My Mistress Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun Theme

What is the theme and the subject matter of Sonnet 130 ("My mistress eyes...") by William Shakespeare?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 does take a satirical turn in its treatment of the Petrarchan form as well as the traditional Petrarchan sonnet's subject matter of comparison of a lover to natural phenomena, in theme, it is not satirical.  For, while the lover's eyes are not like the sun, her hair is like "black wires," and her breath is anything like perfume, he yet loves her:

I love to hear her speak,--yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound....

Further, the speaker declares, though she merely "walks, treads on the ground,"

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

As any she belied with false compare.

The couplet, then, dismisses all the conventional comparisons that the speaker has so satirized, explicating the point--theme--of all these contrasts:  his comparisons of his lover, albeit unfavorable, is as rare for him as those beauties whom the Petrarchan sonnets laud.  For, the speaker loves his mistress just as much as the others love their beauties because beauty is subjective.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun” is thematically an anti-Petrarchan sonnet, that satirizes the conventions of the traditional Italian sonnet by inverting the similes normally used within the Petrarchan conventions. Its subject is the beauties of his mistress, but unlike the Italianate poets who would say her lips are like coral and her breasts like snow, uses a sort of via negativa, saying that such comparisons would be false, in order to evoke in the reader’s mind the real beauties of an actual woman. The final couplet makes obvious that he really is praising rather than denigrating his mistress.

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