Shakespeare Sonnet 130 Analysis Summary Theme

Shakespeare Sonnet 130 Analysis Summary Theme 

Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 paints a verbal portrait of the dark-lady that is as unconventional and frank as the speaker's proclamation of his love for her. Let's fully explore the Sonnet 130 Analysis Summary Themes. 

Shakespeare Sonnet 130 Analysis Summary Theme

Shakespeare Sonnet No 130 Summary Themes Analysis 


The sonnets devoted to the "Dark Lady " run from "Sonnet 127" to "Sonnet 154". This poem, perhaps the most famous of the sequence. The question as to who 'she' actually is has intrigued Shakespeare's critics since the sonnets were first published in 1609. Most probably, "the dark lady" along with the "Fair youth" and the "rival poet" are characters created for the sonnet sequence, inspired partially by fictional characters and real-life acquaintance. "Sonnet 130" provides no further clues as to her identity, but paints a verbal portrait of the "dark lady" that is as unconventional and frank as the speaker's proclamation of his love for her.

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Poem Text:

Sonnet 130
William Shakespeare 

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 hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damsak'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.

Summary of the Sonnet 130

Line 1:

The subject of "Sonnet 130", as well as Sonnets 127 through 154 of Shakespeare's sequence, is known as the " dark lady" - not only because of the mystery that surrounds her, but because of her appearance as described in this poem. Certainly, the speaker is mocking the employment of a typical Petrarchan conceit, in which women's eyes were compared to the sun, stars, and other heavenly bodies; such expressions lose their subtlety of meaning with overuse and becomes cliches. But in refusing to describe his mistress in the expected way, the speaker has also identified her as an individual. Her glance is not light or bright, but deeper and perhaps more profound. 

Lines 2 - 3:

Red coral, used in jewelry, was of a color thought pleasing for lips; even today, "coral" is a common shade of lipstick. Smooth, milky-white skin was also valued for its beauty during Shakespeare's time. As the speaker bluntly proclaims, his mistress's features do not measure up to the typical standards of attractiveness; indeed, his description of her skin as a dull grayish brown sounds like an insult. But is it? Pure whiteness represented virginity. Alternately, this woman's coloring might not just represent her dirtiness, but also her earthiness, and perhaps her natural sexuality. There is also possibility that the mistress is of a darker-skinned race. 

Line 4:

The comparison was not quite as unflattering during the Renaissance as during modern times. Threads of beaten gold used in jewelry were the basis of the idea of wires, not the utilitarian metal cords of today. The term "black wires" also does not rule out the possibility that the mistress was of a different ethnicity, such as Asian or African. 

Lines 5 - 6:

Damask is a deep rose color, in addition to a fabric decorated with highly wrought patterns. The "dark lady's" face apparently does not possess the healthy glow of the first, or the luster and richness of the latter. 

Lines 7 - 8:

The idea that "reek" and "stink" are synonymous did not develop until at least a century after Shakespeare wrote this sonnet. Renaissance readers would understand that the mistress's exhaled breath was not as pleasant as some perfumes - probably a very realistic observation, but a surprising departure from the traditional flattering line. 

Lines 9 - 10:

"Her voice is my music to my ears"; this is not an uncommon cliche even today, though the speaker deliberately shunned its sentiment in this sonnet several centuries ago. Though his judgement sounds harsh, he pays her an unusual compliment in commending her conversational arts - especially during the Renaissance, when women were not considered the intellectual equals of men. 

Lines 11 - 12:

A typical Petrarchan conceit might flatter a female subject by comparing her gait to an immortal's stride. This speaker refuses to compare his mistress with that which he has never seen. As in line 3, her description suggests that she has an earthy quality; to use another cliche, she has "both feet on the ground."

Lines 13 - 14:

This couplet explains why these lovers will remain a couple, even after 12 lines of frank comentary regarding the woman's shortcomings and imperfections. The "dark lady" and the reader can now be certain that the speaker will not flatter because of habit or tradition; so when he claims that she is precious and exceptional to him, his words ring true. Indeed he loves her for all her faults, not for what he might have built her up to be. She is unconventional and unpredictable, but so is he in his approach towards romance; her earthiness and his bluntness seem to make a good match. 

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Themes of Shakespeare Sonnet 130:

Appearances and Reality:

In "Sonnet 130" Shakespeare explores how we perceive things and people around us. Specifically, he is interested in the ways love and traditional forms of thinking about or expressing love can color our perceptions. The poem sets up a series of expectations in the reader, based on long-established conventions of love poetry that stretch from the popular blazon form, to the sonnets of Petrarch, and back to medieval love poetry. As Shakespeare uses the images of such things as the sun, coral, snow, and roses, the reader instantly recognises them as standard materials of love poetry and expects the lover to be compared favorably - or even judged superior - to these things. This is a love poem, the reader understands, and the object of the poet's love will be shown to be better or more beautiful than anything else in the world. However, Shakespeare overturns the conventions and defies the reader's expectations by showing the lover as inferior to the usual standards. As the pien progresses, the readers begin to think that may be the woman is ugly and starts to wonder what kind of love poem this is. The reader is thrown in uncertainty. The conventional standards of love poetry don't apply. The readers become more and more convinced that the poet doesn't love the woman at all. With the closing couplet, however, Shakespeare seems to reverse himself again by insisting that he thinks his love "as rare / As any She belied with false compare." All appearances to the contrary, he does not love her after all, and this is in reality a love poem. 

Creativity and Imagination:

"Sonnet 130" can also be read as an examination of the nature of the poetic imagination. Throughout the poem, Shakespeare inverts the conventional forms, poets have used for centuries to describe the perfect woman. The metaphors and similes comparing the lover's eyes to the sun, her voice to music, and so forth are the tools of the poet's trade, as it were, devices employed to convey what is present in the poet's imagination. But Shakespeare refuses to use these tools; over and over the speaker insists that such comparisons are false. Her lips are not as red as coral, her breasts are not as white as snow, her breath is not finer than perfume. The climax of this series of repudiations comes in lines 11 -12, where the lover is contrasted to a goddess. Goddesses are mythological figures; wholly creations of the imagination, they have no connection to the real world. As such, they have been used by poets to express an absolute ideal, a perfection not possible in real life. In this "Sonnet 130", when Shakespeare declares that his lover is of this world, that she " treads on the ground", he appears to reject the world of imagination, preferring the actual world instead. 

Art and Reality:

Time and time again in his work, Shakespeare criticizes art that is overblown, that is made only of the "aery nothing" of the imagination, and he praises art that is rooted in reality, that holds "the mirror up to nature". Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130", with its condemnation of poetic hyperbole as " false compare", is in this respect characteristically Shakespearean. 

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Critical Analysis of the Sonnet 130:

Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130" is interesting because it works by inverting the tradition of the "blazon form". The reader knows what to expect from this type of poetry, and so the dramatic force of the poem comes from his or her expectations being turned upside down. The surprise is greatest in the first four four lines, in which the contrary imagery is gradually revealed. While the first line does not sound so different from a conventional love poem or poem of praise, by the time the second line has reached its concluding semicolon, the reader is beginning to wonder what the point of the poem is. Here is a poem that, instead of using the superlatives usually associated with this kind of writing, begins to suggest that this woman is not an epitome of beauty and that more beautiful things exist: coral, we are told, is redder than her lips. 

While hardly flattering, this is not, however, too extreme a criticism, and so we enter the third line still almost expecting the poem to revert to tradition and begin its praise of the woman's features. But this still does not happen, and indeed a note of criticism - not harsh one, but a criticism nonetheless is introduced. Her breasts are not white, as they were supposed to be, but "dun", a kind of pale brown color. 

By this time, the reader's suspicions have been thoroughly awakened, and the effect is continued in the following line, that suggests the woman's hair looks like black wires. In an age that held up fair hair and skin as ideals of female beauty, this is clearly not only unflattering, but is verging on the insulting. 

Having established a tone of criticism in this first section, Shakespeare is content to expand his thesis with further examples. Ironically, he still uses the stock images of love poetry, such as roses, perfume, and music to describe his love. Damasked roses are the stuff of love poetry, but the trope of line 5 is quickly undercut by line 6 which completely negates the praise at which the previous line had hinted. 

In a Shakespeare's sonnet, the volta occurs between 12 and 13, so in "Sonnet 130" it appears just before the concluding lines. The volta is signaled by the change from alternating rhymes to a rhyming couplet: "rare" and "compare" create a concluding rhyme to set this section apart from the rest of the sonnet. This is, of course, highly appropriate, for it is at this moment that Shakespeare introduces, with perfect dramatic timing, the central and unexpected point of this poem: that although his mistress is not conventionally beautiful, he loves her more than any other woman and will not judge her value by mere appearance. 

Structure of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130:

In all but three of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets (Sonnet 99, Sonnet 126, Sonnet 145) the first three groups of four lines each are known as quatrains, and the last two lines are recognised as a couplet. The three breaks between the quatrains and the couplet serve as convenient places where the writer's chain of thought may take a different direction. 

In "Sonnet 130", Shakespeare mocks all the conventions of the Elizabethan love poetry. The " Sonnet 130" consists of three quatrains, followed by a rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme of the "Sonnet 130" is abab, cdcd, efef, gg

In "Sonnet 130", the quatrains work support each other in a common way of thinking about the mistress: the couplet, however, is a great surprise, as it seems to contradict the mood and meaning of the lines preceding it. 

Blazon Form: 

In the sixteenth century, a form of poetry called the" blazon" was briefly popular. "Blazon" is a technical term usually used to describe heraldy. It always involved a detailed summary of all of the main features and colors of an illustration and also described the position and relation of one picture to another. This method of description was translated into poetry and was used to portray the features of the human, usually female body. A typical blazon would start with the hair and work downward, focusing on eyes, ears, lips, neck, breasts and so on. This form was well suited to the style of courtly love poetry that was flourishing at this time. 

Iambic Pentameter:

"Sonnet 130" is written in Iambic Pentameter. Iambic meter, the most familiar rhythm in the English language, is simply the succession of alternately stressed syllables in which the first is unstressed and the second is stressed. The use of "penta" (meaning five) before "meter" means that there are five iambs per line. One of Shakespeare's only divergences from the rhythmic flow in "Sonnet 130" is in line 13, when he includes an extra syllable in the poetic foot "by heaven"; this break in the regular meter emphasises the sincerity behind his oath, and perhaps suggests the height of his emotion for his mistress. 

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