Presentation on“My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun”: Hidden Lovers in Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Presented byProf.MadhviKotwalDepartment of EnglishGovtP.G CollegeRajouri.
“My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun”: Hidden Lovers in Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Is it possible to look for the themes that Shakespeare hid in Hamlet and other plays---themes such as pagan religion, solar energy and the harmful aspects of fossil fuels---in his Sonnets as well? The answer is definitely yes. In this paper, I’ll analyze a few of Shakespeare’s Sonnets for these themes. Thirteen of the Sonnets use the word “sun” directly. Many others do not use the word “sun” but refer to the sun in another way. In Sonnet 7, we see pagan sun worship concretely appear “in the orient” (that is, Asia) and it’s shown in a positive light.
Lo! in the orient when the gracious light Lifts up his burning head, each under eye Doth homage to his new-appearing sight, Serving with looks his sacred majesty; And havingclimb'dthe steep-up heavenly hill, Resembling strong youth in his middle age, yet mortal looks adore his beauty still, Attending on his golden pilgrimage; But when fromhighmostpitch, with weary car, Like feeble age, hereelethfrom the day, The eyes, 'fore duteous, now converted are From his low tract and look another way: So thou, thyself out-going in thy noon,Unlook'dondiest, unless thou get a son.
Religious words like “gracious”, “homage”, “sacred”, “heavenly” and “pilgrimage” surround the sun as it climbs up and makes its journey across the sky. When the sun gets to the top of the meridian (“highmostpitch”), it starts to sink down into the horizon, the people (“mortals”) who were looking at it “look another way”. Regarding this change in what people are looking at, Shakespeare uses the word “converted”, used to mean simply “changed” (the eyes of people are converted to look another way) but “converted” could also besignalinga secret change in Shakespeare’s own religious inclinations. He has until now used the heavily religious words like “gracious”, “homage”, “sacred”, “heavenly” and so forth about the sun, so if we then take “converted” as a religious word too, it may be a subtle message about his own religious views. That is to say, he wasn’t too shy to use religious words playfully in the context of sun worship in this poem, so why not include “converted” too, and who else is in the poem to be converted except for the narrator/poet himself? It’s a clever rhetorical method to send a signal. Technically, the first 12 lines of the poem, about the sun in the orient and its worshipers, are the “conceit” or the device to make an elaborate allegory or comparison to use to promote the so-called ‘real message’ of last two lines of the poem (“So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,/Unlook'dondiest, unless thou get a son”). Here we see the poet/narrator exhorting what critics call “the fair young man” (an unknown or perhaps fictive person or persona who is often used in Shakespeare’s Sonnets as the ‘receiver’ of a ‘message’) to procreate. But this image of procreation is probably just another conceit, just as the fair young man himself is not a real person, but an image of mankind. According to my research, Shakespeare’s plays are concerned with human interaction with fossil fuels, the Christian religious background preceding and enabling this interaction, and the eventual outcome of this interaction1 , so it would be strange if Shakespeare’s Sonnets were not also concerned with this same central issue. The idea of procreation (“get a son”) is a conceit expressing the continuity of humans after fossil fuels are gone. Shakespeare seems to have been concerned about environmental issues. Moving on to what is perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet of all, Sonnet 130, (“My Mistress Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun”), this theme of sun worship is also provided covertly and playfully:
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 rosesdamask'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.
The words I have put in a sunny yellowcolorsubtly and subconsciously direct the reader to the message that Shakespeare’s (or the narrator, but in this case I think they are the same) goddess (or his mistress) is the sun and other beautiful (“delight”ful) natural things that arrive on our planet thanks to the sun’s energy: snow, roses, coral, even music is included. (Apollo was the god of music and the sun; actually music and the sun are connected in a basic way for some reason and in Japanese, the word music音楽includes the kanji “sun” 日 twice.) The sun’s rays are bright white sometimes and also red (in the evening and morning), so thosecolorsin particular are included. (In Japanese thecolorwhite is written 白 and it has the kanji for sun also in it, for the same reason that the sun’s rays are mostly seen as white.) The words “heaven” and “my love” at the end complete this rapturous expression of devotion to the natural sun goddess. No wonder it is his most famous Sonnet; the simplicity of the message and its clarity are absolutely stunning and piercing. Readers have been able to sense hisfervorand his passion. (The same technique is used in Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet’s identity as the sun is hinted at in these lines:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return. What if her eyes were there, they in her head? The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven Would through the airy region stream so bright That birds would sing and think it were not night
(In these lines from Romeo and Juliet, the yellow words also transmit Juliet’s identity as the sun). This sort of technique---a rhetorical surface message makes use of words with linked meanings that express something else under the surface----seems to have been one of Shakespeare’sfavoriteones. Next, in Sonnet 10, the line “seeking that beauteous roof toruinate” echoes Hamlet’s sad and famous description of the sky as “the air, look you, this braveo’erhangingfirmament, thismajesticalroof fretted with golden fire, why, itappearethnothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation ofvapors” (II.ii.302-306). Both are cloaked allusions to coal smoke.2 Once again, Sonnet 7 is technically addressed to the so-called “fair young man” and exhorts him to procreate (“make thee another self”). Again, this fair young man is mankind. Now he is “unprovident” and “seeking that beauteous roof toruinate”, which is a signal, as in Hamlet for producing coal smoke (which blackens the sky):
For shame! deny that thoubear'stlove to any, Who for thyself art sounprovident. Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many, But that thou nonelovestis most evident; For thou art sopossess'dwith murderous hate That 'gainstthyself thoustick'stnot to conspire. Seeking that beauteous roof toruinateWhich to repair should be thy chief desire. O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind! Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love? Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind, Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove: Make thee another self, for love of me, That beauty still may live inthineor thee.
Polluting and defiling the earth is a horrible thing in Shakespeare’s eyes, which he likes to being “possess’dwith murderous hate” and also an act against humanity in general (“That 'gainstthyself thoustick'stnot to conspire”). The narrator reminds the fair young manthatlivingan environmentally-friendly life (that is seeking to “repair” the beauteous roof that is the sky) should be “thy chief desire”. And the poet wants to see mankind reformed: “O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind!” so that in this case the “make thee another self” (technically a rhetorical procreation message in the conceit) actually signals more the idea of changing humanity’s thinking and becoming more environmentally conscious. In Sonnet 15, the “fair young man” faces aging and death, for natural things in general are at their peak only a little while because “everything that grows Holds in perfection but a little moment”. Shakespeare openly characterizes the situation of mankind in this Sonnet “When I perceive that men as plants increase, Cheered andcheque'deven by the self-same sky, Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease..” but, even knowing what is natural, of course, he has hopes to be a helpful influence on the “fair young man”: