The Parody and Satire in Sonnet 130

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Petrarch, a passionate poet exemplifying the ideals of “Courtly Love” in his sonnets, rhapsodizes Laura, a married woman he may never touch. Inspired by a Troubadour style of ode, his work is akin to an Hymn of Love, although unrequited. It is a classical type of sonnet that glorifies one’s love, usually a chaste woman of immaculate beauty and often loved by a Knight. Shakespeare, inspired by this method yet rejecting its’ ideals, reverses our expectations of the traditional themes expressed in sonnets. In “[My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun]” (also known more commonly as “Sonnet 130”), Shakespeare rejects the idea of idolizing his love’s beauty. Known throughout his body of work as the “dark lady”, this woman is seemingly torn apart by her apparent lack of classic conformity to the conventions of the time. In this sense, Shakespeare refuses the Petrarchan perception of love by actively emphasizing her flaws. It is his way of using the blazon form (the grand praising of one’s lover’s virtues) ironically to portray his the object of his affection. How does he convey his grand devotion to the “dark lady” all the while insulting every fibre of her being? At first glance, one might consider this poem to be decidedly distasteful and almost abusive. However, Shakespeare’s mastery of the language manages to create a playfulness that finds a way of conveying his ardent fervor for his beloved.

Sonnet 130 is a classic example of a sonnet written in one stanza, using an iambic pentameter, separated into three quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme is a traditional English or Shakespearian pattern of alternating abab cdcd efef gg. This form enables a natural progression of emotions to a culminating finale statement, encompassing his stance on the theme. The attention to form is also evident in his use of assonance repetition of the “I” sound such as “white” (l.3) followed immediately by “why” (l.3) or the use of Alliteration with “H” sounds such as “hear her” (l.9). This gives the poem a flow of stressed and unstressed sounds, dictating it’s musical cadence. It is a Lyric Poem, as it is brief, expresses a strong emotion in a condensed form and retains a musicality when read.

When the poem opens with “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (l.1), it immediately establishes the ironic tone consistently used throughout the poem. The simile of his love’s looking “nothing like the sun”, is in opposition to the stylized customs of “Courtly Love”. In fact, Shakespeare continuously contradicts the clichés often used to describe one’s beloved by parodying her apparent lack of compliance to the norm. He compares her “dun” (l.3) skin to the “snow” (l.3), her lacklustre lips with “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” (l.2), or her bland cheeks by stating “But no such roses see I in her cheeks” (l.6), stressing the fact that she is not fair as a beautiful woman should be or maybe alluding to a lack of passion on her part. Pale skin, rosy cheeks and golden hair were considered the epitome of beauty during the English Renaissance Era. He uses a metaphor of “black wires” (l.4) to describe her hair, further alienating her from Petrarch’s “She Used to Her Her Golden Hair Fly Free” relating Laura’s hair with “A celestial spirit, a living sun” (l.12). One can also draw a comparison with Laura’s hair being an entity of its’ own, almost alive, whereas the “dark lady’s” hair is lusterless.

Shakespeare’s use of alliteration with the “H”, suggest a connection to the “dark lady’s” somewhat unpleasant breath. Sounding the poem out loud enables one to fully grasp the amount of air forcefully propelled out when repeating those sounds. This is also denoted when he says “Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.” (l.8), yet he stresses the fact that he feels much “delight” (l.7) in the “perfumes” (l.7) of her exhalation. The final couplet is redeeming the speaker by announcing that despite all of her imperfections, he loves her. Shakespeare’s passion for this woman defies even his expectations and suggest that it may be a connection beyond the physicality expressed in Petrarchan inspired poetry. He emphasizes this point by announcing “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare, As any she belied with false compare” (l.13-14). The whole poem comes to an apotheosis with Shakespeare contradicting the conventions of adulation and expressing the unexplainable nature of his adoration. The “dark lady” is therefore immortalized in her uniqueness.

The strong imagery used in this poem create an intense satirical effect. The biting remarks of his “dark lady” while parodying the “Courtly Love”, is meant to express his deep devotion despite her failing to meet every single desirable standard. His love is completely blind. The attention to her dark features may allude to her unchaste character, as during the Elizabethan Era (and throughout most of the Middle Age), darkness was often associated to moral corruption in opposition to fairness representing purity. This dark side may also represent his perceived unhealthy obsession with a morally questionable woman. He acknowledges her shortcomings yet cannot help himself from being completely besotted by her. The final effect is therefore not of denigration, but of wholesome praise for his beloved.

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