Category Archives: Sonnetpalooza

Sonnet 71

As per most bloggers, my mom is my biggest fan. She’s been the one championing for me to discuss Sonnet 71, so here we go!

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then 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.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are usually split into four sections: 4 lines, 4 lines, 4 lines, and the final rhyming couplet (2 lines), so I’d like to go through it that way.

Section the First

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then 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:

The first thing that intrigues me is the line ‘From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell’. It was common for Renaissance thinkers to consider the temporal world as vile, suggesting that the afterlife, in contrast, would be…well, heavenly! Shakespeare, though, is different. To him, once the ‘surly sullen bell’ rings, his soul is not worth thinking of anymore, because all that’s left of him is a corpse. This idea brings death back down to earth in a way that’s almost blasphemous because it’s neglecting the idea of the soul going to heaven in favour of considering where the body lies.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, 1948

Lying with worms is one of Shakespeare’s favourite images, one that he applies in Hamlet. The image adds treason to blasphemy by implying that no matter how rich, famous, or powerful some are, all humans die and decompose, effectively eliminating any social divides.

Section the Second

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.

I know sonnets are written on the topic of love, so this might sound redundant, but what I find to be the most beautiful part of this poem is the love. The sonnet’s implicit humour aside (see next section), Shakespeare’s sacrifice of his own vanity for the sake of his lover’s grieving heart is so sweet that only Shakespeare can put it into words. It would have been positively groundbreaking for one man to say that to his male lover, but Shakespeare’s plainly-spoken words that communicate a profoundly-imagined sentiment render this poem universally accessible.

Sections the Third and Fourth

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.

On the surface, this poem is about a lover forbidding his partner to mourn his death. On a deeper level, Shakespeare is dictating his own post-mortem public relations as a celebrity writer. Explicitly, Shakespeare says that his name is ‘poor’ (not worth remembering) and that the whole world will ‘mock’ him (and his ‘poor’ works) after his death.

Now, take a moment and re-read the poem. It’s beautiful! It’s heart-felt! The alliteration (the repetition of a sound within poetry or prose) he uses (Mourn for Me; Surly Sullen bell; Warning to the World; from this VILE WOrld, with VILEst WOrms to dwell) make the poem flow like a dream, whether you read it or say it aloud. Delicious word choices aside, the beautiful alliterated sounds remind us that no matter how ‘poor’ Shakespeare claims his name is, he’s proving his skill as a star poet.

So do I think that Shakespeare truly believed that his memory would be mocked after his death? I doubt it. I know that he knew that his name is ‘poor’ because his family wasn’t particularly well-off, but I think that he’s being modest so his followers could dispute his self-deprecation and declare how awesome he really was. This passive-aggressive strategy is more formally known as the ‘humilitas’ trope. It was a strategy used by several Renaissance writers, a short-handed way of gloating while remaining classy, and a way of discounting themselves from blame for poor writing, should their wealthy patrons not enjoy their work.

The long and short of it is that Shakespeare wanted to wind up on top. He could either be applauded for predicting that his works were rife for mockery or his crafty rejection of remembrance could have been his geniusly passive-aggressive way of ensuring that his words immortalized his memory for generations to come.

As always:

–         Questions?

–         Comments?

–         Arguments?

–         Suggestions?

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Let Sonnetpalooza begin!!!

Are you ready, Reader, for Sonnetpalooza?

Let’s begin!

Shakespeare, as we’ve been discussing, lived in a period of tight social boundaries… and he managed to mow right over them! For example, Shakespeare had the audacity to write about both kings and beggars, and these plays were performed not only for the masses (students, prostitutes, merchants), but for the royal court, as well. Just as he refused to be limited to a certain audience or subject matter, the Bard also plunged his quill into other media, such as poetry!

Lucky for us readers, Shakespeare’s transitions aren’t too difficult because he was a master at overlapping media. His plays, for example, are full of poetry! Let’s have a look at fairy king Oberon’s speech from Midsummer Night’s Dream:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.

It’s beautiful! He uses words to plant beautiful images into your head, a verbal illustration!

Just as Shakespeare’s plays are poetic, his poetry is dramatic! If you get a chance to read Shakespeare’s epic poem The Rape of Lucrece, you will see such active language that takes you on a journey through the drama-filled plot…But, as always, I’m getting ahead of myself. Epics are not the stuff of the blogosphere – I think it would be much more fun to look at the pint-sized delights known as sonnets!

But what is a sonnet?Petrarch, the original 'Lover Boy'

A sonnet is a 14 line rhyming poem, written in iambic pentameter (don’t worry; we’ll get back to that!). Sonnets were made famous by Petrarch, a 14th century Italian poet whose sonnets always explored themes of love. Many English poets followed this trend, especially focusing their energy on crafting verbal portraits of their lovers’ beauty, and lamenting their unrequited (unreturned) love.

What is iambic pentameter?

Okay, I’ll admit that the first time I heard that term, it was while watching 10 Things I Hate About You. Even more embarrassingly, I’ll admit that it took me a couple more years to learn that it’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew! We learn new things every day! Today you are going to learn about iambic pentameter, and by the end, you will be confident that it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.

First, let’s break down the words. The word ‘iamb’ means a ‘foot’ of two syllables, one unstressed and one stressed. So let’s think of a 2-syllable word. Hello! Say it out loud with me: Hello! Notice that you speak the second syllable a bit louder than the first one:  helLO! Of course, you can argue that, were you to walk into someone’s room as he or she was changing, you might say HELLo, stressing the first syllable to get additional attention, but that’s not our everyday intonation. helLO! There we have our iamb.

‘Pentameter’ explains how many ‘feet’ (number of syllables) we’re going to have in our rhyming verse – the meter. Penta- gives us the number five (think pentagon), so we have five of these iambic (1-unstressed, 1-stressed) feet.

I know this might seem a bit complicated to read, but it’ll be a lot easier if you recite some iambic pentameter aloud. When doing this exercise, try to become aware of how you stress your syllables:

If music be the food of love, play on! (Twelfth Night)

But sir, we do not speak like that today!

Bardolator twenty three is the best!

…That last one was just for fun, but it shows that even sentences we use in our everyday lives (wink wink!) could be iambic pentameter without us knowing it! That’s why it was so useful in Shakespeare’s time: it was poetic because it was rhyming, rhythmic verse, but it still resembles the way we speak so it’s not confusing to perform.

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