Wednesday, April 4, 2018

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.

11 comments:

  1. Reading the chosen sonnets from Shakespeare was very interesting because not only could I interpret what they meant, but I could read the interpretations that some authors had for them as well. For example, some believed that Sonnet 144 was written about Shakespeare's love triangle between him, a "fair boy", and a "dark woman". The Sonnet that I am choosing to send is Sonnet 18. The famous line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?", reminds me of my mother, whom I would send this poem to. I feel as though it is such a unique phrase and captures the beauty of anyone who you think is precious perfectly. Some described it as the lover's beauty living on for as long as the poem can be read, which is basically forever because there are many sources out there for Shakespeare's work.

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  2. Out of all the sonnets we had to read Sonnet 18 stuck out to me the most. I think that is because it has to do with deeper emotions. I also like how Shakespeare tried comparing his love to a summer’s day; coming to realize that his love is not comparable to a summer's day. He stops talking about how he wants the young man to have a baby and talks about himself and his deeper emotions. He compliments the young man throughout his poems with lines like “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often is his gold complexion dimm'd"(lines5-6).His love will never fade for the young man like the seasons, which is why he comes to realize his love is stronger; stronger than a summer’s day. His love will never fade. This poem was beautifully written! - Jaimee Barrett

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  3. The Sonnet I have chosen would be Sonnet 18 due to the fact that it is the most popular and well known out of them. Sonnet 18 diction and meaning that it holds is beautiful. There is a simplicity to it that I believe makes it so popular. The opening line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," is what leads the entire sonnet, the following 11 lines making comparisons to it. It praises beauty and that his love is eternal, and will never fade. This sonnet reminds me of my grandmother because of the first line because of the comparison to a summers day. A summers day to me is filled with joy and warmth, and my grandmother is constantly beaming with joy. Her joy rubs off on people, making it never ending.
    ~Samantha Wellington

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  4. Out of all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the one that was most intriguing and relatable was Sonnet 18. The opening line, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day,” immediately draws a reader in because those who are compared to a summer’s day are considered beautiful. A summer’s day is full of birds chirping, sunshine, and usually the beach with sand between your toes. People are happiest during the summer months, which is why I believe being compared to a summer’s day is a widely cherished compliment.
    Jenna Cipriano

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  5. Never been a fan ofshakespeares, but i did enjoy a few of his sonnets. Sonnet 71 and 130 were the more intrigueing. 71 had to do with william warning people to not mourne for him when he passes as he believes that will only hurt people more then help them. I think sonnet 130 has to do with william having a conflict of intrest in his mistress, in which he finds it hard to fall in love eith her. The best example is saying that ge loves to hear speak, but rather enjoyes hearing music played more. These two sonnets had common issues that can be relatable during any time period, that is why they stick out more to me then the other ones.
    Richard Young

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  6. While reading, I found myself very interested in sonnet 94. This sonnet feels like it continues the overall feel or theme of the previous sonnet, although in sonnet 94 it is different. Instead of talking about the behavior of having moral standards, it is contrasted by how that should look. This sonnet feels tranquil in regards to youth - although it makes the reader wonder who is actually writing the poem, whether it be Shakespeare or some sort of imaginary narrator he has made for the sonnet.

    - Crystal Agyemang

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  7. I was never a big fan of Shakespeare work because I've always struggled understanding the text. After reading the "Sweetest Shakespeare," I got a hang of understanding the language. I enjoyed reading the sonnets and found some lines to very interesting. I liked how several if the sonnets referenced to the nature of love and the different types of love. Also, not only did they mention the good of love, but all the downfall's of falling in love. Comparing the good with the bad made the sonnets even more entertaining.

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  8. I've always liked reading Shakespeare and trying to depict the different meanings behind many of his poems and plays. His work has always struck me as interesting and fun to make your own translations of. Reading through some of his work, I stumbled upon Sonnet 98 and figured it was an appropriate time of year to break down some of the parts of this poem. Shakespeare begins by the month of April and the beginnings of the Spring season. He then turns it around by describing what was missing, the birds, flowers, and scent of spring, signaling that he was still in a depressed, "winter" mood. Shakespeare then compares this spring beauty to a friend who is away that he most likely misses. This was a deep poem and probably relates to many people that have people that they miss and the spring season brings up all these feelings and memories from shared moments in the past. Shakespeare has a way of bringing up a unique set of emotions. Good Sonnet!

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  9. Many of Shakespeare's sonnets talk about love and comparing a woman's beauty to one of his poems. What's actually funny is that Shakespeare also tends to insult a woman in his poetry in well disguised "compliments." I haven't read nearly all of Shakespeare's sonnets to pick a favorite one but I have read a lot of his popular ones that a lot of other people have also read too. One of my favorites might be sonnet XVIII because although it is very popular, I didn't quite understand it until I was in one of my English classes in high school. When we went over it in class it was much easier to understand and I was actually surprised at what some of the lines were talking about.

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  10. Of Shakespeare's sonnets, Sonnet 18 stuck out to me being one of his most known quotes in the Language Arts. “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day,” A romantic start of this sonnet allows us to see the romantic side of him. A compliment that is disguised in the way they would talk, many have read this play, A Mid Summers Night Dream. This was a read that I actually understood after reading it before in previous classes.

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  11. Of all the sonnets we had to read, sonnet 18 resonated with me the most. Not because it is the most popular, but because it’s just so beautifully written. Like most, I’ve heard of and read sonnet 18 before but it never ceases to amaze me. I love the pure romance of it, I love the metaphors and imagery Shakespeare creates within this sonnet. When I read this I picture a beautiful summer day of relaxation and peace, but I also adolescents engaging in summer love affairs. I find this sonnet to be very adorable for lack of a better term. I really enjoyed the following lines: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” I think it was a beautiful way to end the poem and I just really love the poem overall, it’s timeless.

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