We're starting with a selection of sonnets. The sonnets always make me a little nervous; I'm not sure why, except lyric poetry in general makes me nervous. I like writing and talking about narrative. I'm not sure there is a narrative to the sonnets; if there is, it's a very weird and non-linear one. Because I
-- Talking of narrative, I have been trying to make sense of Sonnet 146 ("Poor soul, thou center of my sinful earth") and why it is where it is in the sequence, assuming that the printer wasn't merely throwing sonnets in every which way, which he may well have been doing. I came up with a theory that I thought was rather cool: maybe Shakespeare wanted this very pious piece to go in the middle of all these increasingly embittered love sonnets, literally thrall to / lord of / foiled by the rebel powers that besiege the soul on all sides.
-- My students were not overly impressed with this theory. They kept wanting the soul to belong to the Dark Lady, or the speaker's friend, or anybody at all other than the speaker himself. This interpretation doesn't quite click, for me -- this particular poetic mode seems to call for introspection, rather than preachiness -- but I can't totally discount it.
-- Somebody suggested that the opening lines of Sonnet 135 ("Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will / And Will to boot, and Will in overplus") might refer, among other things, to penis size. The more I think about this possibility, the more I like it. I love having students with dirty minds. (Also, this group TOTALLY got Sonnet 20, which makes me happy. I wish we were reading more gender-bending stuff this semester -- we'll get to Merchant eventually, but the more I think about it, AYLI or Twelfth Night would be SUCH a good follow-up to the sonnets, and we're not reading either. Must remember this for next time.)
-- I have a professor in grad school who had a lot to say about linear and cyclical time in the sonnets, not all of which I remember, but I have to say that Sonnet 73 becomes a very different poem if you think about time as something cyclical, and the "leave" in the last line suddenly becomes "bring out in new leaves."
-- Back in college, I belonged to a very ineffectual Shakespeare society. As a Valentine's Day fundraiser, we decided that we would, for a small fee, deliver a rosebud and a handwritten sonnet to the purchaser's boyfriend or girlfriend. We started looking for suitable sonnets. "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," OK. After that, um... "My God!" said someone after half an hour. "All of these sound like they should come with black roses!"
I must tell this story to students more often. It always gets a laugh.
-- I'm using the Norton Shakespeare, about which I have mixed feelings, but one cool thing is that they do print alternative versions of a few sonnets from manuscripts and The Passionate Pilgrim. So we're reading some alternative sonnets for Wednesday. I'll see how it goes.
Next up: A Midsummer Night's Dream.