What are the Petrarchan and anti-Petrarchan elements in Shakespeare's Sonnet 130?   

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, the Petrarchan elements are few since the development of the English sonnet led away from Petrarch's structure and expression of ideas. One Petrarchan element is that Sonnet 130 has fourteen lines; this is in keeping with the form that Petrarch established. Another Petrarchan element is that the volta--or turn from one idea to a contrastive idea--occurs at line 9, though it heralds a minor contrast. Finally, Sonnet 130 is a love sonnet, albeit a wry one stated ironically: Most love sonnets praise the majestic beauty and loveliness of the beloved, whereas 130 immortalizes her imperfections.

The anti-Petrarchan elements are a few more in number. One such element is that one single idea is developed through out the first 12 lines: the slightly unappealing qualities of his beloved. Petrarch's sonnets compared two contrastive ideas, such as the beloved's feelings at her impending death and the contrastive idea of the poet's feelings at her death ("She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine").

Other anti-Petrarchan elements are the structure and rhyme scheme. Sonnet 130 is structured with 3 quatrains (4 lines) and an ending couplet, with voltas (turns of thought) possible--but not required--at lines 5 and 9. Petrarch's sonnets are structured as an opening octave (8 lines) followed by a sestet (6 lines). The rhyme scheme of 130 is that established for the English sonnet: abab cdcd efef gg. The Petrarchan rhyme scheme is abbaabba in the octave and one of several options for the sestet, including:


Another anit-Petrarchan element is the resolution. Sonnet 130 has a surprise ending that can be said to be in keeping with the English sonnet resolution that offers an epiphany as the resolution to the tension in the sonnet. In 130, the epiphanic resolution is that the speaker thinks his love as much of a marvel as any other beauty (to whom she would be wrongly compared): "I think my love as rare /  As any she belied with false compare." Sonnet 130 follows the English sonnet form of putting the resolution to the tension of the poem in a rhyming couplet. Petrarch resolved sonnets in the last three lines of the sestet, which might be in one of the several rhyme schemes (including those above), like dce:

Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
("She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine" by Petrarch.)

The volta in Sonnet 130 also presents an anti-Petrarchan element. Petrarch's line 9 voltas turn from contrasting ideas that are being compared to each other, such as in the above example, from her to him. The line 9 volta in Sonnet 130 is a minor turn from one emphasis to another emphasis within the same idea: It is Renaissance innovation that allows English sonnets to develop one single idea through the whole sonnet up to the resolution. In 130 the volta turns from physical comparisons between his love's qualities and the natural world. For example, the poetic speaker compares her eyes and lips to sun and coral and her cheeks to roses. Following the volta, lines 9 through 12 compare her to abstract ideas: her speech is compared to music and her walk to how a goddess gets about the world:

I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: ....