Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What different figures of speech are in Shakespeare's Sonnet 130?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shakespeare employs a negative simile when the narrator says that his "mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."  In other words, he will not flatter her by comparing her beauty to objects to which it cannot possible measure up, unlike most typical love sonnets which make such lofty, untruthful comparisons.  Shakespeare employs a metaphor when the narrator says, "If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head."  He compares her hair to wires, rather than flatter her by comparing it to something more luxurious and less plausible.  He does employ visual imagery when he describes the "roses damasked, red and white," though he cannot claim to see roses in his lover's cheeks.  The narrator considers comparing his lover's voice to music and her walk to a goddess' tread, but he stops short of actually using a figure of speech to do so because she really cannot compare in either case.  His point is that he does not need to make false comparisons, as others do, because he knows how special his love is already.  He doesn't love her in spite of her defects precisely because he does not see that she has defects.  She is a human, and he describes her as one.

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lynnebh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Here is the sonnet:


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.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare

This sonnet is a parody of the traditional Elizabethan love sonnet. It seems like the author is criticizing his love more than praising her. He lists the many things that do NOT describe his love. Many of these things are used in traditional sonnets to describe one's love - voice like music, cheeks like roses, golden hair, etc. This man's love, however, is none of these things, and yet he loves her anyway. He does not need to compare her to false things.

Here are some poetic devices. Lots of similes and metaphors:

1. Simile - eyes are nothing like the sun (this is a negative simile, he says her eyes are not like the sun).

2. Metaphor - comparing her lips to coral (another negative - he says her lips are not red like coral)

3. Metaphor - comparing her voice to music (it is NOT like music)

Now, see if you can give it a try. What other comparisons does he make? Remember, they are mostly negative comparisons!

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