February 23, 2010

Shakespeare Untold

The other week in class, a professor had us do an interesting exercise. He had us actually re-write Shakespeare’s sonnets in sentence form. The goal was to understand what words in the sonnet were important and how pervasive certain imagery was. We then went around the room and each read our sentences aloud, which was another interesting exercise in what we all found in the poetry.

This reduction of some of the greatest poetry ever written to its skeletal basics is perhaps some of the most worthwhile work I’ve done on the sonnets. And, of course, I can’t help but notice that it can be used to great comedic effect. When you get down to it, past the snobbery, past the intellectual mumbo jumbo, past the deification of Sweet William, these poems are love poems. Love poems, while beautiful if well written, innately contain certain tropes. When lain bare and seen as their very essence, these tropes are hilarious.

So I decided to break a few of the sonnets down for you here. I’m including the full text of the sonnet (divided by quatrain then final couplet), my sentences (again divided by quatrain then final couple so each sonnet will be four sentences), and a brief analysis which I hope will amuse you as much as it amuses me. Enjoy!

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 dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:

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.

You’re prettier and more mild than a summer’s day. The sun is sometimes too hot and often clouded, and perfection always fades with time. But time will not ravage you and you will not die. So long as man has lungs to breathe and eyes to see, this will survive and grant you life.

God, what woman was he thinking of? Mild and temperate? Not mercurial or cloudy? One thing I know about women (and I’m an expert because I am one) is that we are beings of extremes and would more often say “nothing is wrong” when something is than let our sun shine unclouded. I guess this is just further proof that Shakepseare was gay…

Sonnet 71

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:

Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.

O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

When the church bells ring for my death and I am buried in the ground do not mourn me. I love you so much that I don’t want you to be grieved. If you read this after I’m gone, just let your love for me decay like my corpse. Otherwise, the world may play tricks on you with your memory of me.

I love this sonnet because it reeks of teenage emo poetry. It’s like what a suicidal Jewish Grandmother would write if she wore black eyeliner and fishnet stockings, “No no, my love, don’t be sad, just don’t think about me. I will die and decay in the ground and worms will eat my flesh, but just move on.”

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.

Do not allow me to impede a marriage which should occur; Love cannot be true love if you are looking to change each other. No, it is ever-constant and like the North star: immeasurably necessary to a wandering soul. Love does not fade with time. If I’m wrong, I never wrote anything and nobody has ever loved ever.

This definitely falls into the Jewish Grandma category again. “If it’s true love, don’t let me stand in your way…. Oh by the way, here’s what true love is.” My favorite part about this poem is how many weddings it’s been read at… just because it has the word “marriage” in it does not make it a good idea to read at your wedding. Actually, knowing Shakespeare, it’s probably a very bad idea. It’s like the often-misquoted portion of Hamlet, “To thine own self be true”. Yes, he said it, but ironically. Please refer to my post on John Adams and the MacB’s for my opinion on the random quoting of Shakespeare. If you’re not ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CERTAIN of what it maybe kinda means, just don’t do it.

Sonnet 130

My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more read, 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 damasked, 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 grand 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.

My love doesn’t look at all like what the poets say is perfect. She’s also got horrendous breathe. Her voice isn’t lovely though she speaks well and she’s kinda chunky too. However, I think she is as special as any that the other poets praise so highly.

Shakespeare, while I applaud your attack on the courtly love poem, all I can say is this: You’re sleeping on the couch for the next century.

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