Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sweetest Shakespeare ...


The one work of English verse which endures without the help -- if that is what it is -- of educators and culture mavens, and the long list of people who like to prescribe certain works as 'good for you,' is Shakespeare's little book of sonnets.  Had he never written a play, they would still be remembered.  From their first publication to the present, they have been in people's hands, hearts, and mouths, and I would be willing to wager there are few English speakers alive today, in any corner of the globe, who do not know -- perhaps without realizing it -- a line or two of one of them. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Let me not to the marriage of true minds / admit impediments ... Summer's lease hath all too short a date... And the list goes on.

Shakespeare's sonnets were greatly admired even before they were published; as with the informal verses of many other poets of the day, they were circulated in manuscript.  It might be something like the present day, when the poetry or prose of a writer circulates online, via their blogs or those of their friends, before being picked up by a publisher to be "officially" brought out to the public.  It's not even clear whether Shakespeare himself authorized their publication, although the case is better for the sonnets than for the plays. It was, like the early days of the Internet, a wild time for publication, with piracy and bootleg editions rampant.

On a formal level, it is important to distinguish the "Shakespearian" sonnet from its "Petrarchan" precursor (in fact created by Giacomo da Lentini). Both are entirely in iambic pentameter; the  Petrarchan form was made up of an "octave" (two quatrains of four lines) rhyming abba/abba, followed by a closing sestet (cde/cde). The octave was supposed to describe some sort of quandry or problem, which the sestet would, to some degree, answer. It was Spenser, in English, who changed the division of the lines from the octet and sestet to three quatrains and a two-line envoi -- here the three quatrains could develop three takes on a single theme or a series, to which the envoi did not need to offer a clear answer.  And it was this far more elegant division that Shakespeare took up, following it in every one of his sonnets.

The order of the sonnets is uncertain -- neither published version had Shakespeare's explicit sanction -- but there are two broad sequences that readers then and now have discerned: the first are largely addressed to a male friend or lover, urging himself to outwit the passage of time and preserve his beauty by having offspring; the second series seem addressed to a harsh if not cruel "dark lady," a woman who has scorned the poet's attentions.

But these poems only live because we, every time we read them, make them new -- finding meanings suited to our time and place -- and thus our own understandings matter just as much as all of the above. So pick a sonnet -- any sonnet -- and describe what it means to you, and to whom (an envoi is a letter, or an ambassador) you would send it.

14 comments:

  1. Shakespeare's sonnet #29 shows how a great love can champion any negative feelings a person could have. For the majority of the sonnet, the speaker is speaking on negative feelings they have. They wish they had the friends, talent, or social status of another person. But once they begin to think of the one they love, all of those negative feelings go away. When it comes to the person they love, the speaker wouldn't trade their place for that of a king's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. These poems tend to be vague but relatable. As for the dark lady are we talking about 130? It's relatable because people have felt rejection before, however, it can also be seen as him demonizing a woman who rejected him. A lot of the sonnets seem to be types of love poems, are sonnets commonly used as love poems? It's interesting to read Shakespeare and John Dunne together. The later is light and airy usually and the former can be harsh and defensive.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a future educator, I enjoy sonnet #18 because it lends itself so well to poetry taught in the classroom. It is recognizable - "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" - and is the perfect example of sonnet form. The sonnet deals with an issue common to Shakespeare's poems: the relationship between author, subject matter, and audience. Personally, I enjoy the theme that nothing beautiful can last forever, and I think it's very powerful that the speaker's love will 'never' be taken by death. He has immortalized her in his words, in the lines of his poem which will live on, unchanged, unlike everything else in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I found John Donne's "The Bait" to be very amusing. The use of fishing as a metaphor for love is fantastic; the use of language is quite beautiful, but I feel such an ode to my wife would not go over well.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really enjoyed Sonnet number 132. I can relate to the feeling of thinking someone you love may not love you back, along with being with a woman much like this one. A dark woman where dark does not mean features, but that of her soul or tendencies. One that may seem closed off and even cold at times, ironic really, since in this day and age in society, we see men as the cold, closed off heartbreakers and the women as the one getting her heart broken, feeling shut out by the man as he betrays her, yet in this case the roles have reversed.

    ReplyDelete
  6. To choose a favorite sonnet is a hard task, but one I enjoy is #62. It speaks of the inherent selfishness of humanity. All of Shakespeare's sonnets seem to speak to some sort of truth, be it of humanity, nature, or love. Shakespeare's uncanny talent is what wins him the title of the greatest English poet, and places him as the figurehead of all English literature.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I felt for a moment that sonnet 71 was one that was possibly using reverse psychology upon the person that the poem was written to. At times, telling someone NOT to do something will cause the complete opposite. So, when he tells the reader do NOT mourn my passing, and do not think of me once I am gone, he is really saying MOURN me, lament my passing for the rest of your days - remember me for all eternity. And ironically, this sonnet was one that has lived on far beyond the passing of the writer, so in a sense, we still remember him. Hi his plan worked!

    ReplyDelete
  8. As cliche as it is, I love Sonnet 18, and it will always have a special place in my heart. After all, as a writer, I know the desire to write something (of course about something or someone I love; without love there is no passion, and without passion there is no point in writing) and have it live long after I and the object of my affections are long gone.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Amadaly AlmanzarApril 4, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    Out of all the sonnets, my favorite had to be sonnet 18. Sonnet 18 is one of Shakespeare's most famous work because of this line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Right away Shakespeare presents metaphor and then goes on, saying that everything beautiful eventually fades by chance or by nature’s inevitable changes. I just love how this sonnet relates to our society now; how even though this was written years ago, it is still a well written poem that can read today.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sonnet 11 is such a nice one. I found the sentiment in that sonnet really nice. It is about aging, life, children and, lessons.I found it a beautiful sonnet that we can all apply to our lives and rather timeless.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I really enjoyed Sonnet 1 from Shakespeare! Shakespeare is suggesting in this poem that if the fair youth does not procreate then it would be very selfish; he would be greedily and pointlessly hoarding his beauty and not passing it on to future generations for the world to enjoy. I found this rather interesting of him to say!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd have to say sonnet 130 was my favorite because it brought the most feelings. The idea of being in a one sided relationship is a painful one and the details described "If hairs be wires, black wires grows on her head" is just an example of how he is seeing his mistress change before him. The woman he once saw to be a beautiful person is now becoming this dark creature to him, yet he still loves her.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"
    Sonnet 71 would be a favorite of mine. It is so sad and honest. The narrator leaving a note for someone they care so deeply about. Not wanting to cause them any pain or sadness and giving permission to let their love "decay" as he decays in the Earth. It's beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Brandon BinegarMay 2, 2017 at 1:35 PM

    Sonnet 18 is of course the most well known but I enjoy it most for two reasons. Number one, I believe Shakespeare had been wooing women(or men, who knows) left and right with his silver coated words. Number two, all comments of silver tongues aside it is a beautiful poem and the imagery provided casts a warm glow on my eyes. It would be excellent to find a parody comparing someone to a true English summer, grey and rain-soaked.

    ReplyDelete