Cousin Kate, Sonnet 116 and Sonnet 130 Comparison

In “Cousin Kate”, Rossetti gives messages about an abuse of power. The “Lord” “lured” the narrator to his “palace home”. The word “lured” is very ominous and enforces the idea that he is a figure with authority. He manages to seduce the narrator with his flattery, and then enthrals her like a predator with his prey. The Lord has a high social standing which explains how he “wore” the “cottage maiden” like a “silken knot”. The narrator felt inferior to the Lord, therefore she allows him to abuse her trust and let’s him degrade her until she feels as unworthy as a “glove”.

This highlights the way that he degrades her and shows how he doesn’t appreciate the value of her love. After the “Lord” abandoned her, the “cottage maiden” was left an “unclean thing”. The word “unclean” shows how dirty and tainted she felt despite the fact that she wasn’t in the wrong. Rossetti implies that it wasn’t just their actions that made the narrator feel soiled, it was also the way the “Lord” left her. He exploited her for sex, and then discarded her – similar to a prostitute. The narrator claims that she “might have been a dove”. The word “dove” is used to symbolise the freedom that she had before the “Lord” burdened her.

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The “dove” is also used to represent the purity she had before her interactions with the “Lord”. Rossetti might be implying that the narrator has been left with a lasting mark of some sort that distinguishes her from her fellow citizens. This mark could be her son of whom shares the “Lord’s” DNA and is a reminder of their brief love. Rossetti could also be highlighting how serious these kind of occurrences would be taken in Victorian England. Men were born with a natural advantage that enables them to commit adultery purely due to their gender.

The “Lord’s” superior status meant that he had power over people and could “choose” the lady he wanted to “sit with him on high”. As a result of his superiority, he can abuse his power and reputation like he did with the narrator. Rossetti portrays Kate as the ideal woman who is “good” and “pure” and still has her precious virginity. However, this image is what’s on the surface. “Kate” is captured by the “Lord’s” social status as she desires the name “Lady Kate”. She didn’t fall at the “Lord’s” feet, but insisted that he marry her before they get involved with one another.

It could be perceived that her relationship with the “Lord” is perfect because he chooses to “bound” her with his “ring”. However, the reader can also interpret it as a doomed relationship in which the “Lord” will continue to abuse his power. The word “bound” gives a sense of entrapment, and suggests that once married, “Kate” will be stuck with the “Lord”. This is a representation of false love. “Kate” is only in the relationship for the “Lord’s” wealth and status, and the “Lord” is content with any woman who will satisfy his needs.

In “Sonnet 116” Shakespeare attempts to define love. The concept of love that is described in the poem is one very common to the Elizabethan era in which it was written. Love is portrayed in its most romantic and idealised form that was customary in Shakespeare’s work. Shakespeare states that love doesn’t alter when a loved one changes due to age or illness. Love is timeless and doesn’t “alter when it alteration finds”. In the second quatrain Shakespeare uses the metaphor of love being a guiding star (the North Star) to lost ships.

Love isn’t susceptible to a storm, nor is it influenced by time. Love is constant- an “ever-fixed mark”, just as a “star” is reliably found in the night sky. Shakespeare is so certain that his definition of love is correct, that he says “if this be error” then love doesn’t exist at all. The language in “Sonnet 116” is carefully chosen by Shakespeare to convey his opinion on love and marriage. He uses repeated pairs of words: “love is not love”, “alters when it alteration finds” and “remover to remove” are all examples from the first three lines.

The pairing of these words composes the idea of a loving couple. The rhetorical structure of “Sonnet 130” is important to its effect. In the first quatrain, Shakespeare separately lists his mistress’ physical attributes, comparing them to the “sun” and “wires”. However in the second and third quatrains, he expands the descriptions to occupy two lines each. In “perfume is there more delight” than in his mistress’ “breath”. This completes a structure of non-rhyming pairs. Shakespeare uses this to create a convincing argument, and as the poem develops, his argument expands.

This also prevents the poem from becoming tedious. Each of the poem’s take a slightly different method to describe true love. “Sonnet 130” is written in a more relaxed manner, and doesn’t contain the cumbersome feel of “Sonnet 116”. Shakespeare depicts love in a less passionate way, and destroys the idea that love is always fresh and exhilarating. He loves to hear his mistress speak, however “music hath a more pleasing sound”. We get the impression that Shakespeare aims to illustrate that love won’t always be exciting and romantic.

He understands that his mistress isn’t a “goddess” and he doesn’t expect her to be one. He proceeds throughout the entirety of the poem, offering fourth handfuls of beautiful imagery and then contrasting his mistress to these images. “I think my love as rare. ” He loves her for who she is inside. This initially leaves the reader feeling dissatisfied, but you later realise that Shakespeare is simply being realistic. In “Sonnet 116” Shakespeare represents love as being a stable feeling that doesn’t alter. This is similar to the images exemplified in “Sonnet 130”.

In both poems he states that visual appearance shouldn’t matter and that if love is true, it will remain constant when someone changes. Rossetti’s portrayal of love contrasts greatly to the two poems, as she suggests that love revolves around one’s exterior. The narrator believes that the “Lord” chose “Kate” because she “grew more fair” than her. Rossetti highlights this representation further by claiming that he “saw” her, and then “chose” her, suggesting that her appearance was the only component necessary to decide whether she was the one for him.

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Cousin Kate, Sonnet 116 and Sonnet 130 Comparison. (2016, Nov 14). Retrieved from