Shakspere’s Sonnets

shakspere's sonnets edward dowdenThe Sonnets of William Shakspere, edited by Edward Dowden, 5/5

*a note on spelling: according to Wikipedia, "Shakspere" was the preferred spelling in the late 18th through early 19th centuries.

In general, these sonnets are inventive, passionate and beautiful, using vivid metaphors to make new the old topic of love.  They are difficult enough to reward a second or third reading (and a quick look at the editorial notes) but not so opaque as to be frustrating.

Though I had never read the entire set of sonnets before, they had strong connotations to me as the epitome of romantic poetry, of fuzzy-around-the-edges, pastoral scenes; Willoughby reading aloud to Marianne, hopelessly romantic young girls in white sun dresses pining over small leather-bound editions or receiving love letters full of ink blots and badly paraphrased plagiarisms.  That sort of thing.  So, I was extremely surprised to discover that almost all of the sonnets were written from one dude to another.  In context, even “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (Sonnet 18) was most definitely not written for/about a woman.  It’s not like I thought Shakespeare in Love was made by the History Channel, but I did kind of assume that Shakespeare was a hit with the ladies and now I’m almost as confused about his sexuality as he seemed to be.

While I found the “procreation sonnets” to be quite creepy (who writes 17 poems insisting that a male friend is robbing the world if he doesn’t pass on all his fantastic [and presumably inheritable] traits to offspring, asap?), there were many others that I loved.  My favourite has to be Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.  Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error and upon me proved,
     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I wish I could find more information about this book edition.  All I know is that it was bound in 1933 by renowned bookbinding firm Sangorski & Sutcliffe, for the department store Marshall Field and Company.  Sangorski & Sutcliffe are famous for their elaborate, jewel-encrusted book bindings, such as the famous edition of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that was lost with the Titanic, though I suspect cheaper, less sumptuous bindings such as mine helped the company survive the Great Depression.

[Why I read it: still on a quest to read all of Shakespeare’s works and couldn’t resist picking up this beautiful book for a few dollars at the thrift store.]


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