Link to poem, here.
The first thing that came into my mind when I read this sonnet for the first time was Petrarch. It took me back to the long first semester of the year 2008 when I was dedicated to study the poetry and theatre of the Renaissance. In those times, Petrarch’s blazon was almost a dogma for the description of a woman and every love poem of the time (at least in Italy and Spain) went back to his conceits and similes.
But there was something unusual in Shakespeare’s use of Petrarch’s metaphors: instead of enhancing the beauty of his mistress with these comparisons, he was denying any relation between them and her beloved. Her eyes were nothing like the sun, her breast were grey, her hair was black, her breath reeking and her movement secular. Shakespeare had destroyed the ideal woman of the time, taking her out of the heavenly skies and making her tread on the ground like all humans. He had made love realistic again, showing how absurd were the platonic notions of beauty that restricted true and divine love only to those angelical and perfect women that did not exist in the real world.
He showed that love was not banned for the natural woman, she who is not perfect in every way, but who is perfect for that one who loves her truly. Loving a real, a physical, an ugly woman could be as divine and inspire such a unique and rare love as any of those represented with Petrarch’s conceits.