Shakespeare Response – Wilson Ma

Prompt: Compare Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 to Petrarch’s Sonnet 90. What kind of love are these poems about? How do the narrators of the poems view love, and their beloved, similarly and differently? So what?


Petrarch’s Sonnet 90 and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 are nothing like each other. Whereas the narrator in Sonnet 90 uses fantasy to describe love, the narrator in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 describes love in a more realistic way. The two sonnets are so different that the narrator in Shakespeare’s sonnet almost appears sarcastic and offensive in the description of the lover. Petrarch’s sonnet is less sarcastic but is exaggerated nonetheless. Despite these differences, the two poems are linked together by the common theme of love in which the narrators describe people whom they loved.

The only similarity between Petrarch’s Sonnet 90 and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is the common theme of love. Besides that, the tone and description are very different. The two narrators talk about their lovers and present two contrasting opinions. The narrator from Sonnet 90 reminisces into the past when everything about the lover is idealized. From her eyes being “brighter than the radiant west” (Petrarch 3) to the way she walks being like “angelic progress” (10), the narrator from Petrarch’s sonnet tells the reader about how much he admires his lover’s beauty.

In sharp contrast to Petrarch’s sonnet, Shakespeare presents a narrator in Sonnet 130 who doesn’t care about his lover’s beauty. The narrator refers to his lover as his “mistress” (Shakespeare 1), a derogatory term to use on the person he loves. The narrator then proceeds to describe her physical traits as negatively as possible. He describes his lover’s eyes as “nothing like the sun” (1) and how “when she walks, treads on the ground” (12). Clearly, the speaker from Sonnet 130 is either very realistic or he’s insulting his own lover in a sarcastic manner.

The two sonnets offer two different thinkers and their contrasting perceptions on love. On the one hand, the narrator in Petrarch’s sonnet exaggerates the realities of love, in which he idealizes the lover by embellishing her with complements of her physical features, such as her eyes and the way she walks. Unlike this narrator, the one in Shakespeare’s sonnet uses regular and almost insulting terms to describe his lover, in both the unexaggerated description of her eyes and in the way she walks, where’s she’s on the ground and not somewhere else in the realms of dream land.



2 thoughts on “Shakespeare Response – Wilson Ma

  1. Excellent comparison Wilson. The way you breakdown each poem and illustrate that the only commonality they share is the theme of love, and explain the vast differences between the two raises many questions. Was Shakespeare broken-hearted? Did he say that her eyes were “nothing like the sun” or pointing out that she simply walks on the ground not like a goddess because she upset him? Or is it more of Shakespeare’s satirical commentary on poems like Sonnet 90 by Petrarch that put women on such high pedestal? Possibly if we look closer we can see that Shakespeare is saying that although his mistress is not perfect with horrid breath and fair skin she is perfect to him despite all her flaws?

  2. I agree that the two sonnets are really different in the sense that Sonnet 130 seems to be a parody of cliche, lovey-dovey poems. Like we talked about in class, a parody is often an imitation of a writer or artist with exaggerations that mock the original. Shakespeare jokes on the typical sappy love poem with exaggerated comparisons that describe a woman’s skin and eyes.

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