Real-life Beauty vs. the cliché notions of beauty

One major theme throughout Shakespeare’s sonnets is Real life beauty versus cliché notions of beauty. “And beauty slandered with a bastard shame: For since each hand hath put on nature’s power, Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profane, if not lives in disgrace Therefore my mistress’s eyes are raven-black.” (127) which in my opinion means beauty is fleeting, and deceptive, and possibly the enemy of true love (in this context anyway). Shakespeare, rather than making illustrious claims about his beloved dark-lady’s beauty, explains all the real life aspects of her features, in explicit terms calling her a real woman. In sonnet 130 he says her eyes are nothing like the sun, her skin not pale enough for beauty standards of the time, her hair like black wires, and her voice is unpleasant, her smell isn’t nice, nor are her cheeks or lips red enough and so on. However he ends the poem with “And yet, by heaven,  I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare.” He flat out says, I love her anyway and it is a true love!

Many poets all through time describe transcending beauty, and illustrious compliments towards their subjects, which honestly proves the old cliché to be true “Love is blind”. Shakespeare, although he describes in detail the beauty of the young man in an extremely cliché manner in his earlier sonnets, paints this dark lady to be an actual person with a personality and faults, rather than a perfect dream of a girl. That which is underneath her outward appearance is what makes him love her and he doesn’t lie or flatter with excessive elaboration of her perceived beauty. He accepts his love for who she is (up until she betrays him), and seems to understand that beauty isn’t everything as other poets would have you believe. Through artful deceit anyone can become beautiful, so he basically says it is no longer a reasonable compliment to your lover, truth and devotion is a better depiction of feelings of endearment and intimacy.  Shakespeare calls himself many times a slave, and calls his love his sovereign, and even though she is tyrannical (probably nagging and controlling) he still loves her which shows great devotion, and with his explicit description of her looks he displays truth. Real love, portrayed in these sonnets, is achieved when you love the actual person, not a fantasy version of a lover in your head.

~Alexandra Watkins


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