How does the tone of this sonnet help engage the reader?(how the poetic speaker's tone operates in Sonnet 130)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 has often been called an anti-Petrarchan sonnet because it seems to be mocking the idea of the conceit in which the lover compares his love to qualities that are greatly admired.  But, instead of being a near goddess, the poet's love has many imperfections:

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be whie, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

Unlike the the love poem tradition as established by the Italian poet Petrarchan, the poet's comparison of his love does not illustrate his love's superiority to nature at all.  Instead, she is "nothing like" the beautiful productions of art or nature.

In another aberration from the Petrarchan form, at the ninth-line "turn," the formal point at which a sonnet typically introduces an antithesis to redirect the focus, the speaker continues his strange conceit, noting how music has a much more pleasing sound than his lover's voice.  Yet, he does love to hear her speak. 

And, then, in the eleventh and twelfth lines, the speaker casts of conventional descriptions of women as goddesses and writes that his mistress is earthy and earth-bound.  Finally, the couplet expresses the speaker's opinion, and the rhyming couplet explains the contrasts.  His lover is as beautiful as those that poets praise in hyperbole.  For in his subjective mind, she is rare, and the light-hearted and often humorous tone of the speaker engages the reader more than the fantastic conceits of the Petrarchan poets.