Women and Femininity in Sonnets

Topics: Sonnet 130

The primary element in Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare that strikes as unusual as a sonnet is the three quatrains (Lines 1-12) are nothing like the Petrarchan poems that depicts beautiful, idealized women. As opposed to using flattering terms and reflecting it to other exemplary and lovely objects, Shakespeare portrays the mistress’s appearance as unimpressive using terms that are usually applied to compliment and mirror the mistress’s beauty to disclose the disparity between them. He is essentially describing the mistress in an opposite way compared to the typical Petrarchan poems as he depicts her as having imperfect features as in opposition to a beautiful, idealized woman.

As an illustration, Shakespeare describes, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; /Coral is far more red than her lips,” (Lines 1-2). He directly dismisses the possibility that the women whom he is speaking of may have eyes that shine like the sun or have red lips like the coral.

However, the final two lines or the couplets completely alters with the flow of the poem and reveals the purpose of the unimpressive terms.

Furthermore, the volta or the turn came at the beginning of the rhyming couplet and introduces the twist which was, quoting, “…I think my love as rare/ As any she belied with false compare,” (Line 13-14). This is a sudden change of idea as Shakespeare describes that the mistress who is not as beautiful as those told in poems but is as lovely as any of them who has been masked by exaggerated or untrue comparisons.

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All these honest but somewhat exaggerated portrayal was to make a point at the end. These ending lines suggest that the central theme of the work is that any beloved should not be exaggerated to fit a certain ideal beauty but should be loved for who she truly is. After all, beauty is the eye of the beholder and women who are not as perfect or even flawed can be someone’s ideal form of beauty and love.

Sonnet 18 by Francesco Petrarcha can be interpreted as a poem about defeat as much as a poem about love as while he clearly depicts his deep affection for his beloved Laura, he laments at his own incapability to find words that describes her beauty. For example, by describing how much his beloved is ineffably beautiful and how he struggles in attempt to portray her, quoting, “Full oft I oped my lips to chant thy name; /Then in mid utterance the lay was lost,” (Lines 9-10), he flatters her and thus the defeat reinforces his love for her. The image he creates of his utter effort that resulted in void was to further stress his difficulty he proposed in the octave and the problem on the reality that he cannot find words that perfectly reflects Laura.

Furthermore, Petrarcha even clearly admits his defeat in the final words of the poem, quoting, “But ah, the pen, the hand, the vein I boast, /At once were vanquish’d by the mighty theme!” (Lines 13-14). Through words like “boast” and “genius”, it reveal how much Petrarcha thinks highly of his poems but his declaration of defeat against the “mighty theme” depict that the topic of his beloved beauty surpasses his poetic ability. This again reinforces his deep affection by the exaggeration of her beauty and his praise. Not to mention, the “but ah” and the exclamation point in the last line emphasizes his brief emotional outburst of dissatisfaction and possibly frustration. In this poem, the defeat is interwoven with his love for Laura as the contrast between his great ability and the dissatisfaction from his failure in turn, highlights her indescribable beauty. Even looking at the overall point of this poem, every time he describes his challenge or defeat, it is undeniable that it directly also praises Laura.

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Women and Femininity in Sonnets. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/women-and-femininity-in-sonnets/

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