Top-Rated Free Essay

Shakespeare's Sonnets 20 and Sonnets 130

Better Essays
Although sonnets were originally meant to glorify women, William Shakespeare satirizes the tradition of comparing one’s beloved to all things beautiful under the sun, and to things divine and immortal as well. The Shakespearean sonnet, according to Paul Fussel, “consists of three quatrains and a couplet” (Fussell, p. 123).1 Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is a clear parody of the conventional love sonnet. In fact, it is often said that the praise of his mistress is so negative that the reader is left with the impression that she is almost as unlovable. However, in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, the poet displays power emotions indicating and praising a deep sensual love. With his writing techniques, Shakespeare is able to switch the message in his sonnets by using diction. Therefore allowing him to use diction, and use the Shakespearean sonnet format, in order to articulate love—the real and the fantastical—in both sonnets.
Starting off with Shakespeare’s most controversial sonnet, Sonnet 20 has caused much debate. Some scholars believe that this is a clear admission of Shakespeare’s homosexuality. The sonnet implies that the poet’s lover is the “master-mistress of [his] passion” (l. 2). He has the grace and features of a woman, but is devoid of the guile and pretense that comes with female lovers. Diction plays a major role in Shakespearean sonnets. Shakespeare introduces Sonnet 20 by stating, “A women’s face with nature’s own hand painted.” “Nature” is depicted as the artist painting, or creating, the young’s man face. Through the use of the word “nature,” the point being made is that the face is as beautiful as that of a woman, but better in that it has none of the defects associated with female beauty; also implying that the face is natural, not disfigured by cosmetics, giving it superiority over a female face, which was so often false and artificial. Whereby the idea of false and artificial is carried over to the fourth line, “With shifting change, as if false women’s fashion.” Further in the sonnet, Shakespeare uses the word “hue” in order to describe appearance. “A man in hue all hues in his controlling, which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth” (ll. 7-8), embraces the manly features of the “master-mistress.” His appearance is so sublimely that of a man that he dominates all who surround him. Although he was first created to be a woman, Nature changed her mind as she created the “master-mistress” and turned him to a man for she herself to adore. To support this claim, Shakespeare adds, “But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure, mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure” (ll. 13-14). “She,” in line 13, refers back the Nature, and “prick’d” relates to a man’s penis.
Sonnet 130, one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of love poetry common to Shakespeare’s day. Similarly to Sonnet 20, Shakespeare uses diction in order to strengthen his opinion and love for his mistress on Sonnet 130. In the third line of the poem, Shakespeare compares his mistress’ “skin” and “breasts” with “dun;” a brownish color. During Shakespearean time, skin and breasts were often described as whiter than snow. However, Shakespeare compares his mistress’ “skin” and “breasts” in order to remove any thought of purity. Throughout the sonnet, Shakespeare portrays his mistress to be unworthy. “If hairs be wire . . . “ (l. 4) was often compared to golden wires or threads. However, the shock in this line is not in the wires themselves (a sign of beauty) but in the fact that they are black. Through diction, Shakespeare presents an image of his love for the mistress. “Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks,” (l. 8) strongly emphasizes the mistress’ bad qualities. The word “reek” is tended to be associated with steamy, sweaty, and unsavory smells. There seems to be little doubt that Shakespeare could have used a gentler and more flattering word if he wished to imply that his mistress was a paragon of earthly delights. The next two lines of the sonnet, “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know, that music hath a far more pleasing sound” (ll. 9-10), almost expresses the opposite of their exact meaning. Diction, in these two lines, implies that the poet loves to hear his mistress speak; yet music has a better sound. Furthermore, Shakespeare relates his mistress to a “goddess” although she has only been portrayed as the opposite. Finishing the sonnet, Shakespeare states “And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare, as any she belied with false compare” (ll. 13-14). “Rare” in this situation represents a precious, unusual quality, which would be that of Shakespeare’s love for an imperfect woman—his mistress.
Both sonnets articulate love; using diction only emphasizes which love Shakespeare expressed. Sonnet 20 empowers a man. By examining the sonnet’s first three quatrains, the reader can depict that Shakespeare praises the “master-mistress” by comparing him to a woman, yet allowing him to not have the flaws women have. However, Shakespeare takes an unexpected shift in the couplet, admitting that his love for the “master-mistress” is only fantastical love, and although women can have nature’s creating physically, he can love him mentally. In Sonnet 130, however, Shakespeare belittles a woman. He uses the first three quatrains to depict the woman, and all her bad qualities. Similarly to Sonnet 20 though, Shakespeare takes an unexpected turn in Sonnet 130’s couplet. Regardless of his mistress’ defaults, Shakespeare professes his “rare” love for the imperfect mistress, since then that was the love accepted, hence “realistic” love.
William Shakespeare is able to take his sonnets in whichever direction he pleases. In the Sonnets 20 and 130, diction played a key role in allowing the reader to understand and analyze what Shakespeare probably intended to say. But Shakespeare does make one thing clear, his articulation for love.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 685 Words
    • 3 Pages

    English 146: Introduction to English Literature March 07, 2013 Sonnet 130: A Unique Expression of Love How do you express a feeling? Nothing can be more complicated in life then trying to give expression to a state of being. Feelings are convoluted and always in a constant state of change. Part of the way people express feelings is through art, such as painting or the use of written language. In Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 a unique expression of love is presented by the writer to his mistress. His…

    • 685 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 477 Words
    • 2 Pages

    Sonnet 130 Overview Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is about imperfection vs. perfection, personal preference on beauty, love and stereotyping. These ideas are developed throughout the poems quatrains and couplet through techniques. The technique that stood out for me and represented all of the ideas Sonnet 130 is about is imagery, whether it be negative or positive, Shakespeare uses the technique well in conjunction with other techniques to make his point stronger. These ideas are introduced in…

    • 477 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 978 Words
    • 4 Pages

    Sonnet 130: Imperfectly Perfect The secular world is increasingly fixated on the concept of beauty and the pursuit of perfection, however this preoccupation is not unique to the 20th century. While traditional love poems in the 18th century generally focused on glorifying a woman's beauty, Sonnet 130 written by William Shakespeare goes against the conventional culture of love poems and instead describes the realistic nature of his object of affection. In Sonnet 130, the idea of love and is intensely…

    • 978 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 737 Words
    • 2 Pages

    Ethan A. Proffitt ENG 243 Phil Ferguson 11-17-14 Sonnet 130 William Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet is perhaps the most intriguing and conceptually bizarre. The majority of his sonnets on the subject of women detail how lovely and fair they are, or how he is unable to serenade them (often because of a superior man); this particular example is an utter contradiction to his other female-based works. The central idea of the speaker here is to describe the appearance of his love interest to someone else,…

    • 737 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Better Essays

    The Anglo-Saxon Sonnet: Rewriting a Shakespeare’s Sonnet “130” Through the Eyes of the Author of Beowulf My woman’s sight-seers shine like the sun; Her kiss-givers grant a great fiery glow; Her bone-house is a rare beast made to stun; The hairs on her head hang as soft as snow. Like a pollen-producer gleams garnet, Her cheeks blush, blinding any early man; Unlike a slimy serpent’s foul sweat, Her scent smells of fresh gold, or better than. Her voice flows like the whale-road, that I’m…

    • 1609 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 453 Words
    • 2 Pages

    Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare is a love story. He describe the girl as someone who is not attractive, but he still loves her none the less. The purpose of the poem is to tell people that you don’t need to be worried about appearance. It’s what’s on the inside that really matters. Shakespeare is the speaker of this poem. It’s easy to see through the last few lines of the sonnet that he really loves this girl. It’s obvious that he can see through her non-attractiveness, but it’s also obvious…

    • 453 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 870 Words
    • 4 Pages

    In the sonnet 130, by William Shakespeare, plays an elaborate joke on the convention of love poetry. He describes his beloved in a surprising way, informing that she is not the possessor of good looks. In the end poet concludes that he loves his beloved more than he could a perfect maiden. Overall, appearance does not matter where true love is concerned. We normally expect poets to praise their woman they love by comparing them with natures most beautiful things. However, in this…

    • 870 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130

    • 270 Words
    • 1 Page

    This sonnet compares the speaker's lover to a number of other beauties and never in the lover's favor. Her eyes are "nothing like the sun," her lips are less red than coral; compared to white snow, her breasts are dun-colored, and her hairs are like black wires on her head. In the second quatrain, the speaker says he has seen roses separated by color ("damasked") into red and white, but he sees no such roses in his mistress's cheeks; and he says the breath that "reeks" from his mistress is less delightful…

    • 270 Words
    • 1 Page
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Sonnet 130 and Sonnet 18

    • 1084 Words
    • 5 Pages

    The poems “Sonnet 18” and “Sonnet 130” were first published in 1609 and were written by William Shakespeare. The “Sonnet 18” and “Sonnet 130” have no titles that are the reason that they have a number (for example 18 and 130) for the poems. The number was based on the order in which the poems were first published in 1609. These poems are two of one hundred fifty four poems written by Shakespeare. The poems consist of fourteen lines that is divided into two parts. One is an opening octet with eight…

    • 1084 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Sonnet 20

    • 1314 Words
    • 6 Pages

    A Closer Look at Homosexuality in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20 Shakespeare is a name that is familiar to anyone who has a high school education, at the very least. What makes Shakespeare timeless and relevant to every generation since his, is that his works speak universal truths. But how well would he be received in today’s society if it were known that he was homosexual? Would our country’s homophobia change the way we appreciate Shakespeare’s work? In this essay I will argue that Shakespeare was…

    • 1314 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Powerful Essays