In Praise of False Beauty
Sonnet CXXVII announces a new theme, being the first of a new series. It develops the idea that
In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were it bore not beauty's name.
As a matter of fact, however, the black beauty was not born in this sonnet. Sonnet CXXVII, as Steevens noted, and its immediate sequents had already been foreshadowed in Love's Labor's Lost. Biron is maintaining against his friends that though his love is black yet she is fair; "I'll prove her fair, or talk till doomsday here."
King. By heaven, thy love is black as ebony. Biron. Is ebony like her? O wood divine! A wife of such wood were felicity. O, who can give an oath? where is a book? That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack, If that she learn not of her eye to look; No face is fair that is not full so black. King. O paradox! Black is the badge of hell, The hue of dungeons and the suit of night; And beauty's crest becomes the heavens well. Biron. Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of fight. O, if in black my lady's brows be deck'd, It mourns that painting and usurping hair Should ravish doters with a false aspect; And therefore is she born to make black fair. Her favour turns the fashion of the days, For native blood is counted painting now; And therefore red, that would avoid dispraise, Paints itself black, to imitate the brow.1
The sonnet begins with a statement of this "paradox" which Biron maintains, that black is fair and beautiful.
(1) 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.