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Sonnet 130 Essay Ideas

Iambic Pentameter: The poem uses an iambic pentameter, a rhythmic scheme used in sonnets. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEF GG, and is split into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet. It contains 10 syllables per line, with syllables alternating between unstressed and stressed when spoken aloud. This gives the sonnet the effect of sounding like a regular love poem, but upon closer examination of the words used we can tell that the poem and its intentions are completely different.

The Final Couplet: In Sonnet 130, the persona describes the woman with unflattering terms such as “black wires grow on her head” and “in the breath from that my mistress reeks”. However, even though he points out her numerous flaws he still declares his love for her, suggesting that he embraces all her traits and characteristics and loves her nonetheless. This is further exemplified in the final couplet of the poem, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare; as any she belied with false compare. This sudden contrast, despite being contradictory to the previous lines of the poem, is significant in showing that regardless of her flaws he is still wholly in love with her. Throughout the poem, the persona compares his mistress to that of an imaginary, perfect woman. However, in the last lines we see that the persona chooses the real woman with all her imperfections over the “goddess” he has never seen. Rhyme Alternating rhymes: The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEF GG. “Sun” rhymes with “dun”, “red” and “head”, and so on, before ending with “rare” and “compare”.

This enhances the image of a seemingly dull woman that the persona describes – the woman in question is said to have breasts which are dun, suggesting that she is sexually unattractive. Her lips are contrasted with that of coral, “Coral far more red than her lips’ red”. Red is the colour of sensuality, and thus the persona is stating that she is not a sensual woman. The effect that this rhyming scheme gives is to contrast the persona’s definition of beauty as a part of nature and the woman’s flaws.

Third Quatrain and Final Couplet: The persona declares that he would “love to hear her speak”, despite her voice being less beautiful than music. This is the first time in the poem that praise has been conferred upon the persona’s mistress. He then goes on to compare the woman with that of a goddess, the highest being and his imperfect mistress. The final lines introduce a change in the rhyming scheme, with a couplet ending the rhythmic three quatrains.

The couplet is used to introduce a new idea, that despite the woman’s flaws, the persona ‘s love for her is higher than that of the heavens. This highlights a key theme of the poem – regardless of the woman’s physical flaws and looks, the persona is able to see past her looks and still be beautiful in his eyes. This is significant because in the Shakespearean Era, the role of women was to please man with a beautiful face and body, and here we see Shakespeare expressing his love for a woman who did not possess many of these qualities.

Sonnet 130 Appreciation Essay

Techniques and meaning of Shakespeare's 130th sonnet; my mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.


Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a collection of over one hundred poems, are widely considered to be some of the most insightful and powerful poems of all time. His one hundred and thirtieth sonnet – ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is no exception. Shakespeare, who was one of the first developers of the English Sonnet, used the highly rigid form and structure of the poem to create meaning and emphasize the arguments he wanted to make. His use of structure, unique language as well as rhyme and rhythm and numerous other effects all contributed towards developing the meaning, form and content of the poem.

‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is a poem in which Shakespeare forms an argument against conventions to flatter one’s lover with praise of her beauty as well as make comments about the way that love between two people can be expressed and interpreted. He uses the example of a woman who is not physically perfect to emphasise that love is deeper and more important than these superficial comparisons. While his mistress may not have had silky hair and sweet breath, he is still completely captivated by her and considers his love to be as rare as any other.

The structure of the sonnet is in the form of a eight-line octet followed by a six-line sestet. In the octet, Shakespeare presents the opposing argument and dabbles with comparing his mistress to the usual objects. In each case, a picture of a perfect woman is presented and then quickly taken away and replaced by one which is less attractive. For example, the line ‘If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun’ instantly presents us with a picture of a beautiful, snow-white woman - probably because we are so accustomed to love poems describing exactly that - but then that picture suddenly vanishes, leaving us with a woman with dull, dark breasts. Using this technique, we develop quickly a picture of a woman whose physical appearance leaves much to be desired. It seems in the octet as if Shakespeare is undermining love – that it is only something frivolous, until in the heroic couplet when he offers a completely different view on love, one in which superficialities are meaningless. Keeping in mind the images and ideas presented to us initially and vaguely in the octet, the sestet puts into words the argument that Shakespeare had silently been developing up till now. Of particular interest in the sestet is the section that compares his mistress with a goddess – ‘I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.’ This suggests to us that his mistress is completely human, and hints at the idea that some of the normal comparisons are unrealistic. The heroic couplet, the last two lines of the sestet, clinch the entire poem’s argument. He declares that the love for his mistress is ‘as rare’ as any other woman whose beauty has been exaggerated with ‘false compare’. The use of the octet – to present the opposing argument; the sestet – to present the author’s argument; and the heroic couplet – to clinch the final argument all contribute towards developing the meaning of Sonnet 130.

There are a variety of language techniques employed by Shakespeare to emphasise his argument. The most obvious of these is the interesting choice of words. For example, the use of ‘roses’ in the comparison between roses and his mistress’ cheeks. Rose petals are soft, almost silky to the touch, pleasant to look at and have perfect shades of colour. Shakespeare uses the word to conjure up several different images and create several different effects. Just from the use of one word, he says that his mistress’ cheeks are not soft, nor do they own the colour of roses – just like all of her other features, they are plain and not worth noting. By using the example of a ‘goddess’ in comparison to his mistress, the author again heightens the effect of the poem. When we think of a goddess, we think of superhuman perfection and beauty. The way that Shakespeare reluctantly brings this up ‘I grant I never…’ also suggests to us that like his mistress, there may be more to goddesses than physical beauty – he almost points out that some of the less-obvious qualities of his mistress may be like those of goddesses! The repetition of certain words such as ‘My Mistress’, ‘Roses’ and ‘Red’ is another technique used to make the poem and argument more effective. It brings out the monotony in talking about love and makes it seem as though the superficial comparisons themselves are repetitive. The use of heightened language gives a more formal, important tone which perfectly expresses the serious nature of the poem. Using common words would detract from the overall impression while heightened language compliments it.

Rhyme and rhythm is important to any piece of sonnet poetry. The basic rhyming scheme of ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g. The ongoing rhyming in the format of a-b-a-b contributes to the continuity of the entire poem, making it seem fluent and flowing. Having a poem rhyme makes it seem structured and developed. The most important contribution of rhyme towards the content of the poem, however, is the textual effect that rhyming has. The fact that the heroic couplet has a different rhyme scheme – a-a, creates the distinction that it is different from the rest of the poem – it is important that the reader knows that the last two lines are unique because they finalize the entire poem’s argument. As in most Sonnets, emphasis is placed on every second syllable in the poem and there are normally five sets of these per line – this is known as ‘iambic pentameters’. For example, in the line ‘That music hath a far more pleasing sound’, there are a total of ten syllables and the stronger note is always placed on every second syllable. This adds a regular atmosphere to the poem, making it sound less lyrical-like and more imposing. It adds a flavour of grandeur to the poem and makes it seem less lighthearted than other poetry types.

There are a number of other effects Shakespeare employs in ‘My mistress is nothing like the sun’. The poem is written from a first-person viewpoint. This has two major effects. Firstly, it makes the argument of the poem seem universal, not specific to one person as it would have been if Shakespeare would have said “Mr. Smith’s mistress is….”. Secondly, it makes it seem more emotional and sincere – if he were speaking about it in third person, he would not be talking about his own experience and the people and events would seem distant. By the constantly referring to the first person “I…” and “My…” it makes the author seem as though he is hypnotized by love – in a trance full of repetition. The long length of sentences compliments the complex ideas that are being expressed and allows one idea to be developed more completely in one sentence. The use of punctuation is also something of note. Only two full stops are used – once to separate the sestet and the octet and again at the end of the poem. The colon just prior to the heroic couplet shows it’s complete relation to the rest of the poem, and it’s indentation highlights it’s importance. The use of semicolons at the end of the lines instead of full stops adds to the flow. Another interesting point is that in this Sonnet (unlike many others) Shakespeare does not speak to his mistress directly – almost as if he were musing to himself or talking to friends.

‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is an excellent example of the use of poetic structure, language and format to develop meaning within a poem. Shakespeare managed to develop both of these sides of poetry and build meaningful arguments around the topic of love.











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