Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130
An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130
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, I think my love as rare
As any she belied in false compare
Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 belongs to the group of sonnets addressed to the Dark Lady.
It is special in a way, as it abandons the conventions of Petrarchan sonnet, very popular in Renaissance England and often used by Shakespeare himself.
In the Petrarchan sonnet it was usual to compare women’s features to nature and to liken the mistress to a goddess. The examples below illustrate the stereotyped and hyperbolic comparisons; the beloved woman always has fair hair like gold, bright eyes like sun or stars, pale complexion like ivory or snow, scarlet lips like coral, blushing cheeks like flowers, musical voice and sweet breath. All these qualities make her an angelic being, worth of worshipping and the poet does not deserve her favour
For example Petrarch in his sonnet 219 says:
She, whose face is of snow, whose hair of gold,
In sonnet 90: and her words' sound Was not like that which from our voices springs
In Richard Barnfield‘s poem Cherry-lipped Adonis, lips are described as “ blushing coral“:
His teeth pure pearl in blushing coral set; cheeks are adorned with flowers: His cheeks, the lily and carnation dyes
Bartholomew Griffen says in Fidessa: My Lady's hair is threads of beaten gold,
Her front the purest crystal eye hath seen,
Here eyes the brightest stars the heavens hold,
Her cheeks, red roses, such as seld have been,
Her pretty lips of red vermilion dye,
Her hand of ivory the purest white,
Her blush Aurora, or the morning sky.
Her breast displays two silver fountains bright,
The spheres, her voice; her grace, the Graces three
In Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella we can read in the sonnet 12:
That her sweet breath makes oft thy flames to rise, That her clear voice lifts thy fame to the skies
And in 71: That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.
Finally, in Thomas Watson’s The Hekatompathia or Passionate Centurie of Love we can found the most probable source of Shakespeare’s poem.
Her yellow locks exceed the beaten gold;
Her sparkling eyes in heaven a place deserve
Her words are music all of silver sound
Her lips more red than any coral stone;
Her breast transparent is, like crystal rock
We can read the poem as a parody on the traditional love sonnet and there is no doubt that in the sonnet Shakespeare refuses the poetic conventions, but the question is why would he want to do so. He didn’t avoid them in his own works; [next page]