Sonnets 18 and 130: Defending and Defying the Petrarchan Convention

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Sonnets 18 and 130: Defending and Defying the Petrarchan Convention

During the Renaissance, it was common for poets to employ Petrarchan conceit to praise their lovers. Applying this type of metaphor, an author makes elaborate comparisons of his beloved to one or more very dissimilar things. Such hyperbole was often used to idolize a mistress while lamenting her cruelty. Shakespeare, in Sonnet 18, conforms somewhat to this custom of love poetry, but later breaks out of the mold entirely, writing his clearly anti-Petrarchan work, Sonnet 130.

In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare employs a Petrarchan conceit to immortalize his beloved. He initiates the extended metaphor in the first line of the sonnet by posing the rhetorical
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Although Shakespeare appears to be conforming, he still elevates his work above the exhausted conventions of other Elizabethan sonneteers. Instead of objectifying his lover through trite comparisons, he declares that she is too beautiful and pleasant to be compared even to a day of the most enjoyable season of the year. While most consider the realm of nature to be eternal and that of humans to be transitory, Shakespeare accentuates the death of a season and imbues his sweetheart with everlasting life. He ingeniously inverts the scheme of things in order to grant his love perpetual existence through his poetry.

Unlike Sonnet 18, Shakespeare utterly abandons the poetic convention of Petrarchan conceit in Sonnet 130. In this poem, Shakespeare denies his mistress all of the praises Renaissance poets customarily attributed to their lovers. The first quatrain is filled exclusively with the Shakespeare's seeming insults of his mistress. While Sir Thomas Wyatt authors a poem entitled "Avising the Bright Beams of These Fair Eyes," in the first line of Sonnet 130, Shakespeare affirms that his "mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun." John Wootton, in a poem published in England's Helicon, boasts that his love has "lips like scarlet of the finest dye," but in Sonnet 130 , Shakespeare is sure that his beloved's lips are not nearly quite as red as coral (11; 2). Michael Drayton, in his poem, To His Coy Love, begs his lover, "Show me no more those snowy

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