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Comparing the Beloved in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20 and Sonnet 130

Comparing the Beloved in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20 and Sonnet 130

In the hands of a master such as Shakespeare, the conventions of the sonnet form are manipulated and transformed into something unique and originally emphasized. Both sonnets in one way or another subvert the conventions of the base Petrarchan sonnet; though they are about love, the traditional topic of sonnets, whilst in Sonnet 20 the object of desire is unattainable and there is no evidence of the level of affection being requited, the target is male, and the target of the poet’s affections in Sonnet 130 is the poetic voice’s current mistress. It also seems important to note that love in neither of these cases is of the generic youthful female Aryan stereotype, and in the latter case we are left in little doubt this is most definitely calculatedly to be so. Shakespeare’s sonnet collection runs the gamut of a host of playful tweaks of the usual, routine sonnet; each break from convention serves not only to emphasise his particular point of the moment, but enrich the reading experience for those familiar with genre as it stood before Shakespeare’s diversification.

Sonnet 130 belongs to the ‘dark mistress’ group of the Sonnets, and is well-known and often selected for anthologies. This may possibly be because it conveys two opinions particularly beloved of Shakespeare — the purpose of this sonnet (indeed a number of the pieces of Shakespeare’s sonnet arc cover this issue) is to challenge the conventional image of beauty of the era, which held pale skin and golden, wiry tresses to be the desirable zenith of female beauty. It is also, perhaps more importantly, seeking to challenge the almost wilfully insincere flattery demonstrated in the largely derivativ…

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… manner which befits the controlled nature of the sonnet.

Ultimately, then, the sonnet mode of poetry is more inclusive than exclusive — given the necessary factor of an object or objectified personality, a skilled writer such as Shakespeare may use the form to describe that subject to any degree of intensity. Where these two poems are at their most similar, though, is in how each manipulates the expectations of the genre to provoke the interest of the reader. Looking at Shakespeare demonstrates how flexible the sonnet genre truly is, and how quickly it might become boring if allowed to become static and repetitious.

1. pg25, The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint, Penguin Classics, 1999

2. pg199, lb

3. from our lecture handout, The Sonnets: Some Issues of Genre and Context


The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint, Penguin Classics, 1999

Rebirth in Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus, Fever 103, Getting There, and Cut

Rebirth in Lady Lazarus, Fever 103, Getting There, and Cut

The Ariel-period poems of Sylvia Plath demonstrate her desire for rebirth, to escape the body that was “drummed into use” by men and society. I will illustrate the different types of rebirth with examples from the Ariel poems, including “Lady Lazarus,” “Fever 103,” “Getting There,” and “Cut.”

“Lady Lazarus,” the last of the October poems, presents Plath as the victim with her aggression turned towards “her male victimizer (33).” Lady Lazarus arises from Herr Doktor’s ovens as a new being, her own incarnation, “the victim taking on the powers of the victimizers and drumming herself into uses that are her own” (33). Linda Bundtzen also sees the poem as “an allegory about the woman artist’s struggle for autonomy. The female creature of a male artist-god is asserting independent creative powers” (33). Plath confronts Herr Doktor:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer



Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air. (Plath 246-247)

Lady Lazarus after her psychic death became stronger than her creator: ” Male- female antagonism ends with the woman defiantly asserting power over her body and releasing its energies for her own ends” (Bundtzen 233). While the outcome of the poem is positive, “Plath turns on herself, identifying with her oppressor, and sadistically punishes her body in the process of

recreating it” (Bundtzen 237).

Plath did not see the rebirth process as a pleasant experience, but one that is expected of her “I guess you could say I’ve got a call” (Plath 245). She, however, sees the benefits that come from her suffering and continues the process again and again. “Fever 103” is also about a women releasing herself from…

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…poems what she thought she could not or did not achieve in life: the ability to do as she wanted, to be a mother and wife but not constricted into a domestic hell or to be pinned down by the oppressive society which did not accept her for being a poetess. She was able to “still speak from within her “deeper self” through her writing” (Kinsey-Clinton 1).

Works Cited

Alvarez, A. Sylvia Plath : A Memoir. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

Bundtzen, Lynda K. Plath’s Incarnations: Woman and the Creative Process.

USA: University of Michigan, 1988.

Kinsey-Clinton, Michelle. Once Upon a Time. (Online) Available , August 17, 1998.

Perloff, Marjorie. “Angst and Animism in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath”. Journal

Of Modern Literature. 1970: 57-74 .

Plath Sylvia. The Collected Poems. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.

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