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 slander'd with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on nature's power,
Fairing the foul with art's false borrow'd face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profan'd, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' brows are raven black,
Her eyes so suited; and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says, beauty should look so.
CXXVII. This Sonnet is the first of the second series, a series concerned mainly with the poet's dark mistress. The Sonnet treats of the degeneracy of the times with regard to beauty. Black hair and a dark complexion were not formerly considered beautiful. And, besides, artificial beauty had usurped the place of Nature. It was suitable, therefore, after all, that the eyes of the poet's mistress should be black, as mourning over such a state of things; and they make black itself beautiful. This Sonnet should be compared with the passage in Love's Labour's Lost, Act iv. sc. 3, beginning, "Is ebony like her? O wood divine." Compare also Sidney's Astrophel and Stella (vii.):
"When Nature made her chiefe worke, Stella's eyes,
In colour blacke why wrapt she beames so bright?
. . . . . . .
That whereas blacke seemes Beauties contrary,
She even in blacke doth make all beauties flow?
. . . .She minding Love should be
Placed ever there gave him this mourning weede
To honor all their deathes who for her bleed."
3. Beauty's successive heir. Has gained the esteem formerly devoted to beauty. The "successive heir" is the heir who succeeds, and obtains the inheritance.
4. And beauty slander'd with a bastard shame. The "bastard shame" is the product of art. Beauty and Nature are slandered by the artificial asserting in effect that Art is better than Nature.
5. Hath put on Nature's power. It being Nature's prerogative to give beauty.
7. Natural beauty has no exclusive name, no sanctuary all her own. Q., "no holy boure."
10. Suited. The sense of "clothed" which has been given to the word here is questionable.
12. Slandering creation, &c. See on line 4.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/127.html >.
How to cite the sidebars:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/127.html >.
Bard Bites ...
Ale (beer made with a top fermenting yeast) was the drink of choice in Shakespeare's day. Everyone from the poorest farmer to the Queen herself drank the brew made from malt, and a mini brewery was an essential part of every household. Shakespeare's own father was an official ale taster in Stratford – an important and respected job which involved monitoring the ingredients used by professional brewers and ensuring they sold their ale at Crown regulated prices. Beer, however, eventually became more popular than ale. Read on...
Of all the records of performance handed down to us, none is more significant than the exhaustive diary of a doctor named Simon Forman, from which we obtain lengthy descriptions of early productions of four of Shakespeare's plays: Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and Richard II. Read on...
Twenty-four of Shakespeare's sonnets are addressed to a woman. We have little information about this woman, except for a description the poet gives of her over the course of the poems. Shakespeare describes her as 'a woman color'd ill', with black eyes and coarse black hair. Thus, she has come to be known as the "dark lady." Find out...
Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare’s friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...
Retired Sicilian professor Martino Iuvara claims that Shakespeare was, in fact, not English at all, but Italian. His conclusion is drawn from research carried out from 1925 to 1950 by two professors at Palermo University. Iuvara posits that Shakespeare was born not in Stratford in April 1564, as is commonly believed, but actually was born in Messina as Michelangelo Florio Crollalanza. His parents were not John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, but were Giovanni Florio, a doctor, and Guglielma Crollalanza, a Sicilian noblewoman. Read on...