Saborio 1
Pablo Saborio
Prof: Ana Sanchez
Rhetoric III
7 November 2011
The Beauty’s Heir
During the time in which Shakespeare wrote the sonnets, the people only
considered as beautiful those who were blond and white so all the other
characteristics not proper of these standards were named as not fair. However,
Shakespeare introduces a new perception of beauty on his sonnets dedicated to
the dark lady. Particularly, in the sonnets 127 and 141 the poet expresses his
feelings and love towards a brunette woman, so he confronts the standard of
beauty created by society to express his real feelings. The poet focuses on a
dependency in which people must follow the main stream; the necessity of
belonging to an established set of characteristics in society to be consider as
beautiful. For example, in the sonnet 127 the persona refers to how people pretend
to convey with the standards of society by using make up, but they are just
covering their imperfections. As a result, they are slaves of these standards
because they do not accept the real attractiveness of a person. In the same way, in
the sonnet 141 the persona refers to the society as proud hearts that have to obey
blindly to the constructed model of beauty. Thus, they are slaves of the patterns of
beauty. Also, the other point in common between these two poems is how the
persona exposes his love towards the dark lady. In despite of her uncommon
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attractiveness to the lover, the persona uses his true feelings to escape from the
prison of Elizabethan standards.
In the sonnet 127, the persona confronts the standards of beauty during the
Elizabethan time by considering a brunette girl, the dark lady, an attractive, natural
and beautiful woman. The poem starts by exposing the belief that only white and
blond women were considered beautiful, so brunette females were out of the
patterns of beauty established by society. To exemplify, the first two lines show
how they were not called beautiful because of their distinctive features. However,
on the last two lines of the first quatrain, the speaker starts to perceive brunettes as
beautiful. Mainly, the speaker says that black is the heir of beauty, so brunettes are
going to become the new standard of beauty. As a matter of fact, the persona says
that beauty is slandered with a bastard shame because beauty was based on
general features of a person, not on the particularities of a human being. One can
notice the last asseverations on the next quatrain:
In the old age black was not counted fair.
Or, if it were, it bore not beauty´s name.
But now is black beauty´s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame; (1-4)
In addition, another aspect that was exposed by the persona in this sonnet
is the real beauty or the natural attractiveness of a person. According to the poem,
beauty was provided to the individual by the nature when the person was born. If
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women used cosmetics to improve their appearance, this will be as false as
borrowing the face of another human being. Also, when he refers to the mistress,
the persona says that beauty should have no name and not a holy bower. Thus, a
particular kind of women cannot be consider beautiful just by fulfilling the general
characteristics of what society believes is attractive. Principally, because what is
beautiful does not reside in a trait such as black or white, but to the physical
qualities provided by nature. The last statements can be perceived from the
following quatrain:
For since each had hath put on nature´s power,
Fairing the foul with art´s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace. (5-8)
Moreover, the persona refers to the mistress, who has eyes as black as a
raven and do not born fair to allude to her color. So, one can notice that the dark
lady was not consider beautiful because of her looks; however, the persona says
“Sland´ ring creation with a false esteem” (12) to acknowledge the erroneous
concept of beauty of that time. Because being blond and white was the only
synonym of beauty, anything different was not consider attractive. In addition, on
the couplet, one can infer that the speaker states that brunettes have to suffer
because of the preconceived concepts of beauty.
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In the sonnet 141, the persona exposes the true love that can surpass social
standards and appearances to omit senses perception and express true feelings.
Firstly, the person starts clarifying that he does not love the dark lady with his eyes
because they will only notice the imperfections on her. Thus, the visual flaws
represent indirectly how people identify the dark lady as unattractive. However, the
heart symbolizes the feelings of the persona, and how he is able to love her
without boundaries. Since the looks were highly important during the time, the last
statement of the persona has a relevant impact because he loves what the other
people consider repulsive. As a consequence, the persona goes against the main
stream and their standards. One can notice the last asseveration on the following
extract from the sonnet.
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;(1-4)
In addition, the persona speaks about how his senses such as hearing,
taste, smell and view have make him unpleased ; even to the point to not be
sexually attracted to her. One can notice on the next extract the reason of the last
statement because the persona is not able to find the beauty and sexual attraction
on her.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
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Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone. (1-8)
Particularly, on the ninth line, the persona establishes a contrast of the
perception of the dark lady since now the lover with his senses cannot stand
against the power of his heart. Moreover, the persona shows how the heart or true
love can surpass what the senses can perceive; by consequence, the lover fights
against society because during that time and nowadays our perceptions of beauty
are set up by the main stream. Furthermore, as the persona loves the dark lady
besides her differences, he is exposed to be criticized by people who follow that
concept. He attacks this perception by considering the people who follows it a
slave or subordinate of society, and that this concept will make the person be just a
semblance of a man. One can infer the last asseverations from the following
extract:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway'd the likeness of a man,
Thy proud hearts slave and vassal wretch to be. (9-12)
Moreover, on the heroic couplet, the persona has to face the difficulties of
omitting the standard concept, so he called it his plague. Nevertheless, the plague
which represents the entire struggle that he has to overcome will become his
freedom from the chains of society. At the same time, the persona suffers this
change in his perception due to the difficulty of choosing and loving an unappealing
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person. In addition, the lover confronts the majority by hearing his heart, and
changing his perception towards the beloved. By consequence, this change will
bring pain to him and will change his choices in life. When someone receives pain
he reacts to it, so in the poem, the lover obeys his heart and rejects the concepts of
beauty created during that time.
In despite of the similarities between these two sonnets, they have
contrasting ideas in regards to the beauty of the dark lady and to the concept of
beauty. To exemplify, in the sonnet 127 the persona believes that the dark lady is
beautiful even when she does not have the characteristics of a white woman, but
he believes that the dark lady is so beautiful that black is going to be the new
meaning of beauty. On the other hand, in the sonnet 141the lover says that the
dark lady is not appealing to his eyes, hearing, taste and sexual attraction but is his
heart which appreciates the real beauty of the beloved and not her appearance. In
addition, on the sonnet 127 the lover has a concept of beauty that can be moved
from a person which some characteristics to another one; by consequence, the
concept of beauty changes from one host with determine features to a different
host with a totally different qualities. On the contrary, on the sonnet 141 the
persona believes that beauty should not depend of social standards but to be
based on what the person feels for the beloved one. To conclude, both poems
have more similarities than differences but the concept that beauty should not be
related to social standards forms as part of one of the main ideas in these sonnets.
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Works Cited
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 127”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature,
1993.
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 141”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature,
1993.