Shakespeare--master of love or just like the rest of us?

I just got home from the creative writing class I am voluntarily taking.

shakrTonight, we read poetry by Shakespeare, Burns and some other poets all discussing the usual topics--love, death, and rejection. Even though I am an English teacher and I do enjoy literature, I do not usually spend my free time discussing Shakespeare sonnets. I made an acception for these since even as 16th century poems, they both bring up universal points about love and relationships that still come up today.

While reading Shakespeare's sonnet 116, I questioned whether this was a real love poem or a poem questioning the reality of love. Is it optimistic or pessimistic? Is it suppose to be a reflection of what real love is or is idealized?


Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Shakespeare should be applauded for Sonnet 130. Women of all time periods and cultures are held up to unattainable standards regarding their physical appearance. In this sonnet, Shakespeare basically states that his lover is not a goddess, that she is not the most beautiful woman, but that he still loves her.


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.