Archive for the The Sonnets Category

Eskimo Love

Posted in The Sonnets with tags , , , on 2010/02/19 by mattermind

I had an epiphany of sorts during my morning workout, realizing that what’s important to most people about the sonnets is not the scholastic pragmatics underlying them, but that they are expressions of love.  Maybe to a small band of dedicated researches they represent key evidence in the Shakespeare authorship mystery… but that’s not why they’ve endured for 400 years as staples of the lover’s lexicon.

As usual, Shakespeare expands the pallette of romantic expression.  Whether between a wizened older man adoring Twilight-like male androgyny or as pornography dressed up as a Hallmark valentine, the Bard pushes the range of possibilites to their outer boundaries.  That’s one of the reasons why he remains the standard of comparison after all these years.  Like Magellan, he mapped the territory that we’re only now getting around to fully exploring.

Eskimos have myriad expressions for snow; and love comes in more flavors than Baskin Robbins has ice creams to celebrate it.  Now that I’m over the hump and I’ve addressed the authorship issue in my own half-assed way, I’ll be reveling in the sonnets qua sonnets (thank you, St. Johns) in my usual tiggerish fashion.

After all, that’s what we do bestest.


Make War Upon This Bloody Tyrant Time

Posted in The Sonnets with tags , , , , , on 2010/02/18 by mattermind

The Sonnets: 1-20

The Sonnets do not begin as I thought they would, which is hardly a surprise considering how well my assumptions have paid off on plays like Pericles or Timon of Athens.

Still, when I think “Shakespeare” and “sonnet,” the gushing of #18 leaps to mind:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

What I didn’t know until now is that this most famous of sonnets is one of the many — in fact, the majority — written to the “Fair Youth,” i.e. a guy.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just the use of the words “lovely” and “darling” — I suppose they play into my heterosexual presuppositions, which is why the Sonnets as a whole can be so confounding.

I keep expecting medieval madrigals written by stalwart knights to fair and virtuous maidens espousing eternal love despite hopeless circumstances, unrequited love lofted to its highest expression.

Instead I get what sounds like exasperated patronizing to hurry the hell up and start cranking out grandkids (Sonnets 1-17) and wicked gender confusion in Sonnet #20.

It all makes me believe that there’s something else going on here. No wonder conspiracy theories spring up around these things! They confound easy interpretation, defying coherent surface patterns while all but begging for literary detective work to reveal their underlying code.

There are, however, two recurring metaphors that knit the early sonnets together: the brutal (and imminent) passage of time and the in/ability of art (the sonnets themselves, in this case) to overcome it.

One moment, the poet is incapable of rendering the beauty of the gorgeous youth and only children might preserve his immortality. But as the sonnets roll by, the writer’s confidence grows, till by Sonnet #18 he’s throwing down the gauntlet and daring, “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

He’d been stuck till then in that one-note groove, a carpe diem of sorts to the Fair Youth to make copies of himself while he is still young and capable.

The tone thus far between men has hardly been sexual. In fact, the writer continuously exhorts the boy to husband a maiden who would gladly have him till her garden (Shakespeare’s words, not mine). The advice is bluntly stated: namely, to breed, which is odd, really, coming from an older male admirer who is supposedly in love with him.

If it’s truly homosexual love being expressed between the writer and the Fair Youth, why is he disappointed that the object of his adoration has, you know, a penis? Wouldn’t most gay lovers delight in that very — um, this is getting weird — appendage?

And for a woman wert thou first created,

Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,

And by addition me of thee defeated

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,

Mine by thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure. (#20)

At this early stage, I am most interested in a notion I read on Wiki regarding the possibility that Shakespeare is outwitting everyone by subverting the sonnet form, which had only recently seen its heyday in the 1590s. (The Sonnets were published in 1609.)

It calls to mind the single greatest example of this sort of mental game that I know: Bach’s B Minor Mass.

Bach was about as Protestant as you could get, yet he sought out the most difficult challenge of the age: writing liturgical music in its highest form, which meant the Catholic mass. So he overrode the barrier that would limit any lesser mortal and proceeded to set down the most epic mass in the history of music.

While that’s a later example than Shakespeare, it too is not unique. More recently, James Joyce usurped the entire Western canon in writing Ulyses, smelting all and sundry literary types to fit the pattern of his own unique genius.

So why wouldn’t Shakespeare have a little fun with the Sonnets? How could the greatest writer in the history of the world simply take a given form and be content to churn out the standard and expected (as I had assumed), only cranked up to eleven?

Here’s the idea, as set down in Wiki:

One interpretation is that Shakespeare’s Sonnets are in part a pastiche or parody of the three centuries-long tradition of Petrarchan love sonnets; in them, Shakespeare consciously inverts conventional gender roles as delineated in Petrarchan sonnets to create a more complex and potentially troubling depiction of human love. Shakespeare also violated many sonnet rules which had been strictly obeyed by his fellow poets: he speaks on human evils that do not have to do with love (66), he comments on political events (124), he makes fun of love (128), he parodies beauty (130), he plays with gender roles (20), he speaks openly about sex (129) and even introduces witty pornography. (151).

This notion appeals to my intuitive sense for the nature of genius and how it delights in putting a monkeywrench to standard types.

If Shakespeare was not content with the Aristotelian unities of space, time and place… if he invented a cast of characters with all the depth and profundity of the modern human psyche… if he had a grasp of man’s glories and foibles, his lofty rational inquiry and his craven, gutteral desires… why would he then limit his aspirations here, shortly after the craze for sonnets had come and gone? Might it not be similar to Cervantes skewering the knights tales with Don Quixote?

Then again, I’m only twenty sonnets into the thing.

More Authorship Mayhem

Posted in The Sonnets with tags , , , , on 2010/02/17 by mattermind

The reason that the sonnets, in particular, have kickstarted the thorny authorship question on this blog is because of the tireless work done by one Hank Wittemore — a man who seems determined to singlehandedly close the case that Edward de Vere is the true author of Shakespeare’s works.

I can only imagine the ungodly number of hours he’s put into this dogged pursuit. It would exhaust me just to finish the impressive tome he wrote expounding his theory. (You can find it HERE). I’m tempted to learn more about this thesis… but then I’d still probably end up sounding half-assed about an important subject better left to somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about.

You can visit Mr. Wittemore’s blog HERE.

From what I understand, the case for de Vere has crescendoed to that classic tipping point when it launches a Hollywood movie. It will be called “Anonymous” and was directed by Rolland Emmerich. That plot has been summarized on iMDB as follows:

A political thriller about who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare– Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford– set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her.

Of course that tidy teaser makes it sound as if the case were already closed… which it decidedly is not.

Here is a different sort of summary by Raven Clabough (which, ironically, I too will summarize) that uses the occasion of a new book on Marlowe to survey the field:


In The Marlow-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, Samuel Blumenfeld undertakes the difficult task of proving an alternative author to the Shakespeare canon: Christopher Marlowe. The Shakespeare authorship controversy began in 1781, when English clergyman Reverend James Wilmot claimed that Shakespeare, uneducated and inexperienced, was incapable of writing the greatest literary works of all time.

…The Marlovian theory, that which claims Christopher Marlowe to be the true author of the Shakespeare canon, dates back as early as 1895….

Blumenfeld…raises several interesting questions. For example, some of Shakespeare’s plays, including the Henry VI triad and Richard III, were much shorter in their Quarto versions than in the First Folio, published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. This leaves Stratfordians with a difficult question to answer: Who revised the plays? Blumenfeld answers this by claiming that Marlowe was still alive, even after Shakespeare had died. Marlowe, being the author of the plays according to Blumenfeld, would be the only reasonable person qualified to edit his own works.

You sorta get the idea why I didn’t want to open my trap. Yet I’m still going on record as attempting to read the sonnets with what in the East they call “beginner’s mind.”

Easy for me to do, if you couldn’t tell.

Opening Pandora’s Box

Posted in The Sonnets on 2010/02/17 by mattermind

The authorship question was bound to come up sooner or later. While I was hoping for later, I am the one who opened his big mouth and suggested we tackle the sonnets for Valentine’s Day.

I’m having less fun on this section than anticipated, mostly because I recognize that I’ve opened Pandora’s Box — which, it turns out, is not nearly as compelling (though at some times equally problematic) as Victoria’s Secret. I know, I know… just wait until I get to the later sonnets. There’s a lot of racy stuff going on.

But that’s just it, the very trouble I’m attempting to address here. The sonnets sound all fancy-schmancy romantic until you actually, you know, try and read them without a handrail and a map to the stars.

Therefore I would be remiss not to begin mentioning the numerous online resources available for the sonnets. I do not wish to waste your time with my unlearned commentaries when these superior sources are out there! (Not that this qualm has stopped me in the past.)

There’s so much going on here beneath the surface, whether I acknowledge it or not. Sure, I can insist on tiptoeing through the landmines. But I feel I’m doing myself and you a disservice by just breezing through without at least saying something.

I’m letting you know now that I’ll be setting aside the rest of February to try and make headway into these things. I promise I’ll mention any outside sources that I access along the way. I feel that it’s important to continue a policy of full disclosure.

So yes, for your information, I have begun reading the sonnets. But I am also — truth be told — a bit bogged down by the whole project, which I didn’t expect. Not here. Not on the sonnets!

I’m kinda sorta wishing I had pushed on to the next play, which is Corialanus. You just never can tell about these things, can you?


Posted in The Sonnets on 2010/02/15 by mattermind



Is there anything the man did that was unambiguous?

A Valentine’s Present

Posted in The Sonnets, YouTube on 2010/02/14 by mattermind

Only slightly belated, but not because I wasn’t thinking of you, dear readers. I slipped away to the ocean for a few days free from the internet and cell phones, soaking up the spring sunshine and recharging for the Sonnets ahead. (I know, spring sunshine sounds premature, but it was lovely shorts-and-tank-top weather on the California coast. It’s rough, I grant that, especially for those of you blanketed by snow on the East Coast of the United States. But hey — I’d trade LA for NY or Dublin or Budapest or St. Petersburg on almost any other occasion… but not when girls emerge from their wintry cocoons as fluttering butterflies in their summer dresses.)

I hope you too enjoyed time far from the madding crowd.

Now that I’m back, I wanted you to know that you were missed. Here’s a small token of my appreciation. I won’t mention who it’s by, for fear it will get yanked by the embedding police. But it’s a great song by a band I’ve adored since the moment their first album came out. Storm in Heaven will always be one of my favorites!

Appropriate for our task ahead, but also to celebrate a day we set aside to honor love.

Here ya go. I hope it will get to stay up! If not, I’ll try and find an alternative take.