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Sonnet 130 Close Reading

This is my last-ditch attempt at completing my writing badge. Like many others who are flooding this blog with posts after months of procrastination, I am currently in a state of panic. Release the panic…oh…release the panic.

I decided to do a close reading of one of my favorite sonnets. I first came across this sonnet back in grade eight…oh the memories.


 

After an initial read-through of this sonnet, I quickly realised that this sonnet serves as a criticism (or rather, a parody) on the idolization and comparison of women to natural beauties found in Petrarch’s sonnets. The speaker is comparing his mistress to natural beauties, but instead of complimenting her, it seems as though he is insulting her. It is not until the couplet when the speaker reveals to the audience that he is not insulting her, but rather, suggesting that his love is rare.

The use of sensory imagery is heavy in this sonnet, describing the physical attributes of the mistress. Starting off with sight, we come across the mistress’ eyes, which “are nothing like the sun”. The redness of her lips are compared to coral in the next line: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red”. Her hair is compared to wires (touch/texture), and her breath reeks (smell). He then compares her voice to music, where “music hath a far more pleasing sound”. The progression of the descriptions from head to toe with metaphors and similes suggest that the speaker is caressing his mistress (even in jest) with words.

This sonnet can be read in a sarcastic tone, possibly as a response to another man’s description of his mistress (this sonnet is, after all, a parody). It is almost as if the speaker is pointing out the obvious as a way to criticize the sheer absurdity of the comparisons. For instance, he could be saying that his mistress’ eyes are not like the sun, and it would be very strange if it were so, as one could not possibly have eyes like the sun. And no, her lips cannot be as red as coral –it’s another impossible and ridiculous comparison.