Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnet 130: His Not So Fair Lady

Many men in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries composed sequences of sonnets about women whom they loved. William Shakespeare's incomplete sonnet sequence is among the genre's most acclaimed. Most authors embellished their women's physical characteristics, but Shakespeare's 130th sonnet states that his mistress lacks most of the qualities other men wrongly praise their women for possessing, such as eyes like the sun or lips as red as coral. While Shakespeare criticizes his lover's physical traits, he believes his ³love as rare as any² and displays subtle disdain for relationships ³belied by false comparison.² Through this work Shakespeare tells the reader that true love recognizes imperfections and feels devotion regardless of flaws.

Like most of Shakespeare's work, his 130th sonnet has meaning on several levels. First, he commentates on love as opposed to lust. A lustful man would focus on pleasing corporal characteristics, such as white breasts, red lips, and fragrant breath; however, Shakespeare's women's ³breast are dun,² her lips not nearly as red as coral, and her breath less delightful than many perfumes. Because Shakespeare recognizes her bodily shortcomings, he uses his...

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