An Analysis of Sonnet 130, by William Shakespeare

Old School Papers Post Number 1

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.

Of William Shakespeare’s one hundred fifty-four sonnets, his one hundred thirtieth is one of the most intriguing to examine. Written sometime in the mid-1590s, it was published, along with the rest of his sonnets, in 1609. Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets are concerned with four characters: the speaker, a handsome young man, an older woman, and another poet who is a rival of the speaker. In Sonnet 130, the speaker describes the woman that he loves in extremely unflattering terms but claims that he truly loves her, which lends credibility to his claim because even though he does not find her attractive, he still declares his love for her.

Traditionally, Shakespearean sonnets are written in fourteen lines, with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg, and Sonnet 130 is no exception. Lines one and three (sun and dun), lines two and four (red and head), lines five and seven (white and delight), lines six and eight (cheeks and reeks), lines nine and eleven (know and go), lines ten and twelve (sound and ground), and lines thirteen and fourteen (rare and compare) each rhyme with one another (Caws 1141). The majority of the poem gives negative connotations. The sun, red coral, snow, roses, perfumes, music, and a goddess all bring to mind beautiful images, but the speaker’s mistress’ eyes, lips, breasts, cheeks, breath, voice, and walk are all contrasted with the descriptions of loveliness. Her eyes do not shine, her lips are not red, her breasts are not white, her cheeks are pale, her breath stinks, she does not have a pleasant voice, and she does walk gracefully as a goddess would. The speaker seems to be viewing his mistress disdainfully, as if he is not attracted to her, and after reading the first twelve lines, a sense of indignation and perhaps sorrow for this woman who is so ugly that not even her lover describes her as being pretty is felt (141). The images serve to make the sonnet come to life because the readers can “see” the comparisons through the use of descriptive words.

However, in the last two lines of the poem, which are indented for the purpose of standing out, recognizing the change in attitude, and showing the point of the poem, the speaker proclaims that his love is “as rare/As any she belied with false compare” (141). Even though the speaker has just brought attention to the many shortcomings of his love, he not only loves her, but he loves her and thinks more highly of her than any woman who has ever been described favorably by the previously mentioned qualities. Also, the word false suggests that the women who have been described in terms such as their eyes shining like the sun have not been accurately described (141). No woman’s body parts really look like the beautiful images that have been described, so the speaker is being truthful rather than using the flowery language common during Shakespeare’s time. Also, beauty should not be the reason that one loves someone.
The sentences of Sonnet 130 are written in iambic pentameter, with ten syllables and a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. Shakespeare often used this style of writing. Writing the poem in iambic pentameter gives rhythm to the poem and helps it flow smoothly. The sentences are not choppy. The first four lines make up one sentence, and the second sentence is composed of the next four lines. The last six lines are made up of three sentences, with two lines for each sentence. The sentence structure also helps the poem to flow smoothly, which is important because the author simply wants to describe his mistress.

The speaker seems to be credible because he recognizes that his mistress is not perfect; in fact, she seems imperfect in every way. Yet, he still loves her more than anyone else. He also suggests that other writers who hold their loves to impossible standards are not being truthful. Perhaps true love is accepting that a person has faults and loving them anyway.

One Response to An Analysis of Sonnet 130, by William Shakespeare

  1. Greg July 22, 2009 at 2:30 am #

    Wow, this is so poorly written I should have been shot in front of my mother.

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