Posted by: Mark | February 8, 2016

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

It feels presumptive to try to comment on Shakespeare’s poetry. I can’t add anything that hasn’t been said hundreds of times. I feel obligated to try so here I go.

Like everyone else, I got more from his plays. Even his worst ones like King John and Timon of Athens have their strengths.

The trouble with the sonnets is that everybody has read the best ones (they threw “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” in junior high). Unlike his drama, I didn’t find as much in the weaker ones. I disqualify myself from hipstersdom with this–the majority are right on this one.

126 of the 154 sonnets are devoted to the Fair Youth and are used to promote the theory that Shakespeare was gay or bisexual. Up until I read the sonnets, I never really questioned this. Now, I’m just confused.

Shakespeare’s concept of male to male love isn’t what we think of today. The first 17 sonnets to the youth urge him to find a woman and get her pregnant. He later regrets that the youth is male, even punning the word “prick.”

How successful would a Grindr exchange be if one side told the other to have sex with a woman and have kids? I am amazed that no one has done this as a graduate thesis.

The voice of the sonnets’ speaker is oddly inconsistent. I had the impression that Shakespeare was writing from the points of view of various men in a crowd, each with different ideas of love and masculinity. That’s probably wrong for a dozen reasons but I was surprised at the range of voices above anything else about the poems.

There’s no debate that Shakespeare included elements in this plays to flatter King James. Since James was gay, I wonder if Shakespeare’s perspectives in the sonnets was an attempt to get through to him–“one of these is gonna match.”

Not likely but I think it’s more probable than Malcolm X’s theory that James wrote Shakespeare’s plays. . . which isn’t saying much.


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