Sunday, May 4, 2008

Theory Questions: Shakespeare's Sonnet 130

Someone posted Shakespeare's 130th a while ago. Full text here and a bit of deconstructionism here:

Through the entire sonnet, Shakespeare is comparing a mistress to things of relative beauty like the sun, flowers, perfume... in stating that she's nothing like any of them. According to the author, the woman is this ugly, greyish creature that smells and has black wires sprouting from her head. The twist in the poem is in the last two lines, when Big Willy Shakes states that "And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/ As any she belied with false compare" (Shakespeare, 13-14).

The text is really full of binary oppositions; every time Shakespeare compares a part of his mistress to an object society looks highly upon (the sun, white snow, roses, perfume, music...), the viewer assumes that the mystery woman is nothing like whatever he's comparing her to. The entire poem relies on preferences in binaries, because that's how it makes it's point. If we didn't instinctively know that the sun was brilliant or that roses were beautiful, we would completely miss the point of the poem. Because of this fact, the text clearly lends itself to deconstructionism.


1. How does the poem fulfill its intentions of distinguishing the opposing binaries, in each individual case? (ei: white, dun; perfume, reek)

2. How do cultural 'truths' effect our view of the mistress? Is there any basis for this assumption?

3. What is the major binary in the poem?

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