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Shakespeare’s Sonnetry

In addition to writing the most famous plays in history, and inventing the knock-knock joke, Will Shakespeare was also quite an accomplished poet. He wrote more than 150 sonnets (probably–as with all things Shakespeare, some of the authorship has been questioned). For those who didn’t take Introduction to Poetry in college, a sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines and an ABAB rhyme scheme, except for the last two lines, which are a rhymed couplet. Shakespeare’s are mostly about love, but they’re still enjoyable to read because, you know, Shakespeare.

Sonnet 130 is probably my favourite. It makes fun of the overblown, romanticized style of some sonneteers in Will’s time. In today’s language, it might read, “So my girlfriend isn’t quite supermodel material. So what? I love her anyway.” But in Will’s words:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, 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 grant 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.

Lovely, isn’t it? But you know what’s even better than reading a Shakespeare sonnet? Hearing a Shakespeare sonnet read aloud by David Tennant, in his native Scottish accent. Here’s a link. You’re welcome.



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