Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sonnets And “The Art Of Passionate Excess”, by Robert Pinsky


A quick history of the sonnet form, by Robert Pinsky.  Extra credit for mentioning Shakespeare, but then never actually using a Shakespeare sonnet as one of his many examples of the evolution of the form.

Shakespeare wrote his sonnets as part of a literary vogue, the great sonnet fad of the 1590s. Inspired by Sir Philip Sidney's sequence "Astrophil and Stella" (itself based on the Italian sonnets of Petrarch and popularized via early, Napster-like piracy), English poets and booksellers of that decade produced hundreds of sonnet sequences. The product in each case was a series of witty, hyperbolic 14-line love poems, addressed to a lady who, in theory, would be flattered and won by the poet's elaborate, inventive descriptions of her tremendous beauty, her cruel resistance, and the agony she inflicted on the author. She tortures him with her beauty and coldness, he says; and yet his praises, and his clever descriptions of the pain she causes him, will make her immortal.

When you put it like that, it makes the whole Fair Youth / Dark Lady autobiographical conspiracy theories sound sort of…dumb?


City,my beautiful city,in ruins said...

hello there! lol umm i was looking for an e-mail and couldn't find one so i figured this was the next best thing. i am a high school student I've recently won a trip to NYC for the national english speaking union's shakespeare competition. Needless to say im stoked and surprised. I've given it my all,but next round is sure to be a challenge.i am to perform a sonnet and a 20 line monologue (tamora from titus andronicus act 1 scene 1 and sonnet 29)the only diffrence is i am also expected to be able to cold read a random monologe that they pick for me and i'll only have but a minute to look over it :( This competition is based more on the understanding of a piece than the actual performance i would like to know what advice you could give on cold reading shakespeare. Thank you,

P.S. please feel free to e mail me horrorcouturekid@yahoo.com

catkins said...

Duane, you have hit on an essential point--if you read The Sonnets in the context of the sonnet convention of the 1590s much of the discussion of autobiographical allusions sounds silly indeed. BTW, interestingly, Petrarch and other early sonneteers claimed that their sonnets would make their authors immortal, not their mistresses. Shakespeare introduced many twists into the sonnet form.