Shakespeare’s sonnet “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun” describes a loved one, but very different than it was done at the times, he makes the subject clearly human, sometimes even degrading her. We can only suppose that when Shakespeare published this poem, other poets of the time immediately found the similarities between his poem and Thomas Watson’s poem included on Hekatompathia(the book he published in 1581). As they were reading the poem for the first time, these poets must have felt relieved that they were spared the criticism… that is, until the final couplet “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare” (13-14), where Shakespeare clearly expresses that this mockery applies not only to Watson, but to the whole culture of love poetry that thrived during his time. As Helen Vendler says, he uses the same literary resources to show that they “can be preposterous when called to the bench of accuracy” (557) proving that exaggerating someone’s attributes does not clearly portrait that person and that it won’t justify the amount of love they feel. The purpose of the literary resources is clearly stated, yet the objects mentioned in the metaphors and similes serve for a number of purposes.
Shakespeare carefully chose the comparisons that would most likely get his point through. Not only did they help to identify what particular style he was criticizing, but also the exact action that he thought was foolish. When he says “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” (2) it completely contrasts with Watson’s “Her lips more red than any Corall stone” (11), stating the stupidity that lies in an attempt to compare a human with nature. Throughout the sonnet, every verse serves as a way to explain that there is no point in trying to compare a woman to something as elevated as nature or heaven, but that even though they are not that way, they can still be loved. For some, the poem may seem as an insult to the mistress, while the truth is that it’s doing the contrary. When Shakespeare says “I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress when she walks treads on the ground”(11-12) he portrays his mistress as a human being, and he loves her because of that, while the other poets of the time portray theirs as something more, and produce their love out of qualities the women don’t really possess. As said before, the last two verses serve not only to say that this critic applies to every poet that uses that type of style, but also to explain that a normal human being can be loved as badly as those fantasized in other love poems. The poem is filled of those little details that serve like a knife that tears up the whole culture of love poetry, exposing its faults and criticizing its foolishness.
Shakespeare, William. “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun”. Thinking & Writing at the College Level Course Reader. 2012
Vendler, Helen. “The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997