The Presentation of Women in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 and Griffin’s Sonnet 39
What attitude do their presentations of women reflect? Discuss in detail how the poets’ choice & use of language influences your reading of poems.
It is evident in both Griffin’s poem and Shakespeare’s poem that their love for their beloved is matchless; however the presentations and the personal interpretations of the two poets give a totally different message to its readers. It is often in Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 that we realize he ridicules his mistress and praises her in a way that misleads its readers to believe that Shakespeare doesn’t love her. Whereas, in Griffin’s Sonnet 39, he puts his lady as the central motive of the poem and this is obvious as almost every line in his poem begins with the word “her.” Without a doubt, the first line in both poems portrays a direct contrast from each other. In Griffin’s poem, he compares his lady’s hair to “threads of beaten golds” (line 1), which suggests the high status and attractiveness of his lady. On the contrary, Shakespeare begins his sonnet by depreciating the status of his mistress as she is “nothing like the sun” (line 1). This is also seen in the latter lines of the sonnet; her lips are not as red as coral, her breasts are dun-colored and the black wires growing on her head. (lines 2-4). In Griffin’s sonnet, we can see how he praises the beauty of his lady and her perfection with the use of figurative languages. Although the two sonnets seems to be similar, both admiring the beauty of their lovers, it is still apparent that the two women in the two sonnets are presented in different ways and the fact that there is a contrast between the two of them.
The poem, Sonnet 130, itself is infact very satiristical; Shakespeare achieved this by through his cliché comparisons. He makes use of many metaphors; however, none of them are in favor to his lover. Along the lines of the poems, the poet creates questions regarding the features of the mistress. For example, he says “if snow be white, why then her breasts are dun,” (line 3) he asks himself if snow is white, then how come his mistress has a brown complexion. He is honest in answering every question he asks himself, for example, “if hairs be wires” then therefore it cannot be gold and he have seen roses “damask’d” but never seen roses blooming from his mistress’s cheeks. Shakespeare is very strong and definite when speaking and stating the truths of his mistress. It is also because of his decisive characteristic that makes the mistress real in nature. Shakespeare deliberately makes use of these metaphors to tell its readers that his mistress is very typical and before he switches subject and begins the sestet part of the poem, he emphasized that even perfumes has a sweeter aroma compared to her breath (line 8). In line three of the sonnet, readers see the words “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.” Many of us may be misinterpret the word “wire” (in line 4) as modern industrial wires that exist today. However, this is Shakespeare’s unique way of presenting his mistress to us. In the Renaissance period, the word “wire” isn’t the wires we know today; whereas it would refer to spun golden threads woven into hair. This is a significant as we can see a similar technique used in the first line of Griffin’s sonnet. Griffin describes his lady’s hair as “threads of beaten gold” (line 1), which is similar to what Shakespeare depicted in his poem. The only difference is that Griffin praises the precious hair of his lady; unlike Shakespeare, he states that “black wire” should be grown on her head. Evidently, as readers, we can see the drastic differences between the two poets’ perspective about women.
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Shakespeare is a satirist when he began his poem, however, his negative implications began to alter as the sonnet reaches the third quatrain. This is the first time where we see Shakespeare changes his attitude towards his mistress; he mentions that he loves the voice of his mistress, “I love to hear her speak…. That music hath a far more pleasing sound”(lines 9 and 10). These two lines serve a very important role in this sonnet as it represents the gap between the qualities possessed by a “perfect woman” and the reality of Shakespeare’s mistress. Shakespeare then mentions that he never seen “a goddess go,” meaning he have never seen a woman that is as beautiful as a goddess. He further emphasizes his points by implying that he loves his mistress because she is real and unlike goddess, she “walks and treads on the ground.” (line 12) To Shakespeare, “by heaven” his “love is rare” (line 13), which implies to its readers that his mistress is by far the most beautiful woman on earth. The words, “my love,” also influence us as readers to see Shakespeare and his mistress an actual couple. Lastly, the poet makes a statement which illustrates the difference of how we view woman in his poem in comparison to Griffin’s sonnet. He states, “As any she belied with false compare,” which distinguishes Shakespeare’s mistress from the other women who are overwhelmed by these “false comparisons.”
With regards to Griffin’s sonnet, it is evident that he used many vivid adjectives and figurative languages to add textures to his sonnet. Furthermore, Griffin is very detail in his descriptions as he described every part of his lady’s face, such as her eyes, cheeks and hand. Also, he uses a technique to describe the parts from her hair, in a descending order, and to her body. Griffin’s sonnet is quite similar to Shakespeare’s sonnet 130, however, he presents the poem in a much powerful way which makes it sounds almost impossible to have such woman exists. For example, the lady’s eyes are “the brightest stars the heavens hold,” (line 2) is misleading as readers know stars are very far from the earth and it is impossible to posses a pair of eyes that can be as bright as the stars at night. In addition, the word “heaven” implies that this lady maybe related to gods and angels, which doesn’t exists on earth. As the poem progresses, we see that the lady’s cheeks are “red roses,” her lips are “red vermilion dye” and her hand is compared to pure white ivory. Griffins tries to use his language to persuade its readers that such beautiful woman does exists; however, it is also because of this that makes the sonnet hyperbolical. In the line six, the word “ivory,” which is use to describe the lady’s hand, is immoral and makes her white hands seem artificial. In Shakespeare’s sonnet, he compares his mistress’s voice as pleasant as the sound of music, however Griffins exaggerates the voice of his lady by comparing it to the “Graces,” meaning the godly harmonious sound. He even compares the body of her lady to the saint, which transforms the lady into a holy status. Lastly, in the last line of the poem, the word “griffon” is a fabulous beast with its legs and tail of a lion, the head of a cock or an eagle, a pair of wings and long, sharp claws. The creature itself is unnatural and the poet, at the end of the poem, implies that the lady may also be artificial.
The poets of both poems are very skillful in writing their sonnets, however, the way how Shakespeare and Griffin presented to us demonstrates their different attitude and values for woman. Although Shakespeare seems to be comparing his mistress to other beauties but none of them appears to refer to her. In fact, because of his negative way of presenting his mistress, readers are often influenced by Shakespeare that he dislikes his mistress. Although this is what we readers presume, yet the actual truth is ordinary beauty is what matters the most to Shakespeare. The mistress doesn’t posses the qualities that Shakespeare mentioned in the first quatrain, however, she is a real woman, and real in nature. Nevertheless, woman doesn’t have to be concealed within these decorations to be beautiful. The last line of Sonnet 130 identifies Shakespeare’s viewpoints for women; the fact that they need not to be “belied with false compare.” In comparison, the way how Griffin presents his lady may sound the world’s perfect woman. Nonetheless, because of his hyperbolical statements and exaggerations, it may sound perfect to its readers, but then again, the lady becomes an idealize character and her beauty is only artificial. Through a detail study within the two poems, it is obvious that the two women presented in both poems are not similar. The poets’ viewpoints differ as they have personal opinions with regards to the qualities possess by their mistress or lady, whether they’re goddess-like or genuine in nature. As readers, we’re greatly influenced by the words written by the poets; we are dependent on their language and words to reveal the implications and the underlying message.
Form 12. 7
Word Count : 1486