Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is a parody of the typical sonnet of Shakespeare’s time. Although one can interpret the poem as a mockery of the romance in the traditional sonnet, it actually is revealing how superficial the usual sonnet is. Shakespeare uses metaphors against themselves in order to create a more realistic description of the love that he feels. By using seemingly insulting comparisons, the author shows the reality of the ideal sonnet’s high standards, and displays how they perceive mediocre to be negative. This contrast displays how love can be expressed and experienced unconventionally and still have the same intensity. This sonnet juxtaposes divine symbols and human traits to satirically deviate from the standard content and to make bold symbolic statements on unconventional love.
At first, the reader may interpret Shakespeare’s description of his mistress’ physicality and temperament as an insult to his mistress. However, he is not trying to disrespect her but rather to reveal the reality and humanity of his love. The fact that he doesn’t see her as a “goddess” (37:11) but as an equal being who “treads on the ground” (37:12) is his acknowledgment of his own and his mistress’ mortality. When he refers to the “black wires [which] grow on her head,” (37:4) Shakespeare is making another authentic comparison. In the time the sonnet was written, wires were not metal cord; the term represented fine golden thread (Mabillard). The illustration that her hair is not golden like a goddesses but black is another representation that she is not divine, but human.
The focus is not meant to be on the image of wires, but on the colour he uses. In comparing her hair to wires, he is saying that it is similar to fine thread, and thus this seemingly insulting metaphor is actually saying that her hair is like fine thread, only it is human in colour. In the couplet, he accepts this humanity by affirming that he loves her regardless. He proclaims the authenticity of his love by implying that sonnets that are blind to imperfections make the women “belied with false compare” (37:14). Shakespeare’s affirmation of his human love defies the traditional content of the ideal love sonnet. It expresses the strength and independence of his love, powered by something more than physical beauty and divine qualities.
In describing the human traits of his mistress, Shakespeare displays her humanity through the way she is physically perceived. He acknowledges her humanity as it is received by his senses, not clouded by his imagination. First, Shakespeare talks about her appearance as I have already discussed, but then he explains the way she impacts the other senses. In saying that perfume is more pleasant than “in the breath that from [his] mistress reeks,” (37:8) Shakespeare again is seemingly insulting his mistress. However, perfumes are created to hide natural odour, and this comparison is again stating that she is natural and human and does not try to be divine.
This is important because the use of the word “reeks” (37:8) is not meant to insult, but to be sarcastic towards the sonnets that imply that a smell any less than the best perfume is not worth writing about. This shows the perfection that is expected from an author in order to write a sonnet, but Shakespeare is saying that even though she is mediocre, she is worth loving and worth writing about. In using negative terms to describe his mistress, Shakespeare is revealing the high standards of traditional Petrarchan sonnet and how anything less than perfection is seen as beastly and unacceptable.
Shakespeare’s surrender to reality is clear in his final sensory comparisons of his mistress. The fact that “music hath a far more pleasing sound,” (37:10) than his mistress’ voice is an obvious statement. Like perfume, music is made to delight the senses; its sole purpose is to be a pleasing sound. In acknowledging that it is more pleasing than her mistress’ voice, the author is saying that he understands that she was not created simply to bring joy to him. She is not alive only for him, and this acknowledgment is even a step towards equality. Also, his mistress “when she walks, [she] treads on the ground” (37:12) unlike a goddess but like everyone else.
This displays the unimportance of her being on a pedestal and the reality that she is the same as the author, which shows the understanding that although she is not perfect, neither is he so they walk on common ground. He does not feel the need to glorify her because his love is strong despite her imperfections. She does not float above him like any divine form, and this shows that she is Shakespeare’s equal. The idea that they walk on the same ground reinforces the authenticity of Shakespeare’s love because he loves her not in spite of her humanity, but because of it.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is a bold statement on unconventional, natural love. It displays the author’s frustration with the traditional sonnet, and explains the humanity of his mistress and the authenticity of his love as a result. His comparisons are not meant to insult his mistress but to show the inequities and obvious exaggerations and expectations of traditional sonnets. By showing her human characteristics and comparing them to the divine qualities usually shown in sonnets of Shakespeare’s time, he sarcastically explains the idea that anything less than god-like perfection was seen as negative. The authenticity of Shakespeare’s love is proven through these comparisons, which acknowledge and embrace humanity and not divinity.
Mabillard, Amanda. “An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130.” Shakespeare Online. 2000. November 2006 < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/130detail.html >