Literary Analysis of Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is known to be a great figure behind ancient literature, and his relevance still stands to date. He largely contributed to poetry and pioneered the sonnets which have been coined the Shakespearean sonnets. Sonnet 130 was published in the book entitled “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” which was introduced in 1609. The poem is based on the author’s mistress who fails to correspond to the existing beauty ideals. Although the speaker compares the lady with a variety of beautiful things across the world, he cannot find a match for her since her beauty, and this is the point of contention in the poem. This literary analysis indicates the rhyme scheme, metaphors, and the speakers’ expectations of beauty after which it offers a critical reflection.


The “Sonnet 130” is made up of fourteen lines which are synonymous with the Shakespearean sonnet. Also, it subdivided into three quatrains which are wrapped up with one couplet that spices up the entire poem. Another crucial aspect that should not be ignored in the verse is the rhyme scheme, especially within the quatrains and it is (abab cdcd efef). On the other hand, the final two lines have a rhyme scheme in the form of a couplet which is (gg). Digging deeper into the literal meaning of the lines, it is evident that the formal regularity employed by the poet makes it a love poem like any other only that it uses a unique form unlike in Petrarchan model of poetry.

As the poet starts the first line, the introduction of the mistress can be seen from the onset. However, this is not done directly, but through a descriptive tone, I could find out that he was actually talking about the mistress and her physical appearances which made her stand out from other aspects of beauty that the poet was trying to compare with. A crucial link that introduces the reader to the theme of the poem is the term “My mistress,” which is utilized at the beginning of the poem and at the conclusion of the couplet. Through this, one can identify the poem’s speaker and that it is most likely a man who had fallen in love with his mistress’ beauty.

The most dominant literary element is a metaphor which is used in bringing out the mistress’ beauty. One of the examples encompasses comparing the mistresses’ looks with the sun. However, the speaker thinks that these two do not match. , and it shows that the speaker seemed to disapprove the mistresses look. Additionally, the speaker creates a notion that for a woman to be viewed as beautiful during the time the poem was set, she had to meet some of the expectations that the society had towards the female figures. Thus, this tells the readers a lot regarding the kind of literature that Shakespeare orchestrated during the 17th century.

Another comparison that the speaker utilizes is the coral’s color which was depicted by the lips of the mistress. In this line, he indicates that the coral was “far more red” compared to the mistress’ lips. This way, the speaker suggests her mistress might not be as sensual as other females have to be depicted in men’s eyes. This brings in the question as to whether the speaker meant that her mistress was ideally beautiful or not. The use of nature also brings out the beauty surrounding it and what should be looked up to when referring to the women’s beauty.Thus, the poet wanted to bring out the actual appearance of the lady he is referring to using highly descriptive words. Through this, the reader is left to decipher whether there exists love or not.

In the third and fourth lines, the doubts regarding the speaker’s standpoint of her mistress’ looks are laid bare. This can be seen with the use of the term “if” which shows that what the speaker expected of her mistress was not fulfilled since her beauty was not outstanding as he expected of any woman who he had to relate with in one way or the other. This type of writing makes the reader highlight the speakers’ taste of beauty or what he expects of his ideal woman to warrant his love. While talking about the mistress’ “breasts” in line three, the speaker claims that they are not as white as snow (Krieger 89). In the speaker’s society, whiteness was regarded as a sign of beauty, and this suggests a lot regarding the time Shakespeare wrote this poem. The whiteness of a woman’s skin was directly proportional to the respect that she was accorded. Unfortunately, the mistress’ breasts “are dun” (l.3) as explained in line three.

In another instance, the speaker indicates that the mistress does not smell sweeter than perfume. This shows that she was not satisfied with the mistress’ smell and he even goes ahead to claim that it “reeks” (l. 8). This term affirms the argument that the mistress does not attract anyone since everybody seems to avoid her and disapprove any relationship with her.The readers tend to sympathize with the mistress and create an impression that she is not beautiful at all. This calls for the question as to why the speaker decides to talk about the woman if she does not meet his expectations regarding beauty and being charming.

Despite the negative comparisons made by the speaker, the ninth line changes the narrative since there is a new perception towards the mistress. He indicates that he likes “to hear her speak” (l.9). This line shows that the speaker has grown a positive attitude towards the mistress. During Shakespeare’s era, women were supposed to have other attributes other than talents or workplace capabilities. Some of them included having a lovely voice or a beautiful face and that they could be regarded as sexual objects to bring pleasure to their male counterparts (Edmondson and Wells). While referring her by her gentle voice, the speaker alludes that the mistress can correctly sing regardless of the low social status that was associated with women during the era.

After comparing the mistress with various standards of beauty, the speaker points out that he loves her regardless of her flaws. He then goes ahead to criticize men who view women negatively and regard them as original objectives which are not worthwhile when they lack the looks. In the last line, he indicates that he is in love with the mistress compared to anyone who “belied” her with “false compare” (l. 14).After reading this final line, I realized that all the negative comparisons seen earlier were just neutralized through the power of the parting shot. It is evident that the main ideas that the narrator values are those that cannot be seen. These are the inner values such as politeness, compassion, and diligence among others.The manner in which ideas are put across in this poem typically reflects the form of the sonnet that the poet employed. This is because the earlier lines seem to criticize the looks of the mistress while the last two change to be positive and pinpoint the unconditional love that the speaker has for the mistress.

Another literary element utilized by Shakespeare is repetition. Usually, the redundancy of terms ensures that the poem is more memorable and can resonate with the readers more. For example, in the second line, the word ‘red’ is used twice. Another terminology is ‘wires’ which is repeated in the fourth line as well. Red brings out the aspect of beauty, and the primary emphasis is laid on the appearance of the lips (Edmondson and Wells 65). Usually, a woman with red lips was regarded to be beautiful since this was one of the things that attracted men. By repeating this lexis, it is clear that Shakespeare was after making the sonnet a love poem that could sound captivating in the mind of the audience.


After reading and comprehending the poem, I found out that Shakespeare had carved a niche in ancient poetry based on the unique form. This breaks away from the ordinary style with stanzas which have equal lines and a regular rhyme scheme. The way he delivered the message regarding his love for the mistress was full of suspense. This is because the first twelve lines tend to focus on criticizing the mistress and negatively painting her in comparison with various aspects such as those associated with nature such as the sun among others. On the positive side, the last two lines change the perception, and the narrative as a whole and this make me feel better. This is because I realized that the love that the speaker had for the mistress was unmatched.

From the sonnet, it is clear that women were viewed as sex objects. I can single this out based on how beauty was considered a crucial factor when determining the ideal appearance of women and whether men would like them or not.Shakespeare seemed to have had actual love experiences, which gave him some ideas to write such a captivating poem which utilized metaphorical language and well-chosen terms such as ‘red’ and ‘wire.’ Even though the language used was somehow complicated and reflected the 17th century English, its translated version makes it even more enjoyable, and I liked it a lot.


‘Sonnet 130’ is one of the greatest poems written by Shakespeare, and it sets a pace for love poems. However, it is an unusual one since it first starts with criticizing the mistress throughvivid comparisons regarding her physical appearances and how she generallyconducts herself.One aspect that stands out is the rhyme scheme and the fourteen lines whereby each of time communicates a crucial message. After reading the poem, I realized that there is no need for outward beauty when the inner one is not pleasant. The mistress seems to have had great inner beauty regardless of the physical appearance, which did not match with most of the aspects that the speaker tried to relate with.



Works Cited

Edmondson, Paul, and Stanley Wells. Shakespeare’s sonnets. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2004.

Krieger, Murray. Window to Criticism: Shakespeare’s Sonnets & Modern Poetics. Vol. 2415. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Shakespeare, William. “SONNET# 130: My Mistress eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun.” Poetry Foundation (2016).

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