“Sonnet 130”: True Love in the Time of Shakespeare

Love is often the theme in sonnets. This kind of lyrical poem flourished during the Elizabethan Age. One of the best-known sonneteers is William Shakespeare. He wrote 154 sonnets, which were published as “SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS” in 1609. Out of the 154, “Sonnet 130” is the most famous about love. In this poem, the poet shows that true love goes beyond physical beauty. Shakespearean sonnet is written in three quatrains and a couplet. The quatrains lay down the conflicts and a couplet offers the resolutions. “Sonnet 130” compares the poet’s mistress to images normally associated with beauty during the Elizabethan period.

In the first line, for instance, he compares her to the sun: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”. Then, he goes on by describing her as someone with no coral red lips, dun breasts, black-wired hair, no rosy cheeks and no sweet-smelling breath. The mistress beauty is in conflict with the ideal beauty conventions of the Elizabethan society. Furthermore, with the use of similes, it can easily be discerned what the poet means. For example, the eyes are compared to the sun. The sun is bright and sparkling, which the eyes must also be. However, the mistress eyes are not as radiant and as glowing like the sun.

In the couplet, the poet uses another simile to resolve the conflict: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare” (line 13). Although his mistress is ordinary looking, for him she is special. He believes that her beauty is incomparable to others. Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets are interwoven sequences about a young man and an older woman. The first 126 sonnets are about the young man and the poem’s speaker’s love affairs while the remaining 28 are about the “relationship between the same speaker and an apparently sexually passionate woman of unconventional appearance and morals…” (Hyland 149). Sonnet 130”, in particular, is important to the whole sequence. It provides the reader an idea on the mistress’ appearance. Also, it shows the kind of affection the poet has for the woman. The poet illustrates Lozano 2 that despite the mistress being plain looking, he professes true love for her. In Elizabethan times, society fashioned an ideal form of beauty. The standards for women’s beauty during that time were “one with alabaster white skin, red lips and cheeks, bright eyes and fair hair. Pale skin was extremely important to the definition of the courtly beauty of the time” (La Croix).

Verily, this kind of idealized beauty is reflected in “Sonnet 130” but more as a critic to it. The young poet compares his mistress to various images of beauty, which he later on dismisses. He spurns the idea that a woman must be perfectly beautiful before she could be truly loved. Indeed, this view is shared by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, “…It is not beauty that endears, it’s love that makes us see beauty” (908). Thus, the poet wants to prove his love is real, and as real as her beauty compared to the painted conventional images of Elizabethan women. Clearly, true love goes beyond physical beauty, as depicted in “Sonnet 130”.

Shakespeare used images related to perfect beauty to illustrate that when a person truly loves someone, outer appearance does not matter. He showed that during his time, when idealized beauty was the fashion, true love was possible for women of ordinary beauty. Moreover, “Sonnet 130” is immortalized by its themes, which are true love and idealized beauty. The poem and its themes are not only relevant during Shakespeare’s time but also today as it inspires many people. It proves that beauty is only in the eye of the beholder, and that physical beauty must not be the basis for true love. 21 words. Lozano 3

WORKS CITED Shakespeare, William. “Sonnets. ” Northern Anthology of English Literature Volume 1. Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams, eds. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1047. Print. Hyland, Peter. An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Poems. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 149. Print. La Croix, Marianne. “Standards of Beauty: Elizabethan Ideal Beauty. ” Unusual Historicals. unusualhistoricals. blogspot. com, 05 November 2007. Web. 12 October 2010. Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1993. 908. Web. 13 October 201

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