Sonnet 130


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 damask’d, 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.

This post will look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 which some of you are familiar with. I am going to use this text to talk about intertextuality as with this poem Shakespeare is not just working within the conventions of a sonnet but also responding to previous examples of sonnets. Intertextuality is an idea that texts don’t stand alone. Texts refer back to other texts, sometimes deliberately and they also will influence later texts. In Sonnet 130 William Shakespeare has reacted to the way in which women tended to be described as goddesses in poetry of the time and it is clearly a parody of the conventional love sonnet.

If you compare poems of the time to Sonnet 130, you will see exactly what elements of the conventional love sonnet Shakespeare is light-heartedly mocking. In Sonnet 130, there is no use of grandiose metaphor or allusion; he does not compare his love to Venus. The ordinary beauty and humanity of his lover are important to Shakespeare in this sonnet, and he deliberately uses typical love poetry metaphors against themselves. In Sonnet 130, the references to such objects of perfection are there, but they are there to illustrate that his lover is not as beautiful. Shakespeare utilises a new structure, through which the straightforward theme of his lover’s simplicity can be developed in the three quatrains and neatly concluded in the final couplet.

In Sonnet 130 Shakespeare is using all the techniques available, including the sonnet structure itself, to enhance his parody of love poetry of the time. However, Shakespeare does end the sonnet by proclaiming his love for his mistress despite her flaws and finally he embraces the theme present in sonnets of the time: total and consuming love.

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