Sonnet 116, 130 and 147 by William Shakespeare and ‘Hour’

Table of contents

The sonnet form was developed by an Italian poet Petrarch. Sonnets are 14 lines long, so the words that writers such as Shakespeare and Carol Ann Duffy use in their poetry are selected with care and consideration. As Shakespeare wrote, the structure of a sonnet falls into three parts: the problem, the resolution, and the turn. However, the forth writer we’ll be discussing uses a different structure- idea to conclusion.

I’ll be discussing: Sonnet 116, 130 and 147 by William Shakespeare and ‘Hour’ by Carol Ann Duffy. These sonnets limit the canvas of a woman’s life by perpetuating archetypes

In Shakespeare’s time, many sonnets were based off the work of Petrarch. Petrarch wrote about love and is responsible for many of the clichés that we still hear today.

In Sonnet 130, Shakespeare reverses expectations. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”.

Problem posed by Shakespeare: myth of the idealised woman

Resolution: the first compliment “I love to hear her speak”, this emphasises that the speaker isn’t in love with the mistress solely for her beauty or appearance, he is in love with her mind and personality too. He is using the sonnet form to tear down the stereotype.

Turn: The “turn” or last two lines of the sonnet are a statement of validity in his assertion that his love has real beauty, unlike the falsity of the ideal. He informs readers that he loves his mistress not because she is a goddess or otherworldly, for she is human and flawed.

Sonnet 130 is an example of poetry being able to change assumptions or society and of a stereotype and break free of the frame. Petrarch’s ideal of women is pervasive and undermining, leading to an unfair perception of women which continues today. We are as much victims today of adulating ideals of beauty and appearance at the expense of realism. We are a society which loves the beautiful and insults the ugly. We are as guilty today as they were in Elizabethan times of being seduced by the Petrarchan illusion. The Petrarchan idealisation has forced women into a limit of beauty.

Problem: is a marriage successful in physical attraction or attraction of the mind?

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds” suggests that it is the connection of two minds which endures, rather than two bodies.

Different from sonnet 130, it doesn’t challenge stereotype but rather reinforces a message that we may already know. (Or does it?)

Take note of this line: “it is an ever-fixed mark,/That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/ It is the star to every wandering bark”

The wife will be the “ever fixed mark” while the man is the “wandering bark”. This was true of the society that Shakespeare lived- even in his own life.

It assumes that the value of a woman and in a good marriage lies in the ability to stay at home while the husband is abroad- adventuring around London in the case of Shakespeare.

Strange that this poem that on the surface is about equality in a marriage, has such a strong patriarchal message.

Like sonnet 130 there are echoes of the idealised woman “your hair is like treasure on the ground”, and as in sonnet 116, the relationship is between equals “we are millionaires”.

On the surface, the sonnet is about the feelings that arise when you are with a loved one. However, Duffy often writes about things that linger below the surface.

“Love’s times beggar” suggests that love is someone who works and is paid by the hour. “We find an hour together, spend it not on flowers/Or wine, but the whole of the summer sky and a grass ditch” place the lovers in the non-traditional setting of a grass ditch, suggesting the woman is lying on her back staring up at the sky. The classical allusion of “Midas light” and the simile “like a dropped coin” hint at the nature of this relationship

Hour by Carol Ann Duffy ; Clandestine Relationships

What is interesting about the sonnet?

The archetype of a mistress is reversed. There is no judgement made on her choice of occupation. That this subject is approached with such a level of openness and the lack of judgement reflects on our changing world, in contrast to Elizabethan England where a woman’s value was placed upon her sexual purity.

This poem may be framed by the sonnet form it rests in, but it develops a very modern message about the modern woman being set free from stereotypes and judgement.

Like works of art, the female subjects of the three earlier sonnets are enhanced by the sonnet form, but also trapped by the stereotypes they promulgate. By being forced into roles, women are forced to be two things, the woman as she is perceived to be, and the real person underneath. This duality can lead to accusations of duplicity but in many cases, it is just the woman struggling to accommodate both perceptions. It is very difficult for a woman to control her identity when there are such different expectations of her.

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