Another of the most famous Shakespeare Love Poems, Sonnet 130 is strange when you first look at it. It shows Shakespeare seemingly in conflicting minds about his mistress (the dark lady). The other poems he writes are descriptive, compare with the way he describes the fair youth in sonnet 18. However, its is indeed a satire in nature and there are clever facets to this poem. He talks about the mistress as having lots of bad qualities, bad breath, frizzy hair, dull complexion. But in the end, the writer still loves her.
Straight away the tone is set, and the writer compares the mistress as being nothing like the sun (compare with “gold complexion” of the fair youth in sonnet 18). With the next lines, he seems to be criticising or even mocking her. It almost seems like the writer is confession of pitying the mistress and is almost ashamed of himself for being with her. The writer says “her breasts are dun” showing that her skin is dark and dull, and white skin was perceived as beautiful at the time. He describes her hair as black wires, and again black hair was seen as common and not beautiful. This first quatrain is strange and seems to have a certain lack emptiness and lack of emotion coinciding with it.
The writer continues to criticise her, saying there is no colour in her cheeks, and that her breath smells bad. Its poems continues to sound hollow and sad. At this point we still do not know where this poem is leading. The next quatrain reveals all
The 3rd quatrain opens with “I love to hear her speak”. This is typical of Shakespeare’s style to completely change the tone at the start of a quatrain. “I love to hear her speak” is an honest compliment, and may be starting to convey the idea that for all her outer faults, It is the mistress’s inner beauty that the writer loves. However the the next line seems to go back being derisive and harsh. “But music hath a more pleasing sound” It leaves us wondering why he has so suddenly gone back to being negative about the mistress. The next 2 lines seem to say “my mistress is no goddess”.
But to understand this we must understand the contemporary poets of the time for example, Thomas Watson, Michael Drayton, and Barnabe Barnes. They all wrote over-the-top, highly romanticised sonnets, with lots of elaborate description and they were not really honest. In sonnet 130, Shakespeare has given an honest description. The writer is saying what he truly sees and feels about the mistress. This is completely unlike the much earlier sonnet 18 where the writer seems to be wearing rose tinted glasses and describes the “fair youth” with all manner of descriptive adjectives.
Shakespeare is satirising and almost making a mockery of his contemporary writers. He thinks they look silly by always by being so over the top and elaborate (a bit like how the media nowadays sensationalises all their stories), and slates them for their dishonesty.
People do not want to be complemented on qualities they do not really have. If you have tanned skin, you do not want to be complemented on how white and fair your skin looks, but maybe you would like to be complemented in such as a way as “Wow your skin is a lovely shade of caramel”. Here, although the writer seems to criticise the mistress at times, he is really complementing her on qualities she really does have.
Final Rhyming Couplet
The writer ends the poem with a confession of love. For all her strange qualities which he has listed int the poem before, He still loves her. It is interesting to note that in Shakespearean English, the word belied can mean falsely represented and also sexually mounted. As this whole poem is a satire, Shakespeare could be subtly accusing his rival poets of coercion, using flattering words to get their mistresses in bed.
Here is sonnet 130, another of my favourite Shakespeare love poems, with the quatrains already separated for you to make it easier to read.
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, 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:
Final Rhyming Couplet
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Sonnet 130 is one of the most clever Shakespeare Love Poems. It is interesting to see all the different facets of Shakespeare poetry, and this poem can be interpreted 2 ways. You can compare this with the simple description in Sonnet 18.