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Shakespeare’s sonnets

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The basics of Shakespeare's sonnets: historical background, autobiographical or not, The Fair Youth, The Dark Lady, sonnet structure

The basics of Shakespeare's sonnets: historical background, autobiographical or not, The Fair Youth, The Dark Lady, sonnet structure

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  • 1. Shakespeare’s Sonnets A Scratch across the Surface by Vicki Lague
  • 2. Rhyme Scheme • Example, Sonnet 18: 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 dimm'd; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd; 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. a b a b c d c d e f e f g g (day) (temperate) (May) (date) (shines) (dimm’d) (declines) (untrimm’d) (fade) (ow’st) (shade) (grow’st) (see) (thee)
  • 3. William Shakespeare 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616
  • 4. Poetry Forms • Narrative (tells a tale/story) • Drama (presented on a stage) • Lyric (Short poem that expresses a state of mind) – Personal experience, close relationships, and description of feelings – Updated by Shakespeare and other early European poets into long sonnet sequences mostly in praise of their mistresses
  • 5. Historical Background • Writing lyric poetry was more fashionable than writing drama • Ambitious poet had to write a sonnet sequence • Trended in early and mid-1590’s England • Ended suddenly in 1596 or 1597 Bevington, David. “Sonnets.” The Necessary Shakespeare. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 880-884. Print.
  • 6. Shakespeare’s Sonnets (880) • • • • Written during the genre’s zenith Not published when written Circulated in manuscript form Shakespeare may have delayed publication himself: – – – – Genteel accomplishments were supposed to include versifying Designed to amuse friends Publication not considered “genteel” Not clear if this attitude motivated Shakespeare
  • 7. Publication, Presentation & Problems (880) • Publication: – By Thomas Thorpe in 1609 – Reprinted in 1640 • Questions: − To whom are the sonnets addressed? − Do they tell a consistent story? − Are they autobiographical? • Basic Difficulty: − Thorpe’s order of presentation may not be Shakespeare’s intention
  • 8. Sonnet Order (880) • Sonnets 1 – 126 (most of them): Show a warm friendship for a handsome young aristocratic man (The Fair Youth) – May be one person or several – May be William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke
  • 9. The Fair Youth (882) • May have been William Herbert, patron of the theatre and education – An aristocrat, handsome, young, charismatic – Shakespeare’s sponsor (monetary support) • Makes Shakespeare subservient to friend • Praises friend’s beauty and virtues – As the older man, Shakespeare • Urges young man to marry • Become immortal through children http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player42.html
  • 10. Sonnet Order • Sonnets 127- 152: About the poet’s darkhaired mistress, the Dark Lady
  • 11. The Dark Lady (883) • Praised for her being a “real” woman, not some kind of goddess (Petrarchan sonnet convention) • Unknown woman, but may be Emilia Lanier with whom Shakespeare had a brief affair, a love triangle that included his friend, William Herbert – Proto-feminist: “Forgetting they were born of woman, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women they would be quite extinguished out of the world, and a final end of them all, do like vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred.” http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player34.html
  • 12. Sonnet Order • Sonnets 153 – 154: Seem unrelated to anything that comes before them, casting doubt on the ordering
  • 13. Sonnet Order (881) • Evidence of inconsistencies – Some are closely linked to preceding sonnets – Some are disconnected – Most readers see a narrative continuity with some blocks of sonnets being out of place
  • 14. Sonnet Order (881) • Evidence of inconsistencies – Some are closely linked to preceding sonnet – Some are disconnected – Most readers see a narrative continuity with some block of sonnets being out of place • Shakespeare may intend to show juxtaposition and contrast
  • 15. Sonnet Order (881) • Evidence of inconsistencies – Some are closely linked to preceding sonnet – Some are disconnected – Most readers see a narrative continuity with some block of sonnets being out of place • Shakespeare may intend to show contrast • No alternative order has found acceptance
  • 16. Sonnet Order (881) • Evidence of inconsistencies – Some are closely linked to preceding sonnet – Some are disconnected – Most readers see a narrative continuity with some block of sonnets being out of place • Shakespeare may intend to show contrast • No alternative order has found acceptance • Conclusion: Thorpe’s order is suspect, but may have an unknown rationale
  • 17. Autobiographical? (882) • Are they autobiographical? – Most scholars believe they were written over a number of years • Large number before 1598 • Some perhaps later • Some up to the date of publication (1609) – May not be autobiographical – Emotion may be from Shakespeare’s gift as a poet
  • 18. Not Autobiographical? (882) • Established artistic conventions had already displace biography – Biography avoided – The “story” of the sonnet is never important – A series of lyric reflections: • Love, adversities of fortune, death, etc. • Narrative events are occasions for reflection
  • 19. Use of Conventions (882-3) • Uses typical situations and themes use by predecessors • Emphasis on friendship is new • Use of juxtaposition/contrast favored in drama: Shakespeare was a dramatist
  • 20. Structure • Three quatrains (four lines) developing a specific idea closely related to others with alternating end rhyme • End couplet of two rhyming lines • Volta (turn): line 9 (Italian) or may be delayed to the couplet • Some sonnets don’t fit pattern • Iambic pentameter http://www.sonnets.org/basicforms.htm