Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Synopsis

The sonnets are among the most accomplished and fascinating poems in the English language. They are central to an understanding of Shakespeare's work as a poet and poetic dramatist, and while their autobiographical relevance is uncertain, no account of Shakespeare's life can afford to ignore them. So many myths and superstitions have arisen around these poems, relating for example to their possible addressees, to their coherence as a sequence, to their dates of composition, to their relation to other poetry of the period and to Shakespeare's plays, that even the most na ve reader will find it difficult to read them with an innocent mind. Shakespeare's Sonnets dispels the myths and focuses on the poems. Considering different possible ways of reading the Sonnets, Wells and Edmondson place them in a variety of literary and dramatic contexts--in relation to other poetry of the period, to Shakespeare's plays, as poems for performance, and in relation to their reception and reputation. Selected sonnets are discussed in depth, but the book avoids the jargon of theoretical criticism. Shakespeare's Sonnets is an exciting contribution to the Oxford Shakespeare Topics, ideal for students and the general reader interested in these intriguing poems.

Excerpt

In this book we aim to provide an introduction, overview, and guide to the reading of Shakespeare's sonnets. Underlying our objective is the belief that, individually and collectively, they are among the most accomplished and fascinating poems in the English language, that they are central to an understanding of Shakespeare's work as a poet and poetic dramatist, and that, while their autobiographical relevance is uncertain, no account of Shakespeare's outer or inner life can afford to ignore them. Expressions of variable and fluctuating friendship, love, and desire, they create the sense of an emotional reality which, while it may be illusory, unquestionably offers insight into Shakespeare's capacity to represent the imaginative states of other people, whether or not it stems directly from his personal experience.

Many myths and superstitions have accrued around these poems. The enigmatic dedication, signed with the initials of the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, not by the author, with its reference to the poems' 'onlie begetter Mr W.H.', has been the starting point for innumerable wild-goose chases. No one knows for certain when Shakespeare wrote the poems, in what order he wrote them, whether he intended them to form a single sequence, or even several different sequences, how they reached the publisher, whether Shakespeare wanted them to be published, or to whom—if indeed to any specific persons—they relate and are addressed. Though some of the first 126 poems in the collection unquestionably relate to a young man, others could relate to either a male or a female. Even the poems in the second part of the collection, known inauthentically as the 'Dark Lady' Sonnets, are not necessarily about one and the same person. The poems' relation to other verse of the time, and to Shakespeare's other writings, is uncertain because of doubts about their dates of composition.

In this book we offer no easy answers to the questions the Sonnets pose. Rather we seek to dispel the myths and to interrogate assumptions that stand in the way of an open response to the poems. With this in mind we attempt to survey critical and scholarly issues in a manner that raises, and to some extent answers, questions that may . . .

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