Monday, September 9, 2013

Introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. They’re numbered, but it’s not the order in which he wrote them. Shakespeare’s sonnets are very mysterious. They were dedicated to a Mr. W.H. No one knows who this was. Each sonnet contains three quatrains and a final couplet, with some exceptions. They’re mostly written in iambic pentameter, as are some of the most famous lines in his plays.

You may wonder why iambic pentameter is so special. Well, an iamb consists of two syllables, the second being stressed. Pentameter means there are five stressed syllables per line, meaning ten total. Shakespeare chose this for a reason, actually two:

1.     It’s easier for actors to memorize.

2.     More important, this is the same rhythm as a heartbeat, making the words feel more important, more emotional, more dramatic.

For more about this rhythm, watch this video:

The typical rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef gg. All of Shakespeare’s sonnets emphasize (zdôrazňujú) wit (rozum) and humour, as he talks lightly about love, sex, death, time, and politics.

126 of the sonnets are addressed to a young man, often called the ‘fair youth’ (pekný mládež). The first seventeen urge him to marry a woman and have children. Sonnet 20 laments (žiali) it’s too bad the youth wasn’t a woman because he’s so handsome. Some people use these sonnets to claim Shakespeare was homosexual. It seems more likely he was just flattering (lichotil) a rich young patron for money. Apart from the sonnets, there’s no other evidence that he was gay. Still, this question has caused controversy for centuries, and is still unresolved (neurčený).

Sonnets 127 to 152 are addressed to a ‘dark lady’ with dark hair and ‘dusky’ skin (meaning dark), and are openly sexual. So, we don’t know if he liked men, but we do know he liked women. As with the fair youth, no one knows the true identity of the dark lady, nor is it known whether Shakespeare ever had an affair outside his marriage.

Sonnets 78 to 86 discuss another character, a ‘rival poet’, whom the fair youth seems to like. In these poems, Shakespeare begs the young man to support him instead of this rival. No one knows the identity of this rival poet either.

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