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Thread: Shakespeare's sonnets

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Shakespeare's sonnets

    What do you think of them? Which are your favourite? Who are they about?

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    Registered User neilgee's Avatar
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    I've never really been able to enjoy the sonnets the way I do the plays, kelby.

    I've decided that this has alot to do with confidence. The plays are written by somebody confident of their powers and are full of characters who are confident that they will be listened to but the sonnets often seem to be written by somebody who is unsure of themselves and their own attractiveness. I think this is the reason that I find the sonnets hard work.

    Also I get the feeling that the person being praised does not live up to the praise that's lavished on them and is infact some kind of vacuously beautiful youth that the author is making a fool of himself over.
    What are regrets? Just lessons we haven't learned yet - Beth Orton

  3. #3
    What do you think of them?
    I think they are really good.

    Which are your favourite?
    I am particularly intrigued by the so called "procreation sonnets" the first 17. I think it is an interesting idea, one man who is trying to convince another man to settle down and have children. I am moved by Shakespeare's constant references to the painful passage of time which features strongly here, that is something that we can all relate too, but at times affects me strongly, take for instance "Make war upon this bloody tyrant. Time?/and fortify yourself in your decay". (XV) Of course this is meant as a positive argument: have children to leave your mark on the world while you decay, but there is still a shudder at the thought of my own mortality sometimes - I just enjoy life too much, however I find the narrator and the male object in them interesting regardless, but all of them are good.

    Who are they about?
    The whole debate about who they were supposed to be about is a completely separate subject for me, and if I'm honest one that I find a little annoying at time, as some people detract from the object of them which is the art, and the art alone. I'm not saying that I am uninterested in who they were written for or who the people in them are supposed to be, but I regard the subject as entirely secondary to the sonnets, which is after all a poetic creation.

    ...but the sonnets often seem to be written by somebody who is unsure of themselves and their own attractiveness.
    I couldn't agree at all, in fact the voice in the sonnets seems to think that the sonnets will be around for some time being immortalised in his verse, not to mention the masterful use of language displayed throughout.

    Also I get the feeling that the person being praised does not live up to the praise that's lavished on them and is infact some kind of vacuously beautiful youth that the author is making a fool of himself over.
    Possibly, but then again the tradition of the sonnet form, especially at this particularly time, calls for overt expressions of feeling as a show of virtuosity, amongst everything else.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    My favorite is 73 "That time of year thou mayst in me behold"

    I think this is one of the ones usually attributed to the Fair Youth.

    The ones around 16-18 that Neely mentioned are really good as well, with that progression from immortality in child-birth to immortality in verse. I also agree with the sentiment that Shakespeare seems quite sure of his virtuosity in the sonnets.

    I recommend Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella and Lady Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus if you like sonnet sequences.

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neely View Post
    I think they are really good.


    I am particularly intrigued by the so called "procreation sonnets" the first 17.
    I'm not that interested in the first 17 sonnets as they are all kind of the same; get married, have a son so your beauty can live on. They look like they were commissioned because then you get all Shakespeare's love stuff.

    I have a great copy I nicked from school which has an interesting introduction by WH Auden. Auden said it's pointless to try and work out the identities and that we should focus on the poetry.
    I like deciphering the narrator's relationship to the other characters.

    My favourites are:
    - Sonnet 18: Considering it comes after all that samey get-married stuff, it's like a breath of fresh air, even though the poem's so well-known.

    - Sonnet 20: The narrator, whether it's Shakespeare or not, is clearly a man bemoaning the fact that this man is pretty and the narrator totally would except the fact that the man was made for women, 'pricked out'. There is certainly sexual attraction there.

    - Sonnet 22: I love the last couplet:
    Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain,
    Thou gav'st me thine not to give back again.

    - Sonnet 42: The love triangle!

    And lots more. Whether the narrator is Shakespeare or not, he is still a fascinating character and the relationship is fascinating. (I haven't got onto the Dark Lady bit)

    How do you see the relationship between the narrator and the Fair Youth? Do you think it's just a close friendship, just artistic appeciation of the man's beauty with nothing romantic? Pure romance or secret desire?
    Personally I think the narrator is infatuated with the young man and his beauty and that the infatuation becomes sexual. There is a hint of a relationship in some of the sonnets, I think, but it is certainly mainly the narrator who is interested in the youth.

    Your thoughts?

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    There may be some sexual attraction involved, but I think it is more of an idealized Platonic male love. I can't remember which sonnet it is, but there's one where he speaks of the good and bad angels in competition over his love, and the "good" angel is male, while the "bad" angel is the Dark Lady. The relationship between the speaker and the Dark Lady always seemed a lot more physical than what I can glean from the Fair Youth ones.

    Sonnet 144

    Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
    Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
    The better angel is a man right fair,
    The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
    To win me soon to hell, my female evil,
    Tempteth my better angel from my side,
    And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
    Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
    And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend,
    Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
    But being both from me, both to each friend,
    I guess one angel in another's hell:

    Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

    Edit: I get the impression that the Dark Lady is a bit of a skank.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 12-03-2009 at 01:56 AM.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    The relationship between the speaker and the Dark Lady always seemed a lot more physical than what I can glean from the Fair Youth ones.
    This is an obvious reading to me as well and I'm frankly flabbergasted that the heterosexual deniers can't notice the difference.

    For myself there are a few strongly resonating sonnets. 27, 29 & 67 come to mind immediately. They are ones which deal with holding up against suffering. They lend me strength.

    X
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xman View Post
    This is an obvious reading to me as well and I'm frankly flabbergasted that the heterosexual deniers can't notice the difference.
    Just started the Dark Lady poems and they are more physical. The narrator also plays a more dominant role in the relationship; there is less idolatry.

    What's really interesting about the sonnets is the way that Shakespeare plays with gender; you've got a young man with feminine beauty and a woman who is alluring but not your conventional poetic love object. This is why the sonnets work- because gender is played with to a point where it all blends and the overriding feature is the aspect of love portrayed in the poem.

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    My favorite is 130. That's the one where he describes the Dark lady as a real person rather than an ideal, with hair like black wires and lips less red than coral and, best of all, a reeking breath. It is like none of the others, and is really striking. The couplet at the end seems so heartfelt and genuine after the pages and pages of sicophancy that has gone on before.

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

    I know that the numerical order of the sonnets are only a best guess, but when the next one (131) starts,

    Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,.
    As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;.

    I imagine a scenario where the poor chap has read her the previous one and she is not happy with him!

  10. #10
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prendrelemick View Post
    My favorite is 130. That's the one where he describes the Dark lady as a real person rather than an ideal, with hair like black wires and lips less red than coral and, best of all, a reeking breath. It is like none of the others, and is really striking. The couplet at the end seems so heartfelt and genuine after the pages and pages of sicophancy that has gone on before.

    My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

    I know that the numerical order of the sonnets are only a best guess, but when the next one (131) starts,

    Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,.
    As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;.

    I imagine a scenario where the poor chap has read her the previous one and she is not happy with him!
    It's similar to the effect of Sonnet 18- after reading 17 poems urging his love to get married we now get a rush of love and no longer urging marriage.

    Sonnet 127 was perhaps a nicer way of phrasing his sentiments than 130- at least for her.

  11. #11
    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    Just started the Dark Lady poems and they are more physical. The narrator also plays a more dominant role in the relationship; there is less idolatry.

    What's really interesting about the sonnets is the way that Shakespeare plays with gender; you've got a young man with feminine beauty and a woman who is alluring but not your conventional poetic love object. This is why the sonnets work- because gender is played with to a point where it all blends and the overriding feature is the aspect of love portrayed in the poem.
    Yes. He appears to be writing with his head and heart to the young man, but with his loins to the dark lady. Incidentally, Henry Wriothesley, the leading contender for the youth was also Shakespeare's cousin.
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

  12. #12
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xman View Post
    Yes. He appears to be writing with his head and heart to the young man, but with his loins to the dark lady. Incidentally, Henry Wriothesley, the leading contender for the youth was also Shakespeare's cousin.
    Urgh! Maybe that explains the incest theme in Hamlet.

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    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    Urgh! Maybe that explains the incest theme in Hamlet.
    *scratches head* I thought we just agreed that there was nothing sexual between the two men. I don't see where you're drawing this conclusion. I merely meant to suggest that there is a good reason for them to know each other and feel filial love for one another.
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    If the W H of the sonnets was Wriothesley (and there is consderable doubt) Then the relationship may well have been sexual. He was imfamous for his bisexuality. When he was a soldier in Ireland he would wantonly and publicly fondle his officers. He is depicted many times dressed as a woman.
    The Victorians had a great deal of difficulty accepting that Shakespeare wrote love poetry to a man, (there are versions where all male gender references are simply changed to female.) I reckon we should accept that these are poems of exceptionally tender and personal feelings felt by one man for another. There are also a few puns that would suggest a sexual relationship.

  15. #15
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xman View Post
    *scratches headI thought we just agreed that there was nothing sexual between the two men. I don't see where you're drawing this conclusion. I merely meant to suggest that there is a good reason for them to know each other and feel filial love for one another.
    I only noted that the Dark Lady ones were more physical and less idolatry. And there's certainly a bit more than filial love:

    'But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
    Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.'

    Would anybody say that to someone they felt 'filial love' for?

    'By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.'
    How would you read 'my purpose'? I think it's pretty clear that Shakespeare's saying that the man looks like a woman and Shakespeare would...except the man is a man.

    Also in Sonnet 36:
    'Let me confess that we two must be twain,
    Although our undivided loves are one:
    So shall those blots that do with me remain,
    Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
    In our two loves there is but one respect,
    Though in our lives a separable spite'

    He's certainly not free to love this guy.

    I'm not trying to scandalise everyone by saying that Shakespeare may not have been entirely straight but you can tell there is a clear torment in the narrator that the man has all the virtues of women except he is biologically a man and thus off limits. The narrator isn't necessarily Shakespeare, although the sonnets sound very personal- but if you're going to imply that the narrator is Shakespeare or the emotions are Shakespeare's for real people, you can't claim that Shakespeare has no desire to be in a relationship with the Fair Youth.

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