Those sonnets that were in print remained coterie literature, experimental and daring both linguistically and erotically, and seriously playful. It is clear from the number of these sonnets that reappear in commonplace books of the period that their attractiveness to that coterie audience did continue: even after publication, people continued to copy the ones they liked, circulate them, make them their own. But there was no second edition until , 24 years after Shakespeare's death. That edition, however, involved wholesale revision.
John Benson, the publisher, capitalising on the undiminished sales of Venus and Adonis, produced a volume of what looked to be not old-fashioned sonnets but new Shakespeare love poems. The transformation involved both format and erotics: many of the sonnets are run together, making them line poems, and all are given titles, such as True Admiration, Self-Flattery of Her Beauty, An Entreaty for Her Acceptance - as the latter two indicate, most of the love poems addressed to the young man are now addressed to a woman.
To effect this, it was necessary only to change three masculine pronouns in the poems to feminine ones and supply a few gendered titles, but since the sonnets to the young man form a fairly consistent narrative, that was sufficient to change the story. The motive for this was probably not any nervousness about Shakespeare's sexuality; Benson simply wanted to bring the poems up to date, and in so doing transformed the book from an Elizabethan sonnet sequence to a volume of Cavalier love lyrics. Even this edition was not a great success, and there wasn't another until , when a supplementary volume to Nicholas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare's plays reprinted Benson's text.
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Benson's revision remained the standard text until late in the 18th century; and indeed, these versions of the poems were still being reprinted in the 19th century. The return to the quarto was the work of Edmond Malone, who in produced an edition that finally brought the editing of the poems into line with the editing of the plays by taking the original texts into account. It rationalised Thorpe's text, certainly, but its clarifications have on the whole stood the test of time.
In a few critical instances, however, Malone undertook wholesale rewriting to produce the kind of sense the 18th-century Shakespeare seemed to demand.
The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets [With CD]
The most famous of these involves a crux in Sonnet , "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame". Here "lust in action" is described, in the quarto, as "A blisse in proofe and proud and very wo". The line continued to read this way, with minor adjustments to modernise spelling and punctuation, throughout the next century - through John Benson's edition, Nicholas Rowe's in , and the numerous popular editions of the 18th century - until Malone's edition, in which the line became "A bliss in proof, and prov'd, a very woe".
Thereafter, with very few demurrals, this became the line: Malone was acknowledged to have restored Shakespeare's original. Orthographically, the quarto's 'proud' could in be read as either 'proud' or 'provd' - though for the latter, considering the compositor's practice in the rest of the volume, 'prou'd' would have been the expected form - but, as with travaill meaning both 'travail' and 'travel' in Shakespeare's English, the reader of who saw 'proved' in the word would not have seen only that, and would have read it as both: 'provd' retained the sense of 'proud'.
It is a sense that we should certainly not edit out of the poem: "pride", the Bible says, is what "goeth before. Proud also means 'erect', or 'tumescent' as in Sonnet , line ten , a usage still current in the medical term 'proud flesh'. Therefore, whatever Shakespeare intended, the most we may reasonably argue is that both readings are possible; or to put it more strongly, that the two readings are not separable. It should be emphasised, however, that there is no evidence that anyone before ever read the word as anything but 'proud'. Simply to eliminate one of the word's senses, as Malone's emendation does, is both to falsify the text and abolish its history.
But the transformation of 'proud' to 'proved' required Malone to make another revision in the line, less noticeable, though arguably even more radical: the change of the second 'and' to 'a', so that the clause reads not "and proud and very wo" but "and prov'd, a very woe".
This emendation transforms the view of sex from a tripartite act - a bliss both during action and when completed, and also true woe - to a simple before and after contrast: bliss in action, woe afterwards. There is no room for 'proud' in this neatly balanced pair. If the quarto or, for that matter, Benson's volume was the form in which Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Milton, Marvell, Dryden read Shakespeare's Sonnets, Malone's poem is not the poem they read.
But of course Malone's poem has its history, too. Malone's edition, of course, had a more problematic consequence for Shakespeare: it had him pining once more, in the first of the poems, not for a woman but for a man; and when in the editor George Steevens explained his refusal to include the poems in his Shakespeare edition by asserting that "the strongest act of Parliament that could be framed, would fail to compel readers into their service," it is unlikely that metaphoric complexity or rhyme schemes were what bothered him.
For the 19th and a good part of the 20th century it was customary to deal with what looks, from the perspective of the past 30 years, like an overtly homoerotic sequence by arguing, when this fact was acknowledged at all, that the homoeroticism was purely conventional, or that the sonnets were not autobiographical - the lovestruck poet was a persona, and the sonnets to the young man no more implied that Shakespeare was gay than Macbeth implied that he was a murderer. Of course, in an age in which it is being argued that internet pornography featuring virtual sex with computer-generated minors should be a prosecutable offence, claiming that Shakespeare was a pederast only in his imagination doesn't help much.
But in fact, recent editors have accepted the sonnets' gayness without worrying much about Shakespeare's, and contemporary commentary on these poems is sexually much more open than in comparable editions of the plays. For Shakespeareans of my generation, the great edition was that of WG Ingram and Theodore Redpath, first published in , which intelligently rethought the texts and offered a detailed, thoughtful and untendentious commentary - it is an admirable edition, which may still be consulted with profit.
The sex is acknowledged, though in a fashion that today seems absurdly gingerly, with terms like "membrum pudendum" and "carnal innuendo"; of the frankly obscene Sonnet "Love is too young to know what conscience is" Ingram and Redpath merely observe that "the numerous double meanings. Ingram and Redpath approach the young man in an especially gingerly fashion, suggesting that "the relationship was one of profound and at times agitated friendship, which involved a certain physical and quasi-sexual fascination emanating from the young Friend and enveloping the older poet, but did not necessarily include pederasty in any lurid sense.
What might be considered the enabling document for contemporary editorial practice was Stephen Booth's remarkable Essay on Shakespeare's Sonnets, published in This articulated, brilliantly, a poetics of indeterminacy as a way of reading the sonnets, arguing that the poems are essentially open, and that their interpretation is a function of the process of reading, a process that will, inevitably, vary from reader to reader and age to age. Booth's commentary, it follows, is a world of alternatives and possibilities, and the essay, when it appeared, was genuinely exciting.
Indeterminacy stopped, however, at the texts: no questions were asked of Malone's modernisations. Eight years later Booth paid his debt to bibliography with a monumental edition, including facsimiles of the texts, new modernisations en face and an exhaustive commentary. I confess to finding the commentary exhausting as well as exhaustive: Booth worries every possible ambiguity at great length; but in the end, the book is curiously conservative - it almost invariably decides that the standard reading is after all the right one, and Malone's texts are the ones we should stick with.
Two more recent editions seem to me especially notable. Vendler is one of the great readers of poetry writing today; her essays on contemporary verse are critical classics - she has a genius for selection, and writes about the most complex and arcane poets with clarity and without condescension.
She clearly loves the sonnets, and treats them as contemporary poems. Though her interests are not historical, she does prefix to her commentary a facsimile of each poem with a modernisation that is for the most part Malone's. Nevertheless, she occasionally acknowledges that the facsimile and the modernisation are different works, observing of her reading of Sonnet , for example, that "the following remarks are equally true if one uses the quarto spelling.
Vendler is not the most comfortable guide to the sonnets, but she is an intense, exciting and observant one. His readings are learned, his glosses wide-ranging and exceptionally informative, and his sense of the poems often genuinely unsettling. He argues that we cannot properly appreciate the sequence unless we see A Lover's Complaint as part of it, and understand the sonnets' relation to earlier poetry by Daniel, Marlowe, Spenser and the overtly homoerotic Richard Barnfield.
The critical tone is tough and often confrontational. Colin Burrow, editor of the Oxford Complete Sonnets and Poems, is in Kerrigan's league as a scholar and an editor: both are erudite, critically and philosophically sophisticated, and treat textual issues with the seriousness they require. But Burrow works on a larger canvas: it was a brilliant idea to produce the narrative poems and sonnets as a single edition, and the result is that he has been able to offer, in his book-length introduction, the best study there is of Shakespeare as a poet.
Burrow writes wonderfully about the interplay between the various poems and genres, and is especially good on the implications of the sonnets' original mode of circulation, in manuscript among Shakespeare's 'private friends', where both the mystification and the playfulness that have so frustrated later readers were entirely appropriate. He briskly and amusingly disposes of Mr WH, observing that all the proposed candidates are nonsensical, and offers instead 'Who He? A major theme throughout the edition is what the original readers of these volumes would have expected of them and assumed about them, and therefore a number of poems ascribed to Shakespeare in his lifetime are included, as an indication of the kind of poet his contemporaries considered him.
As for the sonnets' place in Shakespeare's poetic career, Burrow writes that they are "best viewed not as Shakespeare's final triumphant assertion of poetic mastery, but as poems which develop the methods of the earlier narrative poems to their utmost point - a point at which one is not quite sure who is male and who is female, who is addressed and why, or what their respective social roles are". I would not want to be without Crewe, Booth, Vendler or Kerrigan, but if the bookshelf had room for only one edition of Shakespeare's poems, Burrow's would be the one. Topics Books London Review of Books.
Is there no controversy over "improvement" of the greatest English language poet and playwright of all time? See 1 question about The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Sep 05, Noreen rated it liked it. It's a tie--who is more insane? Helen Vendler or Stephen Booth? Right now my money's on Vendler, but one more crazy sexual allusion from Booth and he might carry the day. Nov 14, Amalie rated it it was amazing Shelves: poetry , academic , literary-criticism.
I was just researching for my degree when I accidentally found this book. The sonnets are presented with details, containing diagrams, links between words and puns, meanings behind the quatrains and the couplets etc. Vendler also provides the connections between groups of sonnets such as the "young lord" and the "dark lady" sonnets , far more clearly comparing with previous analyses I've read. There is also a CD bound into the back cover of the book the author reading a selection of the sonnets with her emphasis in rhythm and stress providing readers to fully appreciate the beauty of these sonnets.
View 2 comments. Sep 18, Maria rated it really liked it Shelves: nonfiction. I use this book both as my main copy of the sonnets and as a reference, but mainly, I find the brief page essays on each sonnet's structure fascinating and extremely enlightening. The essays also highlight Shakespeare's wordplay. I've never studied poetry in-depth, and this book has given me a greater appreciation for the technical side of the art as well as for the sonnets themselves. Four stars because the book really scratches the surface. Still, I think any fan of Shakespeare should tak I use this book both as my main copy of the sonnets and as a reference, but mainly, I find the brief page essays on each sonnet's structure fascinating and extremely enlightening.
Still, I think any fan of Shakespeare should take a look at it. Sep 13, Pilar rated it really liked it Shelves: women-writers , essay-studies , shakespeare , poetry , 17thcentury. Interesting and many times useful. Dec 31, Steven Andersson added it.
Vendler packs her books with insightful commentary on poetry. This is a valuable companion to Shakespeare's sonnets. Feb 04, Runa rated it it was amazing. Superb practical criticism.
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I also can't believe nobody in the past years noticed that couplet tie trick before her - amazing. Mar 30, Kevin Fitzpatrick rated it it was amazing. Masterfully explicated by an author Helen Vendler in full command of her resources, "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets" takes its reader into the consciousness and world of William Shakespeare as he explores, through the English language, the human experience in all its complexity.
However, the sequence, along with the trenchant commentary that supports it, is not only significant for its content, but also because its techniques, clearly explained by the author, explode all previous exploration Masterfully explicated by an author Helen Vendler in full command of her resources, "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets" takes its reader into the consciousness and world of William Shakespeare as he explores, through the English language, the human experience in all its complexity.
Added to the worth of the poems is the author's commentary, which is lucid, truthful, and concise, making for fruitful interpretations without extraneous theorizing. If one wishes to experience poetry in its best sense, and if one wants often difficult poems to be explained clearly and simply, read this book: you will be well rewarded! Jul 17, Syd Jones rated it it was amazing. This is a must read for anyone interested in furthering their understanding of Shakespeare's sonnets.
The format of the book is very useful. This makes it very easy to make connections between the original language and possible meanings in each sonnet. The author explores themes, characters, and interpretations in thoughtful and extensive essays immediately follow This is a must read for anyone interested in furthering their understanding of Shakespeare's sonnets. The author explores themes, characters, and interpretations in thoughtful and extensive essays immediately following the sonnets.
I have read other books exploring the content of Shakespeare's sonnets, but found this one the most grounded and easy to follow.
I would definitely recommend this book to a friend. Jul 09, Ed rated it really liked it Shelves: shakespeare , poetry.
Just began reading this book and I will probably be reading it a year from now--not straight through but a chapter or two at a time while reading and re-reading the sonnets she covers although Reading it straight through would be like taking an advanced class in how to read a poem. This is close reading as it should be, concentrating on the rhetoric, language, recurring imagery and sheer, boundless technique of the poems.
A delightful book. Dec 12, Kekuni Minton rated it it was amazing.
List of Shakespearean Sonnets
Feel like I'm taking the literature class that i really wanted to take but didn't get a chance to. Vendler really helps look at poetry from different time periods. The modern poetical slant toward sharing an intimate moment in a stream of consciousness is not the renaissance way, with its strict structure, rhythm, and rhyme scheme.
Yet the sonnets feel alive and very intimate in another way philosophical? May 21, Eileen rated it really liked it. I'm still reading this and will be for a while , but I find it insightful and helpful. It is adding to my enjoyment of the Sonnets to be familiar with Shakespeare's tropes, word plays, biographical details, etc.
Aug 30, Jess rated it liked it Recommends it for: students of Shakespeare. This is a more rigorous treatment of the poems; each one is attached with a mini-essay, which touch on style, structure, philosophy, etc. The quality of the essays is a bit uneven, but it's still a worthwhile read.
Apr 10, Ryan rated it really liked it. This was the most challenging book I've ever read. I learned a lot in reading it. The sonnets themselves are difficult and the close readings even more.