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Themes

"Appearances" is a major theme in Sonnet 130, since our speaker spends a lot of the poem talking about what's wrong with his mistress's looks. He does a pretty complete dissection of her face, her body, and her smell. He doesn't say anything at all about her personality, but instead sticks to his laundry list of problems with her appearance. This gives Shakespeare a chance to poke fun at our obsession with looks and to show how ridiculous it is to ask any person to live up to some ideal of perfect beauty.

Questions About Appearances

  1. Do you notice flaws in the people that you love? Do you ever tell them about these imperfections?
  2. Do you think that true love requires you to be honest about things like appearance? Or do you think that love requires the kind of flattering little lies that the speaker refuses to tell?
  3. Is this poem making you want to brush your teeth and get a haircut? It's kind of doing that for us, to be honest.
  4. Are there parts of this poem that seem to go too far, that are overly critical of this woman's appearance?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By pushing his criticisms of his mistress's appearance to the edge, the speaker makes his return to the theme of love even more effective. The contrast between mockery and love is what drives the poem.

Even though the speaker eventually says how much he loves her, he has said such nasty things about his mistress that it makes him hard to believe. He has damaged his credibility.

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