“My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun” Essay
Updated: Oct 6th, 2020
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” was chosen for the evaluative assignment due to its frankness of expression and simplicity along with its inclusion of important themes for consideration. Moreover, this sonnet is one of few poems written by Shakespeare to bear a humorous tone, another vital point of critique.
Although Shakespeare wrote about the exquisite beauty of a young woman and compared her to a goddess, saying, “I grant I never saw a goddess go; my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground,” the entire poem can be considered a parody of the stereotypical love letters that men used to write to their loved ones, as exemplified by the unexpectedly prosaic thought that ends the comparison to a goddess: “my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground” (Shakespeare 136). In this juxtaposition of ideas, Shakespeare mocked those poets who equated women to deities, stating explicitly that his mistress had nothing in common with a goddess.
Evaluating a sonnet written by such a classical writer from a humorous perspective will shed light on the true meaning of his literary work. It will also show Shakespeare’s mastery, not only in creating dramatic pieces but also in using wit and irony to talk about the theme of true love, the key literary characteristic chosen for the analysis. Another example of parody when speaking about a beloved woman is the following excerpt: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips red” (136).
In contrast to many poets, Shakespeare chose a completely different route; despite stating that his mistress is not an ideal woman and that she is not infinitely beautiful, the author implied that he loved her nonetheless. In the last couplet, he suggested that she was just as “rare” as “any she belied with false compare” (136). Therefore, the woman described in the poem did not embody physical perfection in the eyes of her admirer; rather, she possessed such traits as a fascinating personality, which cannot fade with time.
It is impressive to read a poem elevating the individual features of a woman such as kindness instead of her beauty, which can be considered in the same terms as a modern interpretation of true love and devotion. Undoubtedly, the poem projected a friendly and humane impression to its readers; it elicited laughter due to its genuine expression of warm feelings.
When considering Shakespeare’s attempts to criticize the classical poets of his time, it is important to draw comparisons directly from the text. For example, when Shakespeare wrote, “Coral is far more red than her lips red” (136), his sentiment was in complete contrast to this passage from Watson’s Sonnet 7: “Her lips more red than any Coral stone” (qtd. in Forsyth 94). In comparing the two examples, it can be concluded that Shakespeare made fun of poets who attempted to liken the appearance of women to natural phenomena.
Throughout the entire Sonnet 130, Shakespeare used every opportunity to explain to his readers that a woman should not be compared to something of elevated substance but should be valued and loved for who she is as an individual. Another point of comparison is Lord Byron’s “She walks in beauty, like the night; of cloudless climes and starry skies” (qtd. in Muldoon 27). Shakespeare, on the other hand, refused to describe the walk of his beloved lady as something ethereal: “My mistress when she walks treads on the ground” (136).
It is important to mention that some readers may consider the sonnet to be offensive to the woman it describes. Indeed, Shakespeare wrote that his mistress’s hair was similar to wires, and instead of being pale and beautiful, her skin was dun, which means a dull or grayish brown. Nevertheless, she was still loved and valued by her admirer.
In “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” the poet announced his devotion to a woman regardless of the stereotypical ideals of beauty that men of the seventeenth century commonly expressed. His love was much higher than the “heaven,” and thus, he did not want to make the same mistake that men had always made: elevating the beauty of a woman over other qualities. By using humor and satire, Shakespeare for all practical purposes attacked men who thought that women were objects of desire. His mistress was not the stereotypical ideal of beauty, to be compared with precious things such as jewels or flowers. Instead, she possessed wonderful personal values that could not be seen immediately but had to be discovered with time.
Many modern readers perceive William Shakespeare as an example of a classic romantic writer who elevated the beauty of women and compared them to goddesses. However, he wanted to break the stereotype and used humor to criticize his fellow poets for their obsession with female beauty, suggesting that men should fall in love with women because the latter had interesting personalities. Thus, the key theme of Sonnet 130 was associated with Shakespeare’s desire to show that real love goes far beyond looks.
Forsyth, Mark. The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. Icon Books, 2013.
Muldoon, Paul. Lord Byron. Faber and Faber, 2007.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Ticknor and Fields, 1865.
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Updated: Oct 6th, 2020 William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” was chosen for the evaluative assignment due to its frankness of expression and simplicity […]