comparison is to mimic a traditional comparison yet highlight the opposite purpose. Whereas his contemporaries would compare their love’s beauty to alabaster or pearls, Shakespeare notes, “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun” (3), therefore intentionally downplaying the beauty of his mistress. Later he states, “...in some perfumes there is more delight / than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” (7-8). Both of these exemplify that Shakespeare ridicules the traditional love sonnet by employing the same imagery to convey opposite intentions. Closely related to subversive comparisons, Shakespeare also makes use of exaggerated similes. Unlike his contemporaries, Shakespeare introduces his Mistress in negative conventional terms. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun / cor... ... middle of paper ... ... resolution of his argument by implementing a turn in both the ninth line and the final couplet to substantiate his claim. He makes it known in the lines, “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / that music hath a far more pleasing sound” (9-10) and again in the final couplet, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / as any she belied with false compare” (13-14) that regardless of her flaws, he appreciates her company and realizes that she has been misrepresented by ridiculous comparisons. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, while it employs Petrarchan imagery and form, undermines it as well. Although, in the end, Shakespeare embraces the overall Petrarchan theme of total and consuming love. Works Cited "The Renaissance." The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Ed. Sarah N. Lawall. Eighth Edition. Volume 1. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 1894-1918. Print.
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