The Sonnets

by William Shakespeare

Other authorsRex Gibson (Editor)
Paperback, 1997






Cambridge, U.K. ; New York, NY, USA : Cambridge University Press, 1997.


Updated edition of Shakespeare?'s Sonnets, with a brand new introduction by Stephen Orgel.

Media reviews

I väntan på att experterna en dag avslöjar sanningen om ”the Dark Lady” och ”the Fair Youth” får vi vanliga läsare fortsätta att njuta av sonetternas tidlösa musik. Det blir lättare nu med Eva Ströms hjälp.
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Det fenomenala med Shakespeare är hans förmåga att formulera sådana slitna tankar nytt och fräscht. Och Eva Ström hittar genomgående svenska motsvarigheter till hans kombinationer av komplicerad metaforik och raka utsagor.
Any way I can look at it, his achievement seems to me extraordinarily impressive.
New York Review of Books
On going through the hundred and fifty-four of them, I find forty-nine which seem to me excellent throughout, a good number of the rest have one or two memorable lines, but there are also several which I can only read out of a sense of duty. For the inferior ones we have no right to condemn Shakespeare unless we are prepared to believe, a belief for which there is no evidence, that he prepared or intended them all to be published... The sonnets addressed to the Dark Lady are concerned with that most humiliating of all erotic experiences, sexual infatuation —Venus toute entiere a sa proie attachee. Simple lust is impersonal, that is to say the pursuer regards himself as a person but the object of his pursuit as a thing, to whose personal qualities, if she has any, he is indifferent, and, if he succeeds, he expects to be able to make a safe getaway as soon as he becomes bored. Sometimes, however, he gets trapped. Instead of becoming bored, he becomes sexually obsessed, and the girl, instead of conveniently remaining an object, becomes a real person to him, but a person whom he not only does not love, but actively dislikes. No other poet, not even Catullus, has described the anguish, self-contempt, and rage produced by this unfortunate condition so well as Shakespeare in some of these sonnets, 141, for example, “In faith I do not love thee with my eyes,” or 151, “Love is too young to know what conscience is.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Shakespeare's Sonnets, those 154 beautifully-worded, nimbly-constructed poems, are not works with which one is ever "done." This collection of gems is something to revisit from time to time, and cliched though it may be, it yields some new understanding at every reading.

I cannot say that I "know" these poems, though I have read each of them a number of times. Perhaps the two with which I am most familiar are #116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments,... which features prominently in the film, Sense and Sensibility. Alas - the power of media... The other, and my all-time favorite, is #29: When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes / I all alone beweep my outcast state... This latter has always appealed to the more depressive side of my character (those who love Christmas carols will be unsurprised to learn that my favorite verse of We Three Kings is the one with all the sorrow, sighing, bleeding and dying).

It is not a coincidence that these two, Sonnets 116 and 29, are also the only two which I have committed to memory. Perhaps it is owing to the fact that I can call them to mind at any given moment, that I have spent my time playing with the pleasant rhythm of their lines, that I feel I understand them best? Memorization is not a pedagogical tool much in favor these days, but although I am no proponent of learning anything by rote, I sometimes wonder if memorizing might not be a wonderful way of improving mental discipline, and even, furthering eventual understanding...

As for editions, of which there are no shortage, I'm afraid I do not own one of those sensible, scholarly versions, with helpful notes. No, I have a gift edition, put out by the British publisher, Tiger Books. It is arranged with one sonnet per page, and decorated with original color illustrations (mostly in the way of floral motifs) by Ian Penney, as well as thirty Elizabethan and Jacobean miniatures. Very pretty, and not terribly useful. But being the resourceful scholar I am, I have provided myself with a copy of Helen Vendler's The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets, whose 672 pages and CD should make all clear that was previously muddled.

In short: I am by no means done with these poems, and when the time becomes available (I amuse myself sometimes with thoughts such as these), I intend to study them in greater detail. If you, gentle reader, have not yet had the pleasure of perusing these exquisite pieces... what can I say? Get thee to a library or bookstore with all haste.
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LibraryThing member crazyjerseygirl
Ever need to tell someone you love them and don' know how? Screw Hallmark! This is the only collection you will need. Not only are the all wonderfully romantic, but your sweety can spend a whole afternoon picking the poem apart. Fair be thee warned: this is not for the faint of heart, Shakespeare never is.
LibraryThing member gibbon
A parallel text with on the same opening a page printed in Shakespeare's time with opposite a page in modern type, spelling and punctuation. Mr Booth's "analytic commentary" occupies about 3/4 of the book
LibraryThing member LCoale1
As someone who really grapples with understanding Shakespeare, I found his sonnets easier to comprehend than the works I'd previously read without the guidance of a goddess English teacher (so, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and The Tempest). I was also reminded of the Twilight saga with every sonnet that I could comprehend (probably 78% of them; bed-time reading was a bad idea). I'm not sure if that's good or bad.… (more)
LibraryThing member mwtemple
I'm pretty sure this was from the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble, but it's a good, inexpensive collection of the sonnets nonetheless.
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
My biggest piece of advice to first-time readers (like I just was): take your time. Maybe not as much time as I took, if you don't want--I read two or three sonnets at a sitting, so it took me months to finish the entire collection. I was able to discover my own favorite sonnet, which isn't one of the standard favorites (#44).
I do like the Folgers series of Shakespeare (I like the notes on the facing page), but I also consulted other references (mostly online) as I read.
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LibraryThing member vicarofdibley
the best classic i love shakespear
LibraryThing member mjharris
De Vere at his absolute best, ripping off sugar'd specimens to amaze and delight his elizabethan court.
"Would he had blotted 'a thousand..." but these are keepers!
LibraryThing member porian
Shakespeare is smooth! I'm going to have to use some of those lines on my next victim, ahem, girlfriend. What girl won't fall for lines like, "And in some perfumes is there more delight/ than in the breath that from my mistress reeks." Come on. You can't beat that.
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
I studied a few of Shakespeare's sonnets in high school, but hadn't read any of the others until now. I think the teachers/textbook editors picked the cream of the crop for high school students – XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?), LXXIII (That time of year thou mayst in me behold...), CXVI (Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments). While a few others stood out for me, many of them struck me as just so-so, with over-repetitive themes.

The sonnets don't seem to have been collated in a random order. There is a logical progression from one sonnet to the next. Some sonnets echo the previous sonnet, while others are a continuation of thought. As a whole, I prefer the Dark Lady sonnets to the rest of the collection. I was losing interest in the “you're so perfect” theme, so the Dark Lady sonnets were a welcome change. I'm glad I read the collection once. I'm not sure it's something I'll do again, or at least not until I've read all of the plays.
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LibraryThing member comfypants
A chore to read. Shakespeare's skills with language are wasted on expressing inane ideas.
LibraryThing member Whicker
Classic poetry at its best. What more can be said.
LibraryThing member vrondeau
Book is handy in many ways. Editor (Booth) is a complete asshole.
LibraryThing member JorgeCarvajal
Music to mine ears.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Beautiful, intelligent, lyrical, romantic, clever, bitter, amusing, sorrowful -- the gamut in 14 lines at a time. Pure genius.
LibraryThing member Mothwing
There are poems which are life rafts and serve much the same purpose, and this collection is full of them. They're a big part of who I am and where I am today.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Love transcends all boundaries and the language with which that love is populated by Shakespeare is transcendant.
LibraryThing member pathogenik
Well, some of the verses that I managed to grasp were genius.
p.s.: I did not read the commentaries, because enough is enough haha
LibraryThing member KrystleLow
What can I say? If you love Shakespeare, you're definitely gonna love this one.

All his Sonnets in one book, along with detailed explanation notes to help with the meanings of each sonnet. Loved it!
LibraryThing member fearless2012
Certainly I do not admire this guy for the conceit of his audience, although I was curious to see if the affectation of the style would match the conceit it provoked, or whether it was rather different and undeserving of it, that is, unworthy of the negative association.

Certainly the poetry is I think the better part of it, preferable to the plays, which are bloody and gloomy. (I got a 'complete works' of William S., but mostly for the poetry.) Many of them are about the most infamous wars, and even the ones that go by the reputation of being romantic are generally gory and distasteful.... (indeed, the comedy is rather somber).... I think that the reputation rather supports itself beyond a certain point; people read it to dip into the conceit, I think, of the people who read it. Part of the conceit is for things historical, and William S.'s chronological position, so early in the post-medieval period, benefits him, I think, it's the oldest (and, therefore, the best?) stuff that is generally intelligible in the original. Even more than that, though, the reputation of it being a sort of quasi-sacred Canon of super-highly valued works.... the reputation supports the reputation. It's what people are used to thinking. [And this conceit really does not require much knowledge; it's a common thing, albeit one that may be unimproved by much learning.]

But if there's something in it besides egotistical war, it must be in the poetry. Surely alot of it is just over-rated because it's part of the Canon. And yet the sonnets have at least the stated intention of facilitating fertility, and not just the more egoic desires of old greybeards who know about the kings of Britain.

But there's the question of how well these poems actually serve love, in real life. We know that people say this or that about it all, but what real utility does this sort of thing have for real love in a man's life?

For example, consider the following exchange, which I always thought was an indirect reference to this (i.e., William S.):

" '.... and envied me Jane's beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane-- one does not often see anybody better-looking. It is what everybody says. I do not trust my own partiality. When she was only fifteen, there was a gentleman at my brother Gardiner's in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure that he would make her an offer before we came away. But, however, he did not. Perhaps he thought her too young. However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were.'
'And so ended his affection,' said Elizabeth impatiently. 'There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!'
'I have been used to consider poetry as the *food* of love,' said Darcy.
'Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.'"
~Pride and Prejudice, chapter 9.

..... I hope that my criticism will not be mistaken for (gasp) communistic radicalism, (although no one would mistake William S. for the voice of the people). Although I suppose in general I prefer the poetry/music of the 20th century to that of the pre-18th century (pre-Classical, on the timeline of classical music). The Beach Boys, for example, wrote alot of good love poetry/music, e.g., "Forever" from 1970. Fancy 'baroque' or classical poetry/music, like Mozart or Coleridge, can be nice too, but the very early period like William S. I don't like so well. [*over*-fancy]. For one thing, there's the spelling, and the language, and so on. Certainly with William S. there's a feeling of historicism, quite often, with a crusty accumulation of time-- Roman times and medieval times, piled on top of each other. (Coleridge is rather newer-- the Age of Discovery.) In alot of the William S. stuff, you get that-- the post-medieval (pre-modern) take on Roman times.....

And what is the effect of the poetry itself? Does it have the power to create a desire to fulfill the literal advice? Or does it make it merely an affectation, to be spoken but not believed? What is its character-- is it a true lover, or a false friend?

[Can any lovely feeling survive the transition to sonnet-making, and still be felt?]

All that I can say is that I read it all without knowing any of those feelings so disdained by those who call themselves wiser.

I actually felt them quite repetitive, and more in love with language than any use of it. It's gaudy verse, and often more impressed with the necessity of love than any ability to impress it....

[Even when he speaks of love, he does not confine himself to his subject, but introduces words and images that smack of other things; he speaks of highfalutin things, elevated, various, and uncertain, and then says, "love", and "love" again.]

I've actually read simple folk poetry, ballads, which I like better than this. Some of them are good, some are bad, all are accessible enough, and none of them have the lying intricacies of William S. [And maybe he was wrong to use a form so foreign to the language; it doesn't sound natural.]

..... The speech is too guarded to be the "food of love". (Instead of enabling vivid images and all that, the formula only cuts him off from clear communication.) [And it's certainly not all about love; he goes off and on and on about Time and Death, as if to say, 'Ha haha, I know about what truely matters.' But this is a conceit. Only the form remains constant, the actual object of the writing doesn't stay true.]

If he is a wit, he has used it only for affected speech.

..... And although I can generally find my way to the meaning, it feels more the formula than anything. All rhyme has a form, but his is rather rigid.

If you read it long enough, you start to wonder what it's like not to be so weirdly abstract.... (and then remember the straightforward tales of bloody tyrants) [And speaking of tyrants-- he calls time one, and who would tell their lover, as he does, 'Soon you'll be old, but you'll always have this note', that says, what, 'Soon you'll be old....'?.... Try living in the moment, William, if this is what happens when you don't.]

I wonder at the sincerity of it all; he somewhat condescends to feel.

........ At any rate, the strawberries and cream of Wimbledon could well go on without William S., and I'm not really of the spirit to support that self-serving scholarship that delves into all that.

Although I'll admit its not the worst thing I've ever read; it's not monstrously cynical, in its original form; it's merely ill-suited to its stated purpose.

[.... In fact, I'd go so far to say that Mr. S. is *not* the most over-rated writer of all the world, since there are others.... but, let's not talk of that.]

[Sometimes a rhyme pleases, but even at its best, there is an emotional distance I feel which blocks him off.... there's a lordly silence, as though he once drew close, then suddenly turned away.]

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LibraryThing member neverstopreading
Shakespeare's poems deserve to be read and studies, but they also deserve to be heard. Simon Callow has a wonderful voice, but I wish the number of the sonnets was announced as he read them.
LibraryThing member therebelprince
A stunning edition. Incredibly dense but rarely arrogant! Love it.
LibraryThing member charlie68
The sonnets are great but the readings... I've heard better. Where the reader puts more feeling into it.



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