Speaking of Anniversaries…

Is he right?

This author, who finds that he shares his wedding anniversary (November 28) with Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway (is that the confirmation I was looking for?), decides to recite a sonnet for his wife. The one he chooses is 130, the famous “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”

Is that appropriate? Is his interepretation accurate? I’ve always been curious about that one.

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4 thoughts on “Speaking of Anniversaries…

  1. I don’t think it is. The poem is a satire of the Petrarchan sonnet, which itemizes the subject’s body. (“Her eyes are sapphires, her breasts are apples,” etc.) It was a popular form of poetry at the time (and still is). Besides, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to say your lover is ugly, no matter how “unconditional” your love is.

  2. Well, there is really nothing in this sonnet that says the lover is ugly. Two words, “wires” and “reeks”, in Elizabethan English would not have had the negative connotation a modern reader might assume. Vendler sums up the argument of this presumed reply to another poet who has written of his mistress: “I don’t know about your mistress, but my mistress is nothing like that: she’s a real woman, and doesn’t need any false compare to distort her attractions.”

  3. I don’t think it is quite accurate to say that Shakespeare mocked the Petrarchan sonnet form. He mocked bad sonneteers, here, probably such as Thomas Watson. If we read “is emitted” for “reeks” Vendler’s summation is appropriate and the poet is merely saying that he need not exaggerate his lover’s qualities as some bad poets do. The strength of the sonnet is in the couplet: “And yet by heaven I thinke my love as rare,/ As any she beli’d with false compare.”

  4. Well, “in some perfumes is there more delight/Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” is not the most flattering. Besides, I do believe that form was very important in the Renaissance. Shakespeare both utilized and mocked the Petrarchan sonnet form, so I don’t believe that it was his take on “true” love.

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