In sonnet 130, does Shakespeare portray his mistress as a typical renaissance beauty?

Asked on by may07

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blacksheepunite | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I'm going to follow amy-lepore's thread here and say the answer is a qualified "yes". The key is in whether the idealized Renaissance beauty and the actual Renaissance beauty are the same women.

There is no doubt that the woman he describes is not particularly attractive, particularly if we're holding the woman up to the fair skinned, blonde hair, blue-eyed model. Not only that, but as has been pointed out already, she doesn't smell particularly good. She also seems to lack a certain grace. But, she is beautiful to him.

Perhaps what Shakespeare does here is confront the unrealistic representations of women in the media of his time. He is a photographer without an airbrush. Your question was does the poem represent a typical renaissance beauty, and it may well be that it does. In the same way that the majority of the people we find attractive are nothing like the pictures in the magazines. So has he portrayed a typical idealized version of a renaissance beauty? Absolutely not. Has he portrayed a typical beautiful woman living in the age of the renaissance? Perhaps.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In addition, be aware that Shakespeare is parodying the already hackneyed views of "beauty" as defined by society and the outlandish metaphors used to describe the beauty of the person to whom the poem is directed. Shakespeare's sonnet 130 is basically saying, "Look, my love is not perfect and her lips aren't as red as roses and her eyes are not as blue as sapphires, BUT she is beautiful to ME simply and because I love her." He is making fun of all the poets who use those incredibly unrealistic comparisons to declare the depth of their love. He truly has a sense of humor, and this is still so true today! What a great poem!

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

In a word, no. The speakers beloved possesses a earthiness that makes her rare and therefore unique and beautiful to him.

Each line hardly creates a vision of traditional beauty, Renaissance or otherwise. "Coral" is typically pale, and red lips were the fashion. Alabaster white skin was desired in the time, but her skin is "dun" (rather dull). "Black wires" grow on her head...not too flaterring. Rosy cheeks belied health, yet she has none.

It gets worse! Her breath, rather than pleasantly perfumed, "reeks." Her voice is not musical.

Still, none of this matters to the speaker. To him, she is a real person, not an angel: "when she walks, she treads the ground./And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/As any she belied by false compare."

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