Saturday, January 4, 2014

Analysis of "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)" by William Shakespeare

Original poem reprinted online here: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)" by William Shakespeare
Originally read: I think middle school, but I printed this out July 3, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Shakespeare

 Another poem with a lot of analysis and criticisms.  This poem though, regardless of how many analysis and criticisms are written about it, is fun to look at again and again?  Why?  For me, it's the tone of the speaker -- the sheer audacity to write, basically, to state what is beautiful and what is not beautiful.

The poem, written in Elizabethan Sonnet, gives a lot of leeway to the speaker.  The first twelve lines, yeah, let's define beauty and what is not beautiful.  Last two lines, volta, "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare."  The speaker will love her, of course, regardless of her.

"Her" being not the most "beautiful" -- she is lesser in these aspects:

  1. Eyes ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun nothing like the sun")
  2. Lips ("Coral is far more red than her lips' red")
  3. Breasts ("If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;")
  4. Hair ("If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head")
  5. Cheeks ("I have seen roses demasked, red and white, / but no such roses I see in her cheeks")
  6. Breath (And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath from my mistress reeks")
  7. Voice ("I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more please sound)
  8. Way she walks ("I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground")
One or two things, okay yeah that's kind of pushing it.  But eight.  It's enduring eight put downs for the speaker to state -- well, I love you anyway

Now every time I read this poem I think of different ways of interpret the poem.  I think the different interpretations could be combines, but I'm pretty sure they could work individually as well.

1.  Note how the comparisons are based not against another human being.  Sun, coral, snow, roses, perfumes, music, goddess are all visual images that are beyond human.  By comparing her to these things, the critique is against the comparison. 

What I mean is that poems hailing a person tend to not be about the person at all -- the person is brought up to be more.  The speaker is celebrating the fact that he is in love with a human -- someone real rather than conceptual.

2.  Note how the speaker focuses on physical appearance rather than internal.  Emotions and thoughts aren't compared here or even discussed.  What is important to the speaker is the visual.  Why? Ownership.

By parading around the lack of physical attributes, note how "my" creeps along in the poem.  This is his love, this is what he sees her.  And by placing himself as the powerful observer.  It is "his" love that is more important than "her."

3.  The couplet at the end, "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she bellied with false compare"  acknowledges the distance in comparison, but note how the last line is about comparison.  The woman could just be a representation to push something.

The love is not the love of the "her" rather how far the speaker can "false compare."  This isn't necessarily a love poem -- rather more of an exercise to see how far the comparison can go, and still proclaim that the speaker can love and be believable.

For example:
"I love you" simple, believable
"I'll love you for the rest of my life" a little more complicated, believable
"I'll love you forever," umm sure, semi-believable
"I'll love you until the stars grow cold," kind of purply, but okay
"I'll love you until the super-nova creates a black hole" purply
"Hand in hand we'll go into the cosmos of our love -- alignment of constellations eternal light blah blah blah" okay whatever, I get it, are you playing with me now?


  1. I always liked this one because of the hyperbole/snark factor. You're ruining it for me, Darrell! Heh. Ownership, for sure. Those boys loved that assertion especially when it is patently untrue or even (or, especially) refuted by other lines in the same work. I'm guessing there's a crotchety factor that goes along with sonnet creation. I mean, a bunch of them. What a way to try to get your point across.

  2. Ha! Captcha: distrupt pertaining.