We all know that William Shakespeare is the best writer of his time and arguably of all time. His works have become household names that even the uneducated people know at least one work or a line from Shakespeare. Much credit to Shakespeare’s success is his way with words. The way he used them in his works is so effective that he is able to entertain his audience by the mere play of words. Just as Shakespeare has shown his literary prowess in playwriting, he has also used his masterful technique with words in his poetry. Sonnet 130 is one of Shakespeare’s works that show how good Shakespeare really is.
His use of imagery is so vivid that it comes to life at the recital of the words. Imagery In order to understand and appreciate the power of imagery in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, we must first define what imagery is. Imagery, according to Jay Braiman, is language that vividly describes a particular thing in great detail, using words to stimulate our senses in terms of sight, sound, etc. (Literary Devices). Thus, imagery is basically the use of words that entice our senses to perceive them as if we were seeing, feeling, etc. them in real life.
An effective poet or storyteller knows how to use this literary device to add to the aesthetics of the poem and increase the overall appeal of the work. Imagery in Sonnet 130 Sonnet 130 is perhaps Shakespeare’s most popular sonnet. Its success is thanks mostly to its powerful and effective use of imagery and a totally new way of making Sonnets—veering away from the popular Petrarch style of romanticizing or idealizing the image of the woman being admired in poetry (Mabillard). Sonnet 130 presents the lady as realistically as possible by combining imagery, irony, exaggeration.
Of the three, Shakespeare used imagery the most to stimulate our senses and to get an idea of what the lady looks like. Through the imagery in the lines of the sonnet, readers are able to visualize, smell, and even hear the lady that the speaker is affectionately describing. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Shakespeare line 1). The usual sonnet to a lady compares the sun to the eyes of the beloved. The sun is the brightest heavenly body in our sky, so comparing the eyes to it is of great exaggeration. However, Shakespeare chose not to follow this trend in order to be more realistic.
“Coral is far redder than her lips’ red” (line 2). Coral comes in all colors; however, a red coral is particularly attractive because of its vibrant crimson color. The speaker downsizes his lady’s qualities by saying that her lips cannot possibly be anywhere near the shade of a red coral. Most readers would know what a coral looks like, but most importantly, what red looks like, so by using words that are familiar to most readers, Shakespeare was able to project to us the difference between the red coral and the lips of the lady.
“If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;” (line 3). Dun is a shade of brown, and when used to describe the bosom of a lady, it does not quite fit the criteria for a beautiful woman as portrayed in sonnets of other poets, and yet this woman does not have a white complexion. The color “dun” may not be familiar to present day readers, but during Shakespeare’s time it was widely used; thus, using it as a color also adds to the imperfectness of the woman. “If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head” (line 4).
After saying this line, readers are finally left with the impression that the lady is not that good looking. Having black hair is not a bad trait; it is the comparison with wires that gives away the imperfection of the lady. The word “wires” today have a different connotation. Electric wires are the first thing that comes to mind when the word wires is mentioned, and that is not a pleasant thing to be compared to hair, even the old-fashioned, metal wires that the speaker is probably talking about.
“I have seen roses demask’d, red and white / But no such roses see I in her cheeks” (5-6). The speaker is familiar with red and white roses. He further devalues his lady by saying that she does not have the same shade in her cheeks that is fitting for a beautiful lady. A rose is the most attributed flower to beauty; by stating the lack of the beautiful colors in the cheeks of the lady, the readers would be convinced that she is not the beautiful lady idealized in some poems. To break the monotony of visual imagery, the speaker opts for an olfactory image.
“And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” (7-8). The speaker not only admits that there are some perfumes that offer a better sniff but also claims that his mistress’ breath has a foul smell. Readers might not know how exactly the breath smells, but at least it is described to be something that “reeks” (stinks). To add even more diversity into the kinds of imagery used in the sonnet, Shakespeare used auditory imagery. “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound” (9-10).
Despite knowing that music definitely has a far more pleasing sound, the speaker still loves to hear her mistress’ voice. The quality of her voice is only contrasted to music, so the speaker does not actually describe the quality of her voice. However, the contrast to music also gives readers a point of comparison. Conclusion Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare is full of imagery—its overflowing use of visual, olfactory, and auditory images. This use of imagery, along with exaggeration and irony, has made reading Sonnet 130 quite a stimulating experience.
Shakespeare’s use of visual imagery sketched the image of the mistress, while olfactory and auditory imageries added scent and voice to the mistress. Works Cited Braiman, Jay. Literary Devices. 2007. 30 March 2009 <http://mrbraiman. home. att. net/lit. htm>. Mabillard, Amanda. “An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. ” Shakespeare Online. 2000. 31 March 2009 <http://www. shakespeare-online. com>. Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 130. 31 March 2009. <http://poetry. eserver. org/sonnets/130. html>.