Literature Analysis of Sonnet 130
Many men in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries composed sequences of sonnets about women whom they loved. William Shakespeare’s incomplete sonnet sequence is among the genre’s most acclaimed. Most authors embellished their women’s physical characteristics, but Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet states that his mistress lacks most of the qualities other men wrongly praise their women for possessing, such as eyes like the sun or lips as red as coral. While Shakespeare criticizes his lover’s physical traits, he believes his ³love as rare as any?² and displays subtle disdain for relationships ³belied by false comparison.² Through this work Shakespeare tells the reader that true love recognizes imperfections and feels devotion regardless of flaws.
Like most of Shakespeare’s work, his 130th sonnet has meaning on several levels. First, he commentates on love as opposed to lust. A lustful man would focus on pleasing corporal characteristics, such as white breasts, red lips, and fragrant breath; however, Shakespeare’s women’s ³breast are dun,² her lips not nearly as red as coral, and her breath less delightful than many perfumes. Because Shakespeare recognizes her bodily shortcomings, he uses his true love to contrast lust.Additionally, Shakespeare subtly chastises the common practice of exaggerating feminine beauty in sonnets. Contrasting conventional form with an anti-Petrarchan sonnet, one that states what the women lacks instead of what she has, Shakespeare hints that he disagrees with the common practice of praising a women for characteristics she may, but probably does not, possess. When Shakespeare ends the sonnet commenting on ³false compare,² he basically means that a man truly in love should not falsify his lovers attributes. Since Shakespeare believes love should see flaws but be able to overlook them, he disagrees with sonnets that dismiss and distort the muse’s defects.
Finally, in his deepest meaning, Shakespeare implies all people should accept imperfections they can not change. Shakespeare’s woman cannot control her cheeks’ natural color or her dark hair, but Shakespeare loves her in spite of her imperfections. Perhaps, through this Shakespeare wishes to convey that all people should love themselves even though they are not perfect. Shakespeare uses his sonnet to differentiate between love and lust, criticize writers who fabricate their women’s splendor, and tell readers to accept what they can not change.
To communicate his many meanings, Shakespeare uses several literary devices. Most obviously, Shakespeare uses rhyme and rhythm to make the poem more aesthetically pleasing. The consistency of rhyme scheme (ABABCDCDEFEFGG) and rhythm underscore Shakespeare’s unwavering feelings toward his lover.
In addition to rhythm and rhyme, Shakespeare uses comparisons to tell describe how his woman is not. For example with a simile, he states that his ³mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.² Shakespeare also employs metaphors such as ³black wires grow on her head.² Essentially, every line of the poem except for the couplet describes the women through a comparison. These comparisons enable the reader to vividly picture what his mistress’ does not look like. Shakespeare uses literary devices to aid the reader’s comprehension.
Overall, Shakespeare does an excellent job of expressing his ideas. Most importantly, the sonnet does not blatantly present its theme; instead, the sonnet veils its premise to ensure its integrity as a work in the genre. If Shakespeare had simply said that love should recognize and accept imperfections, stylistically, the sonnet would be weak because its pattern would be inconsistent with the other sonnets in the series, all of which describe Shakespeare’s relationship with his mistress, his feelings for her, or her attributes.
Additionally, the sonnet’s unconventionality successfully draws the audience into the literature. While sonnet 130 follows the basic style of sonnet writing, it subtly criticizes the woman by comparing her to wonderful things and stating her inadequacies. Readers wonder why Shakespeare would highlight the flaws of the woman he loves so they hypothesize his intent. When writing actively involves the audience, as Sonnet 130 does, it sets itself apart from other works that simply speak to the reader. In a sense, Sonnet 130 is similar to the allegory of the cave because it has a profound meaning that the reader must search for himself.
While the sonneteer excellently draws his audience’s attention, he also presents an exceptional breadth of meanings. The writing’s first meaning of differentiating between love and lust is relatively simple, and almost all readers would understand his commentary on the deadly sin. His second meaning is a more complex literary critique. Only those familiar with sonnets and their characteristic exaggeration would comprehend his censure of misrepresenting the muse. Finally, his last meaning, the most universal yet most concealed, displays his full skill as an author. All readers can relate to Shakespeare’s third implication that everyone should accept his faults that are beyond his control and love himself despite of them. Readers are less likely to recognize the last allusion because it does not tie as directly to sonnets in general or love as the others. Shakespeare’s ability to have diverse meanings at many levels for all members of his audience not only substantiates his skill but also mirrors some of his plays such as Macbeth, in which parts speak to every member of the audience. In Macbeth, the groundlings laughed at the porter’s crude humor while royalty found his witches entertaining. Like many good writings, sonnet 130 has meanings that speak to every level of society.
Finally, for a stylistic dénouement Shakespeare effectively uses literary devices such as rhythm, rhyme, simile, and metaphor to enliven his words. The reader can visualize what Shakespeare’s woman is not like because of his colorful language, such as ³My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.² The sound-oriented devices Compositely, Shakespeare does a wonderful job in his 130th sonnet.
Retrospectively, Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet is most significant because it presents a model of how true love should be. While the sonneteer appears to criticize his mistress for her imperfection, but it actually expresses the concept that true love recognizes flaws and adores in spite of them. In its 14 lines, this poem imparts three diverse meanings at different depths. Most obviously, the poem commentates on love versus lust. All readers in Shakespeare’s time would comprehend his commentary on the deadly sin. A bit deeper, the sonnet is a literary critique of other sonnets’ embellishment of the woman’s qualities. Finally, most profoundly, Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet tells all readers to love themselves despite their flaws and to accept their attributes which they cannot change. Shakespeare uses literary devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, and comparison, to highlight his ideas. Finally, this poem is superb because of Shakespeare’s veiled allusions and consistency with sonnet style despite unconventional ideas. While sonnets were fashionable in Shakespeare’s time, this writer’s style took his poem far beyond the trend.
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