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Analysis of Shakespearean Sonnet 127 (In the old age black was not counted fair,)

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 Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences 

A sonnet refers to a poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, restricted to a definite rhyme scheme. Poets of Elizabethan time are mainly concerned with the subject of love.  There are two major rhyme schemes in sonnet written in English :
1) Italian / Petrarchan sonnet
2) English / Shakespearean sonnet
  Originally an Italian form 'sonetto', meaning 'a little sound', the sonnet has remained vital since its development in the 13th century. Francesco Petrarch was one of the former original masters; in the 14th century, the Italian poet brought the sonnet to prominence through the poems he wrote in admiration of a woman named Laura.   
  The Petrarchan sonnet, like all true sonnets, consists of fourteen lines. The first eight lines comprise the octave and the final six form the sestet. The volta, or the poem?s turn, typically appears at the beginning of the sestet and introduces a markedly different tone from that of the octave. Finally, the sestet offers reflection on and sometimes resolution to the conflict of the poem. The lines are in iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme is generally one of the following two patterns: ABBA ABBA CDECDE or ABBA ABBA CDCDCD.
 Shakespeare's sonnets are considered a continuation of the sonnet tradition that swept through the Renaissance from Petrarch in 14th-century Italy and was finally introduced in 16th-century England by Thomas Wyatt and was given its rhyming meter and division into quatrains by Henry Howard. 
 The phrase "Elizabethan sonnet sequences" refers to the series of English sonnets written by various prominent practitioners in the Elizabethan era, such as William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, and Edmund Spenser. Shakespeare's  sonnet sequence includes 154 sonnets. Spenser's main sonnet series is a collection entitled Amoretti and  Sidney's most famous sonnet series is entitled  Astrophel and Stella.
  However, the form of the Shakespearean sonnet differs from that of the Petrarchan model. Although Shakespeare's lines are iambic pentameter, his sonnets are made up of three quatrains and a final couplet, and his rhyme scheme is as follows: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. He also departs from Petrarch?s tendency to idealize the object of his affection.

Shakespearean Sonnets and Sonnet 127
The Sonnets are Shakespeare's most popular works, and a few of them, such as Sonnet18, Sonnet 116,Sonnet 73, and sonnet 130 have become the most widely-read poems in all of English literature. 
  Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, all of his sonnets are unconventional in their approach and likely composed over an extended period from 1592 to 1598.In 1609 Thomas Thorpe published Shakespeare's sonnets. 
 The majority of the sonnets (1-126) are addressed to a young man, his fair friend to ensure his immortality. The final sonnets (127-154) are addressed to a promiscuous woman known to modern readers as the dark lady.
 Sonnet 127 of Shakespeare's sonnets (1609) is the first of the  Dark Lady sequence(sonnets 127?152). Shakespeare admits that his beloved is not an conventional beauty but for him, she is beautiful and the poems make it clear that the speaker's mistress has black hair and eyes and dark skin means through his verse, Shakespeare established a new convention. Time has changed, now beauty is not only judged by skin complexion. After all, in the dark lady sequence , Shakespeare used a sort of mockery against the Petrarchan conventions and his sonnet 127 is no exception of that.

 Central Idea of Sonnet 127
 In  Sonnet 127, the speaker finds himself attracted to a woman who is not beautiful in the conventional sense, here he tries to give a newer definition of true beauty and explains it by declaring that because of cosmetics, true beauty has been called into question. The poet tries to re-define the actual beauty by striking of the conventional beauty. He is voicing like someone who is trying to defend of natural beauty which may not be perfect , still being original is beautiful.

Analysis of 1st Quatrain

"In the old age black was not counted fair,"
In ancient times, a dark complexion was not considered beautiful or attractive, rather fair complexion was considered beautiful.

"Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;"
Or if anyone thought that they were beautiful, they never called them beautiful.

"But now is black beauty's successive heir,"
The dark complexion which was never considered beautiful, now gained a legitimate figure.

"And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:"
That means the fair complexion that used to be called beautiful have gotten a bad reputation.  The "bastard shame" is the product of art. Beauty and Nature are slandered by the artificial asserting in effect that art is better than nature.

In the old age.....  - Past tense.
........black....... - This word presents personification. The poet is trying to personify black skin tone with the word black. 

........................fair - presents pun. Here fair has two meanings. Fairness as an abstract quality and fair complexion.
But now...... (present tense) - The old age is over.
But now is black beauty's successive heir - This statement presents hyperbaton. 

Successive heir - legitimate child.
But now is black beauty's successive heir.... - Successive heir means one who deserves to succeed by virtue of inheritance. Here the notion of inheritance is used metaphorically in the sonnet. The "black" is called the legitimate heir (with a possible pun on "hair") of beauty.

.......bastard... -  Here the notion of bastardy is used metaphorically in the sonnet. Shakespeare used a very bold term  - bastard - to highlight the fact that an artificial beauty that's bastard can never be legitimate.

Slandered - Disgrace.
Black-fairheir-bastard - Shakespeare used a sort of contrasting words.
Black, bore, beauty, Bastard - These words present alliteration(repetition of the consonantal sound B).
   In this quatrain, the poetic tone is defensive and very shrewdly trying to establish the unconventional skin tone, Black that is the unconventional beauty and trying to highlight the fact that fairness is not always beautiful.

Analysis of 2nd Quatrain
"For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,"
These days, everyone has seized the power to make themselves beautiful so now everyone does nature's work on their own. That is ironical.

"Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,"
Even ugly people can be beautiful or can make themselves fair by artificial materials means the standard for "beauty" has lost its naturalness, probably because of the use of wigs and hair dye, rouges, lipsticks, and mascara. 

"Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,"
For the artificial means, true beauty doesn?t exist anymore. None can legitimately be called beautiful. In fact, natural beauty has no exclusive name, no sanctuary all her own.

"But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace."
But true beauty has become devalued, even disgraced. It is not clear what is the worse penalty, to be pronounced profane, or to live in disgrace. Here Art has disgraced Nature by making false effigies of beauty. Disgrace could also mean 'to make ugly, to disfigure'.

Each hand hath......... (anyone can) - Presents synecdoche.    
........Nature's power - Beauty is totally depends on nature and only the nature possess the ability to build the true beauty.
....hath.... - Archaism of 'has'.
Fairing the foul..... - Making beautiful what is ugly.
....Art's false borrowed face - The artificial face (pretended beauty) that is put on by the use of cosmetics and the skilful application of them. 
Sweet beauty - True beauty which is always called the natural beauty, fresh and pleasant.
Bower - Residence.
Profaned - Neglected.
Fairing, foul, face - Alliteration (repetition of the consonantal sound F).
Beauty, bower - Alliteration (repetition of the consonantal sound B).
Nature-art, holy-profane - Here the poet again used the contrasting words.
                                    In this quatrain, a tricky tone is noticed. The poet indirectly mocks the Petrarchan conceptions not any individual person as the olden ideology tries to transform their outlook by artificiality. 

Analysis of 3rd Quatrain

"Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,"
The speaker then introduces his mistress as a raven-haired beauty with dark eyes(a natural image). Her beauty represents honesty.

"Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem" - Run on line.

"At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack," - Run on line.

"Sland'ring creation with a false esteem:" - Enjambment. 
The poet insists that her naturalness is dark and it has now become so fashionable that common opinion has swung round to believe that dark beauties alone are truly beautiful. And in their darkness, they seem to be lamenting those people who were born ugly but make themselves beautiful. The poet believes that naturalness does not lack beauty and believes that nature is slandered when attempts are made to crush naturalness into a false concept of beauty. He disdains such actions and will condemn them at every opportunity.
Therefore, Here comes the volta (the turning point).

....my mistress.... - Subjective in tone.
.......raven black - presents metaphor.
Sland'ring - Reproaching.
Esteem - Value.
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem - presents run on line.
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, - presents run on line.
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem: - presents enjambment.
   In this quatrain, the poetic tone is changed into subjectivity. The poet believes that his beloved is maintaining her natural looks and actually puts the false beauty to shame.

Analysis of the Final Couplet
"Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so."
Natural and Untouched (Theme) - 
But her black eyes lament so beautifully, that everyone is saying that that's how beauty should look. Here the poet re-establishes the natural beauty.
..........woe - Misfortune.
.....becoming of their woe - evokes the imagery of a face, its eyes big and brimming with tears.
...every tongue says.....(every man says) - Presents part for whole.
In the final couplet, the argument of the poem seems to be that his beloved is dark because it is symbolic of a mourning for the debasement of true beauty. The dark-haired, dark-skinned beauties do not mourn to be light-haired and light-skinned because they are able to demonstrate true, natural beauty that makes people realize that all beauty should be natural and untouched. The speaker then asserts that natural beauty is the standard and everybody knows it. He therefore feels that his passion for her is justified.

Critical Assessment
 Sonnet 127 is the beginning of the Dark Lady sonnet sequence which ended with the final sonnet 154. This sonnet is a complaint against artificiality. The poem shows that even if the writers' mistress is no prettiness of her time his love for her is very strong. The 127th sonnet of this sequence might also tell that Shakespeare contradicts with the existing ideal of beauty.    

 Shakespeare prefers to keep his quatrains district by putting a punctuation point at the end of each. He seldom works with enjambments and other figures of speech and prefers to make each line an idea or point. Also, "he is very fond of the clinching final couplet". The quatrains possess the rhyme scheme of an alternate rhyme (ABAB CDCD EFEF) and the couplet is a rhyming one (GG). Shakespeare ever used this traditional sonnet form, which he never varied, except by repeating a rhyme. Every rhyme in this sonnet is also an end rhyme and a perfect rhyme. The consonance of words is mainly masculine, except lines eight and twelve. There the rhymed words are feminine: "disgrace" and "esteem".

There are several common themes in Sonnet 127 and Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare. I will draw a simple comparison between sonnet 127 and 130 which is part of our syllabus. Shakespeare demonstrated a well-developed capacity of wit insight the sonnets; the humorous observations about love, friendship, and life itself entertain the readers. Such in the case with two of Shakespeare's love poems, "Sonnet 127" and "Sonnet 130", the subject is parody of the Petrarchan convention of exaggerated appraisal of his beloved. What makes the sonnets remarkable, and "Sonnet 127" and "Sonnet 130" exemplary, is that they challenge the traditional sonnet form and meaning, which was established and perfected by Shakespeare's predecessors and contemporaries, Petrarch, Sidney, and Spenser the most notable examples among them. In these sonnets, Shakespeare speaks of the naturalness of her eyes, lips, breasts, hair, cheeks, odour, voice, movement, skin tone and both of the couplets emphatically asserts that her dark lady is a newer definition of true beauty.


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