Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Rejection of Petrarchan Blazon Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 College

Sonnet 130 By William Shakespeare is a rejection of the Petrarchan blazon rhetoric, made popular by Italian poet Petrarch in his Canzoniere, in which Petrarch idealizes the beauty of his love subject Laura through an anatomical analysis of her body. By comparing the lady’s body parts to the finest imagery of nature, Petrarch idealizes her peerless beauty and her worthiness to be loved. In this sonnet, Shakespeare reverses the traditional Petrarchan conceit and paints a picture of a woman who possesses none of the fine qualities celebrated in blazon. Rather than describing a fair blonde as an unattainable object of love who must be pursued in a courtly relationship, as in the blazon style, Shakespeare's female is an earthly and attainable “dark lady” whose appearance is totally incompatible with the blazons' conventional standards of beauty. In writing this sonnet, Shakespeare seeks not to denigrate the “dark lady” by displaying her physical imperfection, but rather to portray the unrealism of blazons and their exaggerated standards of beauty that can never be met by any mortal creature. In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare celebrates the earthly imperfection of mortals while rejecting the flawless yet unrealistic perfection...

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