Compare Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 and Sonnet 130.

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's sonnets are divided by scholars into two sections: the first 126 are written to an unknown young man, classically beautiful and in the full bloom of youth, while the remaining sonnets are addressed to a so-called "dark mistress" whose features are not in line with the beauty norms extolled by other poets of the day. However, although the subjects of sonnets 116 and 130 are very different, the themes of the two poems are relatively similar.

In sonnet 116, Shakespeare describes love as "an ever-fixed mark"; "tempests" cannot shake it, let alone minor imperfections in one's love, or the judgment of society. The sonnet declares that "the marriage of two minds" cannot be destroyed by any "impediment," be that encroaching age or any other "alteration" to the beloved. We know from the other "young man" sonnets that the subject of the poem here is currently beautiful, with "rosy lips and cheeks," but the sonnet states that even when these "within [Time's] bending sickle's compass come," true love will not "alter," because love that wavers when beauty is lost or circumstances change is not truly love.

Sonnet 130 is addressed to a woman whose "eyes are nothing like the sun"; Shakespeare mocks clichéd romantic phrases often found in courtly love sonnets (compare Spenser) by stating outright that none of these clichés apply to his love. Unlike the young man, she has lips than which "coral is far more red," and "no such roses" are visible in her cheeks. However, the poet says, this is immaterial to his feelings for her. She is no "goddess"—"my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground"—but nevertheless, the poet's love is "as rare/as any she belied with false compare." That is, there is no need for a human being to be perfect (especially physically) in order to be loved, and such an idea is contrary to the true meaning of love.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sonnet 116 is about the nature of love and claims that love holds fast and is not shaken by troubles and tribulations ("tempests"). Shakespeare claims that love that is shaken and turned to loss of love, was never love at all" "Love is not love / Which alters...." He ends with the emphasis of an ironic twist saying that if what he says is not true then it is also true that no man ever loved and that he never wrote anything. Shakespeare proves this thesis in Sonnet 130.

Sonnet 130 is Shakespeare's praise to a beloved who is apparently anything but fair, e.g., wires for hair, no roses in the cheeks. Yet Shakespeare speaks of a love as true as any for a beautiful woman. He states that he thinks his love for this unlovely woman is as "rare," meaning excellent, admirable, fine (, as any bespoken for a beautiful woman.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't know if this is what you have in mind, but to me, these poems have very smiliar themes.  They are both about how true love does not try to force the loved one to be some certain way.

In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare talks about how love does not seek to alter the person it loves.  It says that love does not really care about what the person looks like -- because that changes over time.

In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare is talking about the imperfections in his love.  He is rejecting the idea that one's love must be perfect (sort of like how people today should reject the idea that women must all look like supermodels).  Instead, he is saying that she is just as lovable as someone else who (people say) is perfect.

So both poems are about true love being happy with what it finds -- not wanting a perfect lover.

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Shakespeare's Sonnets

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