Love in Traditional and Modern Literary Works
Love is a popular theme in literary works because it has attracted writers and poets since ancient times. As a rule, in their works, authors reflect the ideals of love prevalent in their contemporary societies. Therefore, as society changes, so do its views of love and its representation in literature. This paper aims to explore how the depiction of love has changed over time based on the analysis of two works: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 and Chopin’s short story “The Storm.” Although Shakespeare parodied traditional love ideals of his time, the ideals conveyed by his poem seem to be outdated when compared to Chopin’s representation of love. While Shakespeare promoted a complete acceptance of the beloved person, Chopin saw love as passion and sexual attraction.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is considered a parody of love poetry that was common in his times. It was a well-established practice for poets to depict their beloved women as “the most beautiful creature on earth” (Hasan et al. 159). In his sonnet, Shakespeare diverged from this pattern by describing his mistress without embellishment. For example, he depicted her breasts as “dun,” her hair as “black wires,” and her eyes as “nothing like the sun” (Shakespeare 869). Yet, the true meaning of the sonnet is revealed in the last two lines: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare” (Shakespeare 870). According to Steele, these lines can be understood as Shakespeare’s wish to show that his love is different from that of the others who lie to their women about their beauty (136). Thus, one may conclude that Shakespeare’s love ideal was integrity and truthfulness in relation to the beloved person and a complete acceptance of his or her virtues and drawbacks.
Chopin’s representation of love in “The Storm” is different from that of Shakespeare. In fact, one can find two sides of love in this work: the one in the marriage and the other in adultery. As Hassan and Tayib note, in marriage, the characters perform the roles expected of them by society, while in an affair, they surrender to their erotic desires (141). For example, Calixta was an exemplary housewife caring for her husband and son, but upon meeting Alcee, her former lover, she indulged in short-time passion (De Deus Rocha 70). When she and her lover parted with each other, none of them confessed the adultery to their spouses. On the contrary, they were kinder toward their partners than before, and, contrary to readers’ expectations, “everyone was happy” after the storm passed (Chopin 117). Thus, Chopin shows that marital love is about appearances, and extramarital love is about passion. In marriage, people direct their efforts toward preserving their relationships, even if it comes at the cost of integrity and faithfulness. Outside of marriage, individuals’ love is short-lived and is characterized by momentary passion and sexual desire.
Given the two literary works, one may conclude that love ideals have changed over time. Love has ceased to be something exceptional, deep, and tied to the only person. In Shakespeare’s sonnet, the beloved woman is “exceptional” despite a lack of perfect features, and the narrator seems happy to be in love with such a real, not idealized woman (Kędra-Kardela 178). This poem demonstrates the depth of the speaker’s love because this feeling exists even though the speaker realizes all the drawbacks that his beloved one possesses.
In Chopin, there is no evidence of such feelings either in marriage or in adultery. Chopin presents adultery as a “fusion of the fiercely beautiful power of nature with the fiercely beautiful power of sexual passion” (Stein 58). Like the storm, the lovers’ passion emerges suddenly and passes rapidly, which bears no resemblance to the deep, pure feeling experienced by Shakespeare’s narrator. Calixta’s relationship with her husband is also different from Shakespeare’s speaker’s feeling for his beloved one. For example, although she was a dutiful wife, she gave her husband only a “smacking kiss on the cheek” upon his return when he gave her a can of her favorite shrimps (Chopin 116). This episode shows that no passion is present in their marital relationships. At the same time, trust and integrity, which can be ascribed to Shakespeare’s narrator, are also not characteristic of Chopin’s characters as none of them confessed their unfaithfulness.
Despite the difference, one common feature can be found between the two works: the attempt to match reality. Shakespeare describes his love without exaggeration and “does not complain, nor does he suffer” because of his beloved woman’s imperfection (Kędra-Kardela 178). Shakespeare’s depiction of love is close to reality because the poet shows that love is possible among ordinary people, not endowed with exceptional qualities and appearance. Chopin’s representation of love is truthful because it describes real relationships that one can find in life. Her characters seem to live with their spouses out of convenience, and since there is no sincere love among them, they easily surrender to passion when an opportunity presents itself.
In conclusion, love means different things for Shakespeare’s and Chopin’s characters. The love of Shakespeare’s speaker is true and deep because he realizes the imperfections of his beloved woman and loves her despite them, contrasting his feelings with those of other people who flatter their women. Chopin’s characters, on the contrary, have superficial feelings characterized by duty in marriage and passion in adultery. This difference is significant because it implies that people’s relationships become more shallow, and integrity and faithfulness are compromised. Traditional ideals of deep affection and lifelong commitment seem to be lost because, although Chopin’s characters remained in their marital relationships, their marriages were not based on Shakespeare’s sincere love.
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