Study Guide

Sonnet 130 Literature and Writing

By William Shakespeare

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Literature and Writing

The theme of "Literature and Writing" is sort of flying under the radar in this poem, but we think it's important. The whole point of this poem is to gently mock the clichéd love poems written by other authors. The speaker isn't actually making fun of his own lover so much as he is pointing out how ridiculous poetic comparisons can become. In that sense, this is a poem about other poems as much as it is about a particular woman with frizzy black hair.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. How critical do you think the speaker of this poem is being of other poets? Does he seem to be gently making fun of standard love poetry or is he really attacking it?
  2. Do you think there's a place for sappy love poetry? Is it fair to criticize something that was never really designed to be realistic?
  3. Try a quick exercise – write out the serious, "normal" version of this poem (or just try to imagine it). What would it look like without all the negative comparisons? For example: "My mistress' eyes are like the sun/ Her lips are as red as coral, etc." What do you think about this new poem?
  4. Can you think of a poem or a song or a movie that you love because it's really unrealistic, and shows a kind of love that could never exist in the world?

Chew on This

As he gently mocks traditional love poems, the speaker manages to maintain a light tone. This playfulness makes it easier for him to turn the subject back to true love and finish the poem on a sweet and cheerful note.

Although it is meant to be a parody of romantic poetry, Sonnet 130 misses the fun of those other poems. By ignoring the playful nature of those exaggerated comparisons, our speaker ends up being the one who sounds like he isn't getting the joke.

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