Does the Brutal Truth in Sonnet 130 and a Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed Take Away the Beauty of the Poem?

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Does the brutal truth in Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ and Swift’s ‘A beautiful Young Nymph going to bed’, take away from the beauty of the two poems. Beauty and aesthetics can be defined as “Nothing more nor less, than sensitivity to the sublime and the beautiful and an aversion to the ordinary and ugly”, this means that beauty can be absolutely anything which is beautiful as long as it is not ugly or ordinary, this may seem harsh, much like the poems by William Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift. In both poems; ‘Sonnet 130’ by William Shakespeare and ‘A beautiful young nymph going to bed’ by Jonathan Swift, aesthetic beauty is explored in a brutal and honest light. Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ tells the story of a man describing his mistress intimately, yet distastefully; “… why then her breasts are dun.” Whereas in ‘A beautiful young nymph going to bed’, Swift tells the story of a low class prostitute in London in the 18th century “Pride of Drury Lane”, and her undressing “Takes off her artificial hair”.

When considering beauty and aesthetics within the poems; “Sonnet 130” and ‘A beautiful young nymph going to bed’, it may seem impossible to think of the poems as beautiful when they include such vulgarity and distaste towards the women within them; Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ and Swift’s work of fiction ‘Corinna’. However, the poems are written and presented beautifully, and may be considered well deserved of their place within the canon of English Literature. The worth and value of texts within the canon of English literature “… are generally characterised by complexity of plot, structure, language and ideas.” Despite the ugliness in the poems, the way the poems are written and the complexity of them, still leave the poems as classic texts to be enjoyed and appreciated. The use of metaphors, similes and the complexity of the story within both makes them eligible for the canon of English literature, showing that a poem can still be considered beautiful for the way it is written despite the contents.

‘Sonnet 130’ may initially seem harsh; however it was not intended to disparage Shakespeare’s mistress’s looks as so many commentators have understood, what is meant is that she and her looks together do not require ridiculous comparisons to angels which are clearly unrealistic as her personality and the way she is, is attractive in itself. The term “…mistress…” has an ambiguous meaning, it could refer to a husband’s wife, or as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary; “… a woman loved and courted by a man; a female sweetheart” or “a woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship”. The poem suggests the latter meaning, supposing it to be, Shakespeare’s so-called Dark Lady. Shakespeare wrote about ‘the Dark Lady’ in many of his sonnets. Sonnets 127-152 were allegedly based on ‘the Dark Lady’ so called because the poems make it clear that she has black hair and dusky skin, “…breasts are dun.” Each of the poems deal with a highly personal theme, for example, in ‘Sonnet 130’ a relationship between a man and his mistress experiencing love and lust is discussed. The sonnets have an autobiographical feel, posing the question; who was Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’? Shakespeare scholar, Dr Duncan Salkeld from the University of Chichester found evidence suggesting that she was a madam called "Lucy Negro" or "Black Luce", who ran a notorious brothel in Clerkenwell. He believes that she is "the foremost candidate for the dubious role of the “Dark Lady". Wilson Knight said when considering the relationship between Shakespeare and the ‘Dark Lady’; that “…it appears to have been finer than lust and cruder than love”, here he demonstrates his doubts about them being in love. He admits that they may have had strong feelings for each other but questions whether they were in love, he does; however agree that their relationship went further than lust and the sexual side of the relationship. The fact that Shakespeare...
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