Published on September 24, 2014
SONNET 130 William Shakespeare
LESSON OBJECTIVES Identify the form of a traditional sonnets through analysis. Understand the terms used to describe the features of sonnets.
STARTER ACTIVITY. This poem is about love and writing- how comparisons used by lovers (and poets) are often unrealistic. Make a list of all the romantic comparisons that the poet denies. Example: ‘Her eyes are not like the sun.’ View slide
CONTEXT William Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 130. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets go against the traditional Petrarchan sonnets. Petrarchan Sonnets are love poems, which idolize a character called Laura. Petrarch praises Laura’s beauty, worth and perfection, a mixture of over the top and theatrical metaphors are used to describe Laura. At the time of Shakespeare the genre of Petrarch sonnets had grown stale and clichéd. Sonnet 130 presents a more realistic view on love. Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets are addressed to an unnamed young nobleman; this is unusual because sonnets tended to be addressed to women. The other sonnets are addressed to a mysterious woman. The speaker in the sonnets to the woman loves, hates and simultaneously lusts for the mysterious woman. It was unusual for sonnets at this time include feelings of hate and lust. This sonnet could have appealed more to lower class people who would not have had the time or money to make themselves into a fashionable beauty. View slide
CONTEXT AND MEANING During the Elizabethan times fashionable woman would spend time and money on looking trying to look beautiful. The Elizabethans believed that beautiful women were blue eyed, fair-haired, pale skinned with red lips. Lower class people who would have certainly agreed with the message of this poem, that love and beauty are not necessarily linked. Sonnet 130 mocks the Petrarchan sonnets by suggesting that it is ridiculous to compare someone to something, which is beautiful because you may be left disappointed if you find your lover does not measure up to what they are being compared to. Sonnet 130 is amusing because the speaker takes the Petrarchan metaphors literally and he literally compares his love. However, when the speaker’s love does not compare well the speaker tells the audience his honest opinion about his love.
THEMES AND IDEAS The main idea running through the poem is that people do not need to be beautiful to be loved or to be in love. In the poem the poet compares his love to many beautiful things (sun, snow, roses), although she does not measure to up these things the speaker still loves her. Shakespeare can be said to parody the traditional content of the sonnet and expose its hyperbolic promises. Love was a common theme in sonnets.
SONNET CXXX WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564- 1616) 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. The tone of the first three quatrains is negative and we get the impression that the speaker is dissatisfied with his love.
SONNET CXXX WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564- 1616) 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. The poem is drawn into a conclusion in the last two lines by use of a couplet ‘by heaven, I think my love rare’ here the poet concludes that he loves her although she is not fashionable beautiful.
MEANING The main messages of this sonnet is that someone does not need to be beautiful to be loved, love is rare and it should be valued and people should not expect love to be how it is presented in poems.
FORM AND STRUCTURE RHYTHM This poem is written in Iambic Pentameter. 5 feet (pairs of syllables) Each foot has an unstressed , followed by a stressed syllable. This gives the poem a regular rhythm
FORM Shakespeare does follow traditional English sonnets as Sonnet 130 as 14 lines and it follows the rhyming scheme ABABCDCD etc. By using the tradition rhyme scheme of English Sonnets, Shakespeare can be said to be using it to parody the hyperbolic nature in which poets expressed their love for others.
Each box is a foot. Each foot has an unstressed and a stressed syllable Each line has 5 feet. If snow be white why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires black wires grow on her head;
Q1. WHY ARE THE STRESSES REVERSED IN THE FIRST FOOT OF THE SECOND LINE? Coral = stressed then unstressed syllable The reverse stress emphasises how unnatural this would be in reality, by interrupting the natural rhythm of the line. This is an example of form imitating meaning.
Q2. IS THERE A CHANGE IN STRUCTURE BETWEEN THE FIRST FOUR LINES AND THE NEXT EIGHT? At first, each comparison takes up 1 line. Then the comparisons take up 2 lines. Effect? Develops the tone of parody in the eight line section.
Q3. WHICH WORD IN LINE EIGHT IS PARTICULARLY STRONG ? ‘reeks’ Effect: to emphasise that the poem is a parody of romantic sonnets, it mocks the language (beautiful is replaced with ugly: ‘wires’ and ‘reeks’) The plosive sound, ‘k’ sound in the word ‘reekes’ creates a cacophony effect, which reflects the unpleasant content of the first three quatrains and the unpleasant description of the love’s breath
Q4.WHAT WORDS IN LINE NINE REVEAL THIS IS A LOVE POEM? ‘I love to hear her speak,’
Q5. WHAT ROMANTIC NOTION DOES LINE ELEVEN-TWELVE DENY? ‘walking on air’ denies she glides along gracefully as a goddess.
Q6.WHAT WORDS IN LINE THIRTEEN EXPRESS THE POET’S STRENGTH OF FEELING? he swears ‘by heaven’
Q7. WHY IS THE RHYTHM IRREGULAR IN LINE THIRTEEN? The thought is different in the heroic couplet. The rhythm emphasises the change. Does the rhyme scheme change? How does the layout in lines 13/14 change? This is a second example of form imitating meaning.
Q8. WHAT IS THE POET SAYING IN THE FINAL COUPLET? His lover is as rare (special/extraordinary) as any woman. She is so extraordinary, that the poet does not need to exaggerate her beauty with false comparisons. Any woman to whom she is compared –will be shown to be false, because perfection is a myth. He loves her imperfections. True and lasting love is based in realism not idealism.
POETIC FEATURES The poet uses parallelism to compare his love to the standards of ladies in Petrarchan poetry ‘If snow be white, why her breasts are dun’. The effect of the parallelism is it makes the contents of the poem clear and the audience knows exactly why the poet dissatisfied with his love. There is a lot of negative imagery in this sonnet. By creating imagery then not continuing with it and then describing a new image, Shakespeare builds up the poem and brings it back down, creates drama and keeps the reader’s interest as they want to know where the poem will go next. The effect of the tripling ‘damaskt, red and white,’ builds up the beauty the poet has seen in the rose. By building up the beauty in the rose, it causes a sharp contrast between the rose and the poet’s love, who does not measure up when compared to the rose. In this poem as in many poems roses symbolise romance. In this poem Shakespeare uses the rose to compare idealised romance ‘I have seene Roses damaskt’ to reality ‘no such Roses see I in her cheeks’.
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