Celebrating the Sonnets
May 20, 2013 § 1 Comment
Today (May 20) is the anniversary of the date in 1609 when Shakespeare’s sonnets were first published – probably without his cooperation or approval. They remain the most enigmatic part of his output. That he did not intend them for the general public is quite understandable if the prevailing wisdom about them is correct. At least in the order we have received them they read as if telling the story of a middle-aged man getting caught up in a love triangle with a younger male lover and a “dark” mistress, while struggling for professional recognition and patronage in competition with a rival poet. They seem so personal, even autobiographical, that they are appear to be our closest link to Shakespeare, himself.
Of course, scholars have reminded us for some time that the autobiographic assumption is a very dangerous one. There is no direct evidence for it, and it would be uncharacteristic of Shakespeare (and, indeed, of most of his contemporaries) to seek to reveal himself in such a manner. He is, after all, the master of disappearing into his characters. With that caveat, I confess I am among those inclined to read and re-read them because I cannot image how anyone could be so precisely revelatory without having experienced the expressed emotions directly.
To celebrate the day, here is a favorite rendering of Sonnet 29 (from YouTube.)
My preferred tool for studying the sonnets is Touch Press’ Sonnets for the iPad. (I have no connection or financial interest in this product. I just like it, so I have supplied the link to their home page.) This wonderful app allows you to watch a reading of a sonnet by a top British actor, while simultaneously consulting the text in modern typeface or viewing a facsimile page from the 1609 edition. My favorite performances are Ben Crystal’s original pronunciation renderings, the sound of which is very illuminating, but there are many other outstanding performances from such luminaries as Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart and Fiona Shaw.
There are not one, but two, sets of marvelous notes included – the first from the Arden edition and the second from the controversial, infuriating, endlessly-fascinating Don Paterson. I find myself returning to this app with regularity for both enlightenment and entertainment.