Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Excerpt

There is perhaps no collection of English poetry more widely known and praised than Shakespeare's Sonnets, and certainly no collection of English poetry has been more often misused and misread. The chief obstacles to a liberal and intelligent reading of these Sonnets have been two sets of assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious--those about what poetry is or should be and those about the nature of the collection. As far as the first set of assumptions is concerned, we are generally better prepared than previous generations to do critical justice to the Sonnets; but since the body of expectations, of things taken for granted, about poetry varies from person to person as well as from generation to generation, there are still many readers whose concept of poetry prevents them from accepting these poems on their own merits. They want them to be more formal, more gnomic or didactic, more metaphysical--somehow different and "better."

Virtually unknown in the seventeenth century, the Sonnets were read by only a few men in the eighteenth, partly because of widespread prejudice against the sonnet as a trivial and artificial short poem. Readers of the Sonnets in the eighteenth century, like many in the nineteenth, apparently wished that the poems had been as John Benson described them in his edition of 1640, "Seren, cleere and eligantly plaine, . . . no intricate or . . .

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