Sonnet 130 Study: Unveiling Realism in Love

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Summary of Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare
Sonnet 130 Study: Summary and analysis

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Sonnet 130 by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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 damasked, 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.

Sonnet 130 Summary:

  1. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;”: The speaker starts by saying his lover’s eyes are not as bright as the sun.
  2. “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;”: He says her lips are not as red as coral.
  3. “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;”: He notes that her breasts are not as white as snow, but a duller color.
  4. “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.”: He compares her hair to black wires.
  5. “I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,”: He has seen roses with a mix of red and white,
  6. “But no such roses see I in her cheeks;”: but her cheeks don’t have that rosy color.
  7. “And in some perfumes is there more delight”: Some perfumes are more pleasing
  8. “Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.”: than the breath of his mistress.
  9. “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know”: He loves to hear her speak, even though
  10. “That music hath a far more pleasing sound;”: music sounds much nicer.
  11. “I grant I never saw a goddess go;”: He admits he’s never seen a goddess walk,
  12. “My mistress when she walks treads on the ground:”: but his mistress walks on the ground like everyone else.
  13. “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare”: Despite all this, he believes his love is as exceptional
  14. “As any she belied with false compare.”: as any woman compared falsely with unrealistic standards.

Sonnet 130 poetic styles and metaphors:

  1. Realistic Descriptions: Unlike other love poems that use exaggerated praise, Shakespeare realistically describes his love. He says she doesn’t have bright eyes, red lips, or white skin, which is different from usual love poems.
  2. Negative Comparisons: He compares his love to beautiful things, like the sun, snow, and roses, but says she’s not like them. This is a way to show that she’s normal, not like the perfect images in other poems.
  3. Simple Language: The language in the poem is easy to understand. It doesn’t use difficult words or complicated sentences.
  4. Irony: The poem is ironic because it says the opposite of what you expect in a love poem. This makes the reader think about what true beauty is.
  5. Final Twist in the Couplet: In the last two lines, Shakespeare surprises us by saying he finds his love as wonderful as any woman. This shows his deep affection for her, despite her ordinary appearance.
  6. Metaphor of False Comparison: The whole poem acts as a metaphor for the unrealistic standards in other love poems. It shows that real love is about more than just perfect looks.

Realism in Sonnet 130:

In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare uses realism to talk about love in a different way. Instead of saying his lover is super beautiful or perfect, he says she’s normal. For example, he says her eyes are not as bright as the sun, her lips are not really red, and her skin is not as white as snow. This is realistic because most people don’t actually look like these perfect images.

Shakespeare is being honest and showing that you can love someone even if they don’t look like the perfect people in other poems. He’s saying that real love is about more than just looks. In the end, he tells us he loves his girlfriend just as much as if she were as beautiful as the women in other poems.

So, the essence of realism in Sonnet 130 is showing love truly and honestly, without exaggerating or pretending things are different from how they really are. It’s about loving someone for who they are, not just for how they look.


Remember that in Sonnet 18, Shakespeare compares his love to a summer’s day. He says she is more beautiful and gentle than summer. This is a typical way of showing love in poems, where the loved one is compared to something really beautiful in nature. On the other hand, Sonnet 130 is more realistic. Shakespeare doesn’t use big comparisons. Instead, he says his love is not like the sun or snow, but he still loves her deeply. So, while Sonnet 18 is about ideal beauty and perfection, Sonnet 130 is about real, true love that doesn’t need comparisons to nature. Both poems show love but in very different ways.


Personifications in Sonnet 130:

In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare does not extensively use personification, especially when compared to the abundant use of this literary device in many of his other sonnets. Personification involves giving human attributes to non-human things or abstract ideas, and in this particular sonnet, Shakespeare’s approach is more direct and literal.

Instead of personifying objects or abstract qualities, Shakespeare spends the sonnet making clear, straightforward comparisons between his mistress and various elements of nature or beauty, often negating the typical comparisons found in love poetry of his time. For example, he says her eyes are not like the sun, her lips are not as red as coral, and her breasts are not as white as snow. These are direct comparisons rather than personifications.


Structural Analysis of Sonnet 130:

Sonnet 130, like all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, has a special structure. It has 14 lines in total, which is typical for a sonnet. The poem is written in a form called iambic pentameter. This means each line has 10 syllables, and the rhythm goes like ‘unstressed-stressed.’ It sounds like a heartbeat.

The rhyme scheme of Sonnet 130 is ABABCDCDEFEFGG. This means the last words of the lines rhyme in a specific pattern. For example, the first line (ending with ‘sun’) rhymes with the third line (ending with ‘dun’), and so on.

The sonnet is divided into three quatrains (four lines each) and a final couplet (two lines). In the quatrains, Shakespeare describes his mistress and compares her to different things. He says she’s not like the sun, coral, snow, and other beautiful things. In the final couplet, he changes his tone and says he loves her as much as any woman.

So, the structure of Sonnet 130 helps Shakespeare share his message in a clear and rhythmic way. It’s a mix of description in the quatrains and a surprise ending in the couplet.


Study Guide Questions for Sonet 130

  1. Understanding the Language:
    • What are the main differences in the way Shakespeare describes his mistress in Sonnet 130 compared to the typical descriptions of love interests in other sonnets?
  2. Theme Exploration:
    • How does Sonnet 130 challenge the conventional ideas of beauty?
    • Discuss the theme of realism in Sonnet 130. How does Shakespeare use realistic descriptions to convey his message?
  3. Literary Devices:
    • Identify and explain the use of any similes or metaphors in Sonnet 130. How do they contribute to the poem’s overall meaning?
    • Are there any examples of irony in Sonnet 130? How do they affect the reader’s understanding of the poem?
  4. Comparative Analysis:
    • Compare and contrast the portrayal of love in Sonnet 130 with that in Sonnet 18. How do the different approaches to describing beauty affect the tone of each poem?
    • How does Sonnet 130 fit within the context of Shakespeare’s other sonnets? Does it follow or break away from the typical themes and styles of his sonnet sequence?
  5. Personal Interpretation:
    • What is your personal reaction to the way Shakespeare describes his mistress in Sonnet 130? Do you find it more or less effective than traditional romantic descriptions?
    • How might the message of Sonnet 130 be relevant in today’s society?
  6. Structure and Form:
    • Discuss the structure of Sonnet 130. How does the form contribute to the overall impact of the poem?
    • How does the final couplet of Sonnet 130 change or enhance the meaning of the previous lines?
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