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Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

A lovely sonnet, followed by a video offering two aural interpretations of the poem: one by Daniel Radcliffe, the other by the incomparable Alan Rickman. (I could listen to that man read the phone book. And even his recitation of the phone book would probably require a change of knickers.)

Sonnet 130
by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
  And yet, by heav'n, I think my love as rare
  As any she belied with false compare.

Form: Shakespearean sonnet, of course. You probably know the drill by now, but it's a sonnet written in iambic pentameter (five iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and using the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The "turn", or volta, in a Shakespearean sonnet typically occurs in line 9, with a slightly further turning in the closing couplet. In this particular poem, the only true turn is in the final couplet: "And yet, by heav'n, I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare."

Discussion: Shakespeare is making a mockery of the overly florid "courtly" sonnets popular in the 1590s. It was de rigeur at the time to compare beauty to flowers and goddesses and the like. The comparison of one's breath to perfume was quite common as well, which had to be a bold-faced lie in most instances, what with the (recent at that time) penchant for sugar and the complete lack of dental hygiene - so bad, in fact, that Queen Elizabeth's teeth were blackened by rot. "Fashionable" women then blackened their own teeth, even if they were healthy, in order to pay homage to the "fashion" set by the Queen (who, in the end, had all or nearly all of her teeth extracted, after which she padded the inside of her mouth with cotton when in public to avoid the sunken-in cheeks that followed her toothlessness). But I digress.

Here, Shakespeare notes what the conventions are: to say that eyes are like the sun, lips like coral, breath like perfume, skin as white as snow with cheeks red as roses, a voice like music, a manner of walking that was more like floating. He then slashes straight through them, saying that if those are the ideals, then by comparison, the woman he's writing about (the Dark Lady, called so in part because of her "black" hair) is a complete failure.

The true turn comes in that final couplet, in which he asserts that the woman he writes of is more rare than any woman he might write lies about.

This piece was probably one of the "sweet sonnets" referenced by Meres as being familiar in company. Knowing that the Bard was an actor, I rather expect that rather than any sort of sweet or serious delivery, this was a comedic performance piece. That does not, however, diminish its power over time. I thereby give you two earnest readings of this poem from two Harry Potter stars: Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Rickman.

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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC)
I knew I liked Alan Rickman for reason. Awesome. The first time I heard the sonnet it was recited as in the comedic strain, rather than in earnest by Catherine Tate when she and David Tennant (who could anything to me) did the Red Nose Day thing.
Actually, here is the link because the whole thing is funny:


She starts reciting it around 4:35.

May. 26th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
OMFG, that was the funniest thing I've seen in I don't know how long.

Bite me, alien boy!
May. 26th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
Isn't it a scream?
May. 26th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
LOVE that skit, which I've seen a few times before. "Are you the doctor?" "Doctor who?" AHAHAHA!
May. 26th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
Sorry Danny boy - you just can't compete with Alan Rickman on this one. *swoon
May. 26th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
Alan Rickman's voice is dead sexy. I knew Daniel didn't hold a candle - not that there was a thing wrong with his performance. And I thought the person who put the two together for YouTube made a great point - how different the poem "reads" when read by a very young man than by an older, more experienced one (with a dead sexy voice - pass me a clean pair of knickers, won't you?)
May. 27th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
"clean pair of knickers"
May. 27th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Re: "clean pair of knickers"
May. 26th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
I pick Alan Rickman. Sorry, Danny boy.
May. 26th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I knew that would be the outcome. Rickman's voice is to die for.
May. 27th, 2010 01:21 am (UTC)
Well, is there really any question? :D Alan Rickman has the best voice in the business (well, Matthew MacFadyen can compete), and his rendering is passionate and controlled and swoon-worthy ;)
May. 27th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)
Matthew MacFadyen and Alan Rickman. You just hit my two soft spots. (Pass me a clean pair of knickers, won't you?)
(Deleted comment)
May. 27th, 2010 02:40 am (UTC)
Surely you knew about that before?

The convention was to compare hair to golden wires - he went with "black wires", which is a completely different sort of image.
(Deleted comment)
May. 28th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived - I memorized that a few years back. That's only 1/3 killed off - not nearly as bad as a "slew"!
(Deleted comment)
May. 27th, 2010 03:10 am (UTC)
Oh my. *fans self* Alan Rickman has such a sexy voice.
May. 27th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
*passes Jessica a clean pair of knickers and a cold glass of water*
May. 27th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
May. 27th, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
It's because I love you best.
May. 27th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
I just recorded the most embarrassing thing EVER for my Shakespeare tomorrow. It will be my return gift to you. No Alan Rickman... but it does involve 17 year old Tess. In video.
May. 27th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
Cannot wait! *rubs hands with glee*
May. 27th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
Alan Rickman! His brilliance is his subtlety. Daniel Radcliffe is cool and all, but he overdoes the lines, and he's a little too earnest.
May. 27th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
I wish Radcliffe had done it as a comedic piece - it's much more entertaining that way (and likely intended to be read as such). I can just picture Shakespeare reciting it in a grandstanding sort of way among his peers for laughs, then getting that "mmmmmmmmm" response with the final couplet.
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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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