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Shakespeare both participated in and subverted the courtly love convention. Discuss...

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user6063512 | Honors

Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:12 AM via web

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Shakespeare both participated in and subverted the courtly love convention. Discuss examples of his Sonnets to prove this statement correct.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:31 AM (Answer #1)

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Shakespeare definitely was a poet who, at times, deliberately subverted and challenged the norms of his day and age in his literature to expound his message. This is certainly true of his treatment of courtly love and the way that he used and abused expectations of courtly love in his poetry. A perfect example is Sonnet 130, in which Shakespeare deliberately sets out to defy every expectation of love poetry of the time, by actually presenting his beloved as far more human and real than other poets of the day. Note how this was achieved in the following quote:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

He even goes on, with tongue in cheek, to talk about the breath that "reeks" from the mouth of his mistress. Shakespeare here deliberately parodies other poems of his time that set out to describe the object of female affection in almost divine terms. Yet he does this not only to make fun of the description of female beauty and the conventions of courtly love, but to underline the profundity and sincerity of his love, arguing that because he is realistic about his mistress and her appearance, that makes his love far deeper than any shallower form of love that is based on illusion:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

Shakespeare deliberately plays around with the conventions of courtly love for his own purposes, to parody them and to underline that true love is love that sees clearly and does not set up impossible standards for others to meet. 

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