Monday, 12 November 2012

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Music, Books, and Favourites


This week, as part of my Renaissance literature module, I'm studying Shakespeare's sonnets. After facing texts such as The Faerie Queene and The Jew of Malta in recent weeks, I'm thoroughly enjoying the leisurely, rewarding study of Shakespeare's poetry. I received a beautiful edition a few Christmases ago, but unfortunately it's at home. Therefore I'm having to make do with the selection in my Norton anthology!

This morning's lecture was enjoyable, even when the lecturer said that she had some music to play at the end, time permitting. Oh please don't, I thought. Throughout school I always hated attempts to make lessons fun or more creative for the "kinaesthetic learners" (we all stupidly got tested and put into learning categories). But typically time was available at the end, and the whole lecture theatre was enabled a listen of the lecturer's favourite song (which she emphasises is her song of choice whilst jogging, no less). Her choice, quite aptly, was Rufus Wainwright's musical adaptation of Sonnet 43:


I wonder what you think of the video, if you've chosen to view it. I think I'd need a few more listens to form a proper opinion, but I do quite like it. I'd prefer reading the poem alone, without a musical accompaniment, but Wainwright hasn't done a bad job. Hearing his song has made me understand the poem's content a little better, and it makes me recall the time I've spent at night staring at the ceiling and thinking things over. Yes, the poem largely deals with dreams, but I prefer to think of the almost-dreaming state before sleep, which I have more control over. Dreams can be nasty affairs.

Today I've also been thinking about Shakespeare's sonnets in relation to literature, namely due to an old Guardian article by poet, writer and music Don Paterson that describes his quest to match a sonnet to twenty-five of the World Book Night 2010 titles. The results are amusing and nourishingly intertextual for any bibliophile. Pride and Prejudice is matched to Sonnet 73, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds", and du Maurier's Rebecca gets Sonnet 131: "Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,/ As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel." I also enjoyed The Road by Cormac McCarthy being paired with Sonnet 64:

"When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage …
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay …"


It's all very clever. If asked, I'd be unsure which Shakespearean sonnet to choose as my favourite. I've always loved the last couplet of Sonnet 18, but it's not a very original choice: "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." I love the word "muse" - I even wrote a post about it once - and I adore how Shakespeare utilises it in his sonnets, but today I'll choose Sonnet 33, greatly due to my love for glorious mornings:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace: 
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

I'm so grateful to be able to study Shakespeare's sonnets; it acts as a perfect reminder to return to them more in my daily life. There really is so much to learn from all of them. 

2 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

Nice piece. I agree the interpretation does help one understand this better.

Though I have read all the sonnets at least once, I think that I need another careful reading of them all before I can have an intelligent opinion as to my favorite.

Lucy said...

I know what you mean. Also, my favourite seems to change depending on my mood and the time of year!