Sonnet 130. William Shakespeares Sonnets is a collection of 154 sonnets published in the early 17th century towards the end of the Renaissance period. It was addressed to two distinct audiences in mind.

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William Shakespeare’s Sonnets is a collection of 154 sonnets published in the early 17th century towards the end of the Renaissance period. It was addressed to two distinct audiences in mind. The first 126 sonnets are written to a young man while Sonnets 127 to 154 are addressed to a “dark lady”. Emotional conflicts are covered in depth as a main theme in these sonnets and this essay will examine Sonnet 130, a parody of courtly love in light of the context in which it was based.

The sonnet form evolved during the high Italian Middle Ages, most famously in the vernacular lyrics of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) and Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374). The form of a book sized collection of sonnets was a familiar lyric genre at the end of the Renaissance (late 16th century).  French and Italian poets favored the "Italian" sonnet form — two groups of four lines, or quatrains (always rhymed a-b-b-a a-b-b-a), followed by two groups of three lines, or tercets (variously rhymed c-c-d e-e-d or c-c-d e-d-e). This condensed five rhyme palette (a-e) creates a sonorous music in the vowel rich Romance languages. However, in English, the scheme can sound contrived and monotonous, particularly in a series of sonnets on the same theme.

Thus, Shakespeare followed the more idiomatic rhyme scheme which interlaces a rhyming pair of couplets to make a quatrain. Overall, it is presented as three differently rhymed quatrains and a concluding couplet. This is can be seen in Figure 1:

   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, damasked, 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 will 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.

Figure1 : Sonnet 130, Shake-speare’s Sonnets, A.D1607

The Shakespearean sonnet affords two additional rhyme endings (a-g, 7 in all) so that each rhyme is heard only once. This enlarges the range of rhyme sounds and words the poet can use and allows the poet to combine the sonnet lines in rhetorically more complex ways.

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Sonnet 130 is the only Shakespearean sonnet which models a form of poetry called the blazon, popular in the 16th century used to describe heraldry. It presents a detailed summary of all of the main features and colors of an illustration. A typical blazon of a person would start with the hair and work downward, focusing on eyes, ears, lips, neck, bosom and so on.

Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” is interesting because it works by inverting the traditions of the blazon form and the conventions of Petrarchan love poetry which idealized the description of the female body. All the twelve lines do not ...

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