Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets

This prize-winning work provides a facsimile of the 1609 Quarto printed in parallel with a conservatively edited, modernized text, as well as commentary that ranges from brief glosses to substantial critical essays. Stephen Booth’s notes help a modern reader toward the kind of understanding that Renaissance readers brought to the works....

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Title:Shakespeare's Sonnets
Author:William Shakespeare
Rating:
ISBN:1903436575
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:488 pages

Shakespeare's Sonnets Reviews

  • Trevor
    Dec 18, 2008

    I’ve been wondering for a while how to approach this review. I had thought that it might be interesting to do a close reading of a single sonnet and leave it at that. What I’ve decided is to write a quick review on this edition of The Sonnets, mostly chatting about the stuff this book gives to help a reader read them, and then, over the next weeks and months, add ‘comments’ which will be reviews of some of my ‘favourite’ sonnets. I’m quite looking forward to doing this – so we’ll have to see how

    I’ve been wondering for a while how to approach this review. I had thought that it might be interesting to do a close reading of a single sonnet and leave it at that. What I’ve decided is to write a quick review on this edition of The Sonnets, mostly chatting about the stuff this book gives to help a reader read them, and then, over the next weeks and months, add ‘comments’ which will be reviews of some of my ‘favourite’ sonnets. I’m quite looking forward to doing this – so we’ll have to see how things work out.

    I’ve three editions of The Sonnets – two of which are Penguin versions and then this Cambridge text. This is by far the best. The introduction runs for over twenty pages and gives as good a telling of the various important ‘stories’ of The Sonnets as I’ve read.

    It is not really all that remarkable that we know so little about these sonnets. They were written a long time ago and they were written to keep certain things ‘secret’ – and as such they have succeeded wonderfully. We don’t know who they were written for – neither the beautiful young man who is the main subject of the vast majority of the sonnets, nor the Dark Lady who is the subject of only sonnets 127 to 154.

    It is virtually compulsory, when writing about The Sonnets to mention sonnet 20 – well, not the whole sonnet, but just the lines:

    “Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,

    And by addition thee of me defeated,”

    This is invariably quoted as proof positive that our Will was no poof. The sonnets to this young man are quite remarkable and it is hard to know what to make of them. They start with a sting of sonnets calling on the handsome young man to hurry up and have children, as he is so incredibly beautiful that for him to deny the world a copy of his beauty would be simply too cruel to contemplate. There is argument after argument about this in the first few sonnets– but I kept thinking of GB Shaw and that line he is supposed to have said to some actress who suggested they should have children together as with her looks and his brains the child would conquer the world. To which Shaw is supposed to have replied,“What if the child has my looks and your brains?”

    Which is the point – Shakespeare even says that the beautiful youth is the image of the youth’s mother at one point. So, his having a son is, quite literally, no guarantee that he will be leaving the world a copy of

    beauty.

    The youth comes across as a bit of a pain, to be honest. The other amusing thing is that Shakespeare spends so much time telling the youth that he (Shakespeare) is making him immortal by writing these sonnets – which ends up being more or less true, except no one knows who the youth was. There is the dedication, of course, which is to a Mr W. H. – but that seems to cause as many difficulties as it solves, as most of the people the sonnets could be about don’t have those initials and some people have decided to see them as being for William Himself… Anyway, the dedication is to the “Onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets” and given that some of them, at least, are written to a woman, that does seem to make the WH solution – even if there was one – a bit awkward.

    I think I like the Dark Lady sonnets best – there is something much more carnal about them that gives them bite. There is no question what Shakespeare’s desires are towards this woman where his desires towards the young man are always harder to tell. These poems have a confronting honesty about them, particularly the ones that look at the nature of lust and how it over-powers our reason. These poems resonate to the core of my being.

    The big theme across most of the sonnets is time – how it slips away from you when you least expect it and how cruel our loss of youth, our loss of beauty and our loss of vitality is in all its inevitability. These poems provide us with a cold stare into the unblinking eye of the human condition.

    The limits of reason when confronted by lust in sonnet 129, “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” or much the same in 146 and 147, “Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth” are not exactly the sorts of themes you might expect to find from your standard collection of ‘love’ sonnets. 129, in particular, is a devastating poem – but we will get to that eventually.

    So, as I said – this is not really a book that can be done in a single review or read in a single reading, so I’m not even going to try. Updates to follow…

  • Manny
    Jan 19, 2009

    You're hot.

    But not as hot as this poem.

    I'll love you even when you are sixty four

    Or my name's not Heather Mills.

    Stay cool man. Peace.

    Like, flower power, y'know?

  • David
    Nov 16, 2009

    SHAKESPEARE WANTS YOU TO BREED!!!!

    The first 17 or so sonnets in the series left me taken aback. It's right there in the first line of Sonnet #1:

    There's this obsession with propagating the species. This concern about breeding dominates the first 17 sonnets in the series, something I had not been aware of before.

    SHAKESPEARE WANTS YOU TO BREED!!!!

    The first 17 or so sonnets in the series left me taken aback. It's right there in the first line of Sonnet #1:

    There's this obsession with propagating the species. This concern about breeding dominates the first 17 sonnets in the series, something I had not been aware of before.

    Actually, as a gay man, I find that "harsh, featureless, and rude" pretty offensive. It continues:

    Fortunately, #18 is the glorious "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?", and from here on out it appears to be smooth sailing.

    But that battery of breeder-boosting that opens this collection was a little off-putting, to say the least. It seems so dismissive of those of us who were put on earth to carry out some other purpose, somehow.

    But this is neither here nor there. This book contains some of the most awesome language in the entire body of English literature. To assign it a rating seems entirely presumptuous; nothing but 5 stars seems even conceivable.

    My favorite, if forced to choose, is a conventional one:

    #29.

    Quite apart from the theme of the poem, how he changes mood with just that single line "like to the lark at break of day arising" astonishes me every time I read it.

  • Ahmad Sharabiani
    May 13, 2011

    Sonnets, William Shakespeare

    عنوان: غزل های شکسپیر؛ ویلیام شکسپیر؛ مترجم: بهنام مقدم (م. رها) ؛ شرح اشعار: محمد همایون وش؛ تهران، نقش و نگار، 1380، در 207 ص؛ شابک: 9646235115؛ موضوع: شعر کلاسیک انگلیسی ترجمه به شعر فارسی قرن 17 م

    تویی ارباب عشق و بنده ام من؛ به لطفت بنده ای پاینده ام من

    فرستم شاهد شعرم به سویت؛ نه باهوشم، برایت زنده ام من

    ولی با شعر ناچیزم چه گویم؛ که در توصیف تو درمانده ام من

    ولی شاید تو دریابی سخن را؛ به امید تو و آینده ام من

    ...

    1

    From fairest creatures we desire increase,

    That there

    Sonnets, William Shakespeare

    عنوان: غزل های شکسپیر؛ ویلیام شکسپیر؛ مترجم: بهنام مقدم (م. رها) ؛ شرح اشعار: محمد همایون وش؛ تهران، نقش و نگار، 1380، در 207 ص؛ شابک: 9646235115؛ موضوع: شعر کلاسیک انگلیسی ترجمه به شعر فارسی قرن 17 م

    تویی ارباب عشق و بنده ام من؛ به لطفت بنده ای پاینده ام من

    فرستم شاهد شعرم به سویت؛ نه باهوشم، برایت زنده ام من

    ولی با شعر ناچیزم چه گویم؛ که در توصیف تو درمانده ام من

    ولی شاید تو دریابی سخن را؛ به امید تو و آینده ام من

    ...

    1

    From fairest creatures we desire increase,

    That thereby beauty's rose might never die,

    But as the riper should by time decease,

    His tender heir might bear his memory:

    But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,

    Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,

    Making a famine where abundance lies,

    Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:

    Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,

    And only herald to the gaudy spring,

    Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

    And tender churl make-st waste in niggarding.

    Pity the world, or else this glutton be,

    To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Dec 01, 2011

    Tennyson is famously to have declared Shakespeare 'greater in his sonnets than in his plays'. While the reader who might not soar as easily along the paths described by these Sonnets would find the comparison absurd to a degree, he/she would also have to admit that they understand the sentiment behind Tennyson’s blasphemy. Some of the sonnets are so well-crafted and consists

    Tennyson is famously to have declared Shakespeare 'greater in his sonnets than in his plays'. While the reader who might not soar as easily along the paths described by these Sonnets would find the comparison absurd to a degree, he/she would also have to admit that they understand the sentiment behind Tennyson’s blasphemy. Some of the sonnets are so well-crafted and consists of such unexpected imagery that they can leave one breathless at their majesty and imagination. Indeed, some of them are eloquent and eternal invocations of love at par with the best love poetry - just as his romances and tragedies that outrage conventions are the best in their genres!

    Even when he departed from most conventional expectations of poetry, Shakespeare was still able to leave his imprint on the very sonnet form itself. That should tell us how important these sonnets really are to literature. The form is now called ‘Shakespearean Sonnets’, and to do that centuries past the invention of the sonnets as a form is also an achievement that defies imagination.

    Now we come to the depressing aspect: critical discussion on these, some of the best love poetry in the language, unfortunately centers more on historical speculation than on philosophical or aesthetic appreciation.

    Most of the introductions and critical commentary that accompany the sonnets focus on a biographical excavatory project, mining the sonnets for information, leaving behind tired mounts in their wake. Scholarship have been tragically been too sidetracked on this issue - away from the heart of poetry to its scholarly peripheries where readers might not want to accompany them.

    I wish some of these elaborate commentaries and footnotes that accompany almost every word of these sonnets were focussed instead on how the poems should be interpreted personally by the reader! Imagine if all poems were disassociated from the reader and read purely from a historical perspective of the author’s love-life or forensically on figuring out who it was addressed to - poetry would lose much of its universality!

    The problem is that we know so little biographic detail of Shakespeare and the Sonnets provide a tantalizing prospect to scholars. The question ‘when, and to whom was this written?’ is one which the poems repeatedly invite their readers to pose, and which they quite deliberately fail to answer. Of course he may not even have wanted his sonnets to be printed; there was, after all, an interval of approximately fifteen years between composition and publication, which makes the sonnet’s poet an unreliable narrator at best - we have no clue what the sonnets were intended for. And speculations/recreations of the ‘Drama of the Sonnets’ have shown almost as much inventiveness as we might expect in Shakespeare himself!

    That is tragic.

    As I said, the sonnets are tantalizing and they keep teasing the reader to make meaning out of them. At times they seem to build up a body of recurrent structures and preoccupations, and even a narrative of sorts, even shaping itself around possibly real events. And then it seems not to. A story converges from the lyrics, and then it vanishes. Instead, the reader should accept that the sonnets are so heavily patterned that almost any form could be seen in it - they are like the clouds, you only need to have enough enthusiasm and imagination to mould them to yourselves.

    Through all this however, and throughout, the ‘voices’ of the Sonnets appear in all their intricacy and dramatic power, resisting any simple reading.

    There is an introductory essay called ‘The Cave and The Sun’ in the Dover-Wilson edition of the Sonnets, of which I read only the introduction since I wanted to stick to my Arden edition which had better and more detailed footnotes (with very useful headnotes accompanying each sonnet and sonnet sequence - highly recommended). I found the metaphor employed and the advice given by Wilson to the raiders to be very relevant to my own reading experience. I want to discuss it a bit here, even though Wilson went on to disappoint me by not sticking to his own prescriptions on how the sonnets should be read and critiqued.

    Sir Walter Raleigh, who wrote the most human short life of William Shakespeare that we possess, began his section on the Sonnets as follows:

    Wilson adopts this metaphor and elaborates: Raleigh’s cave of mystery calls another to mind, Plato's cave of illusion, in which the human race sit chained with their backs to the sun without, and are condemned to accept the passing shadows on the wall before them for the truth—the real truth being only revealed to the few who are able to break their bonds and turn to face the light of day. Absorbed in our own attempts to solve the biographical puzzles that the individual sonnets offer us, we remain blind to the sun that casts these shadows but gives meaning to the whole.

    Begin by seeing that meaning and recognizing the whole as the greatest love-poem in the language, and the mystery of the detail becomes so unimportant as to fade away.

    That this is the right approach to an understanding, apparently so obvious and so natural, is surely beyond contest? At least to me it is.

    Coming back to the sonnets themselves, one of the continuous experiences that enthrall the reader is to see how the sonnets keeps defying expectations and conventions. For example, neither the exhortation to love and ‘settle down’, the love for the young man, nor the passion for the 'dark woman' are subjects an ambitious poet would be likely to choose as the most suitable to display the genius of his verse.

    They instead form testimony to Shakespeare’s overriding powers of imagination.

    When we consider the repetition of themes and the easy show-offiness of how Shakespeare uses the Sonnets to tell the same things again and again, but always with consummate expertise and ease, it is hard to dismiss the idea.

    This might be reflected in the fact that so many of the Sonnets are overly megalomaniacal about the power of his verse, boasting of the defeat of time and the acquisition/granting of immortality.

    But even as these exalt us, even while we may be in awe at the overwhelming force of Shakespeare’s imagination, we would also be melancholy at the theme of relentless failure expressed in the poems, over and over, dealing with self-deception and betrayal; with the inadequacy of the mind, or the imagination, or poetry, to have any effect, even on the poet’s own feelings.

    This is how Shakespeare continually inverts the themes and explores them from multiple angles. When he praises the ennobling qualities of love in one Sonnet, he might make it about love's insecurities and dark aspects later, either in the same sonnet by employing the structural ‘turn’ or in a linked sonnet later on in the sequence.

    All this might make the reader feel out of sorts and uneasy. It is as if the conversation jumped from topic to topic in a broken-backed fashion. At times affectionate and intimate, at times abject and distant; but nothing clicks tight, no overall theme emerges. The poet of the Sonnets veers back and forth from the dream of omnipotence to the dread of mortality and impending loss, continuously in flux.

    Even the conclusion of this is almost wistful, a testimony to the ultimate powerlessness of the art that has been so hyperbolically praised, but at the same time leaving it hanging in mid-air, since we do not really know if these 'concluding' sonnets are really the conclusion, or if they were ordered right, or if Shakespeare intended to contrast the theme of the 'concluding' couple of sonnets by another soaring portrayal of Cupid reasserting himself. Again, we can only speculate.

    Reading the Sonnets is a particularly rewarding (and time consuming) exercise due to these delightful perversities of history and of the poet’s pen.

    Thus the reader would conclude the reading of the Sonnets with a strong sense that the emotions expressed in them refuses to fit into pigeon-holes that we/critics may have constructed for them.

    Individually most of the sonnets are creatures of infinite beauty but also bewildering due to their contrasting colors, and when we read the whole sequence as one, we might experience them differently. As one of the critics say, from its total plot, however ambiguous, however particular, there emerges something not indeed common or general like the love expressed in many individual sonnets, but yet, in a higher way, universal. While this is indeed true, we again lack the tools or the certainty to convert the individual sonnets into a ‘plot’ - we might try to understand a ‘philosophy’ of love and life from these meditations, but to hunt for a plot among them can only take away from the pleasure and the true experience of it.

    To me at least, the conclusion was that to relentlessly attribute autobiographical aims to the sonnets is to not give due credit to the imaginative genius of Shakespeare and impute that he was incapable of inventing such realistic emotions with his poetic person than he was able to achieve with his dramatic one. Why credit only the dramatic author to be capable of this imaginative creativity and not the poet? I think it is only desperation that forces this on us.

    We should accept that the author-character that emerges from the sonnets is not created for our convenience. It is not necessarily William Shakespeare, the man; it is William Shakespeare, the poet.

  • Huda Yahya
    Feb 27, 2012

    بلا جدال السونيتة المفضلة

    ----------------

    بلا جدال السونيتة المفضلة

    ----------------

    ...

    أعتذر إن لم أترجمها أو أترجم معناها

    فشكسبير لا يترجم

    وكل محاولة لترجمته هي تجرأ لا يغتفر

    !

  • Alan
    May 23, 2012

    Over my years of teaching, I have memorized a couple dozen of these sonnets, on my morning walks. Some I learned in a two-mile walk,

    like the one on his own writing, "Why is my verse so barren of new pride?"(76). Others I have had to re-memorize every time I teach it,

    like "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill," (91). Their imbedded mnemonics vary greatly. When I have required Shakespeare classes

    to memorize a couple, students would often pick very difficult ones, not knowing they varied

    Over my years of teaching, I have memorized a couple dozen of these sonnets, on my morning walks. Some I learned in a two-mile walk,

    like the one on his own writing, "Why is my verse so barren of new pride?"(76). Others I have had to re-memorize every time I teach it,

    like "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill," (91). Their imbedded mnemonics vary greatly. When I have required Shakespeare classes

    to memorize a couple, students would often pick very difficult ones, not knowing they varied so.

    They only improve with familiarity as do many well-known poems. Ease of memorization is one criterion of poetic greatness, though it's also a function of personal experience and obsessions. Overall these sonnets may NOT be as easy to memorize as are Dickinson's poems, or many of WB Yeats's, say "Under Ben Bulben." Or Herbert's "Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright."

    But as Will (his punning sonnet name for himself in the later ones) says of his own writing, "That every word doth almost tell my name" (76).

    This can also be said of Dickinson's and some of Yeats's. Shakespeare adds that this verse name-telling also suggests the genealogy of the verse,"Showing their birth...." In that way, these sonnets become ads--for themselves. Political admen, eat your hearts out.

  • Huda Aweys
    Aug 25, 2013

    Shakespeare's poems addressed the bilateral of life and death

    Also addressed the birth through his poems too, he use an eloquent and beautiful images , It was a good book :)

    شكسبير كان بيناقش هنا الموت و الحياة .. الموت و الولادة بكلاسيكية و بحس شاعرى رائع .. شفت صور كتير اوى رائعة وتشبيهات بليغه وجميلة و حبيت فعلا :)

    دا رابط للقراءة بس ما تعتمدوش على ترجمته و اعتمدوا على حسكم اكتر :)

  • Deepthi
    Apr 09, 2015

    All I want to do now is lie on the grass, and make mooony-eyes at the moon!

  • Dolors
    Apr 12, 2015

    Less notorious than his plays, Shakespeare’s sonnets assimilate a secret map with hidden clues that lead to precious treasures. The intimate, even confessional tone of the 154 rhymes urges the eager reader to believe that the poetic voice is The Bard himself, who playfully volunteers the key to unlock the mysteries of his heart.

    And yet… Do the sonnets tell a coherent story? If they do, is this story real or fictional? The fact that

    , a poet, editor and admirer of Shakespeare, and no

    Less notorious than his plays, Shakespeare’s sonnets assimilate a secret map with hidden clues that lead to precious treasures. The intimate, even confessional tone of the 154 rhymes urges the eager reader to believe that the poetic voice is The Bard himself, who playfully volunteers the key to unlock the mysteries of his heart.

    And yet… Do the sonnets tell a coherent story? If they do, is this story real or fictional? The fact that

    , a poet, editor and admirer of Shakespeare, and not the author himself published this collection casts a shadow over the present order of the sonnets and their ostensible story line. Are they the product of literary artifice or the purest expression of the poet’s sentiments and his personal experiences?

    Allow me to reply with another question.

    Does it really matter?

    The audacious imagery, the staggering metaphors, the musical alliteration, the ironic polysemies, the utter mastery of the language bursting into florid fireworks and the universality and relevancy of paramount themes such as the passage of time, the impending oblivion that comes with death and the convoluted nature of love constitute the invaluable legacy of the poet on their own. Everything else is mere speculation, but as per usual, Shakespeare teases with ambiguous piquancy as shown in Sonnet 144, which summarizes the main “plot” of the anthology in 4 stanzas:

    A love triangle that consists of a “fair man”, a “dark woman” and the poet himself divides the sonnets in two noticeably different sections and presents a subversive approach to the foundations of courtly love employed by medieval troubadours because the “Muse” that stimulates inspiration seems to possess an adrogynous essence. Personal pronouns shift from verse to verse and the poet’s self-awareness plays an active role in the exulted display of emotions that becomes a faithful mirror for the complex gradation of the affairs of the heart. A prolongued meditation on the ethos of beauty and platonic love is interwoven with anguished cogitation about the inexorable passage of time that might wither the beloved’s blooming youth but never his

    , which is immortalized in the poet’s writing:

    Sonnet 18.

    Whereas the “fair knight” awakens tenderness, blind adoration and the purest expressions of affection in stanzas that are replete with natural imagery and astute analogies of daily life scenes, the “dark lady”, addressed only in the last 28 sonnets, disturbs the poet with her unchaste promiscuity and adulterous love. The transcendental undertone of the former sonnets fades away leaving space only for satire, sexual lust and aggrieved reproaches. The harmonic features of the male lover contrast with the sensuously dark eyes of the woman, which lure the poet into debauchery and temptation against his wishes. Lies, deception ad cynical rebuffs are the highpoints of the puns and wordplays in the last sonnets. The language becomes merely explicative, if also prodigiously lucid and accusatory, and loses the hiperbolic flamboyance of the opening sonnets.

    Sonnet 129.

    Ironically enough, both lovers, fair man and dark woman, remain anonymous while the true identity of the poet has created havoc for centuries and his works continue to unleash passions among all kind of readers around the world. Shakespeare lives on in his words. In their suggestive rhythm, in their polifacetic meanings, in their musical texture.

    Shakespeare’s poetry delves deep into the abysses of the human psyche, into the labyrinthine jumble of irrational, desperate love, into the stinky gutters of conscience, jealousy and betrayal, and still, he winks back with a lopsided smile and restores the magic of humanity in a single couplet:

    Sonnet 136.

    Miracles do not seem mambo-jumbo after reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, and art becomes magic, for divine providence is evinced stanza after stanza and my will submits to Will’s power...Subjugation was never sweeter!