Friday, March 08, 2013

Reader's Diary #959- William Shakespeare: The Sonnets and Other Poems

Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?

Why, yes it is. Back in January I finished all of Shakespeare's plays, which only left the poetry to go. I have to admit, besides the sonnets, I had no idea how much poetry Shakespeare had written. There's also "A Lover's Complaint," "The Passionate Pilgrim," "The Phoenix and the Turtle," "The Rape of Lucrece," and "Venus and Adonis."

Actually, even the sonnets I had pegged wrong. I'd come across some of them before, in anthologies mostly, but I think his most popular sonnet, "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer Day?" is not representative of the collection as a whole. For all the emphasis people seem to make on the romance of the sonnets, I was more drawn to all the midlife crisis stuff. For every two poems about love there seemed to be another about the withering of the body and his ever-nearing and inevitable death. Besides enjoying the gloom of Shakespeare, I found these poems to be more personable than most of his plays. With his plays, I sometimes felt that Shakespeare was pandering or relying too heavily on certain formulas (like the character in drag). The sonnets, however, felt more honest. More like reading a diary of a sometimes insecure man.

As for the other, longer poems. The only one that stuck out for me was the "The Rape of Lucrece." It reminded me somewhat of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in that Shakespeare gets inside the rapist's head for a large part of the retelling. And to be sure, it's a nasty place. As Tarquin (Lucrece's rapist) gets up the nerve to do his evil deed, he manages to justify his actions, essentially reducing Lucrece to a mere piece of property. His derived logic tells him helps him over the guilt of stealing. Guilt over degrading the life of someone else? Seems to be a non-issue. Unlike Nabokov, who cruelly (but effectively) doesn't give Lolita a voice, Shakespeare does give Lucrece a voice. To be sure, the rape is not treated as flippantly by the victim. She is destroyed in the process.

On that sombre note, I'm now completely done with Shakespeare. Will I ever read them again? I'm not sure. Certainly not right away as I feel like I need a break. However, I'll probably revisit some of his sonnets again as I feel that I rushed them somewhat. I may look for some graphic novel interpretations. Four of his plays I read before starting the Book Mine Set and therefore not discussed on this blog. Perhaps I'll reread those again someday, but I'm going to enjoy a break in the meantime. 

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