Analysis of My mistress eyes – Sonnet 130

Analysis of My mistress eyes – Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare

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’d, 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:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare

Background

  • William Shakespeare has written 154 sonnets, likely composed over an extended period from 1592 to 1598. In 1609 Thomas Thorpe published Shakespeare’s sonnets in quarto format, along with Shakespeare’s long poem, The Passionate Pilgrim.
  • The sonnets were dedicated to a W. H., whose identity remains a mystery, although William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, is frequently suggested because Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) was also dedicated to him. Some critics believe it refers to Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton who was also a patron of Shakespeare.
  • The majority of the sonnets (1-126) are addressed to a Fair Youth.
  • The final sonnets are addressed to a woman known to modern readers as the dark lady and Rival poet.

 Form/ Structure- Shakespearean sonnet

  • There are fourteen lines in a Shakespearean sonnet. The first twelve lines are divided into three quatrains with four lines each. In the three quatrains the poet establishes a theme or problem and then resolves it in the final two lines, called the couplet.
  • The rhyme scheme of the quatrains is abab cdcd efef. The couplet has the rhyme scheme gg. This sonnet structure is commonly called the English sonnet or the Shakespearean sonnet.
  • Shakespeare’s sonnets are written predominantly in a meter called iambic pentameter, a rhyme scheme in which each sonnet line consists of ten syllables. The syllables are divided into five pairs called iambs or iambic feet. An iamb is a metrical unit made up of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.

Summary

  • In the first quatrain the poet states that his mistress eyes can never be compared with the sun. He finds coral more reddish than her lips. The breasts of his beloved are very dark when compared by the whiteness of snow. He states that black wires has grown upon her head. The first stanza (quatrain) is based on physical descriptions by using ugly metaphors.
  • In the second quatrain the poet states that he doesn’t find the cheeks of his mistress as soft as rose. Even the smell which comes out from her breath is not as delightful as any perfume.
  • In the third quatrain the poet states that he finds music sweeter than her speech, when she walks, she does not appear like a goddess.
  • Then finally the couplet turns the whole argument upside down when the poet says that his beloved is nevertheless as rare as those beloveds who are “belied” with false, unreal and exaggerated metaphors.

Themes

  • Sincerity of love despite lack of conventional beauty
  • Questioning stereotypical idea of beauty
  • Satirizing Elizabethan love lyric with exaggerated metaphors

Techniques and Analysis

  • Shakespeare parodies some standard comparisons commonly used by Elizabethan sonneteers. This includes ‘sun like eyes’, ‘coral red lips’, ‘snow white breasts’ and ‘hair like golden wires’. These deceptively create a negative yet realistic impression of the beloved and are meant to be satirical on the other poets.
  • The sonnet is a great satire upon the Elizabethan love lyric who, employed clichéd symbols and the exaggerated metaphors to address their beloved and try to prove that they are more beautiful than the nature and its beauty.
  • Shakespeare is of the opinion that accepting only the positive aspect of the beloved is not love but accepting the negative aspects too is the real love that gives the importance to the inner beauty than external beauty.
  • The tone of the sonnet is satirical as well as philosophical.
  • The sonnet is skillfully composed by Shakespeare using the understatement of irony. Like the typical sonnets of the time, this sonnet is also mainly about love. But the equally important subject and theme of the poem is also the revolt against the worn-out symbols and the exaggerated metaphors of the Elizabethan love lyric.

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