Shakespeare's Sonnet 130: Summary, Tone & Literary Devices

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  • 0:03 Analyzing the Sonnet
  • 2:54 Tone
  • 3:53 Literary Devices
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 seems like a spoof! Instead of praising his lover, the speaker appears to insult her! In this lesson, we will analyze this unusual strategy Shakespeare uses to describe the woman he loves.

Analyzing the Sonnet

Sonnet 130 is starkly different in theme than Shakespeare's other sonnets. Most of his sonnets praise his lover's beauty, wit and worth. In fact, women are almost deified in many sonnets. Some are more melancholy than others, but no sonnet seems insulting - except this one! We will dissect the sonnet, line by line, in an effort to understand the poem's true message.

Sonnet 130

'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun' (The sun is bright and warm; her eyes are cold and dull!)

'Coral is far more red than her lips' red' (Coral is a tad orange, and even coral has more color than her lips do. In fact, some coral is white. This woman's lips must be very bland, indeed!)

'If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun' (The color of her breasts is 'dun,' like that of a mouse - sort of a dull gray or brown.)

'If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head' (Coarse, wiry, black hair would not seem as appealing as silky, smooth hair.)

'I have seen roses damask'd, red and white' (The damasked rose was a mix of red and white, perhaps pink. It was lovely to look at, and it gave off a strong fragrance.)

'But no such roses see I in her cheeks' (His love's cheeks are pale. There is no pinkish blush on her cheeks.)

'And in some perfumes is there more delight' (People tend to like perfume… )

'Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks' (But my love's breath stinks; it is the opposite of perfume!)

'I love to hear her speak, yet well I know' (I like to hear her talk, but… )

'That music hath a far more pleasing sound' (Music is so much nicer to listen to!)

'I grant I never saw a goddess go' (The speaker has never seen a goddess on Earth.)

'My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground' (This woman walks heavily, not gracefully.)

'And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare' (In spite of all of the above, my love is priceless!)

'As any she belied with false compare.' (She is genuine. It doesn't make sense to compare women to images they can't possibly live up to.)


The tone of Sonnet 130 is definitely sarcastic. Most sonnets, including others written by Shakespeare, praised women and practically deified them. Similar to the airbrushed model pictures we see in magazines today, no real woman could live up to the unreachable standard of having perfectly red lips, pink cheeks, silky hair, fragrant breath, and more.

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