The sun sank as I walked along the south bank of the River Thames. All I could think of was the cold. The biting wind felt bone-chilling to this California girl. Then the hulking, timber-framed structure came into view: a polygonal building, approaching circular, with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof. My eyes misted over. As I toured Shakespeare’s Globe, reconstructed close to the site of the original, I enjoyed no respite from the frigid conditions—it’s an open-air arena, after all.
The day before (chilly, rainy), I had seen Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Ralph Fiennes (stirring, mellifluous) played one of the titular roles. (I’ll let you guess which one.) The production spanned three-and-a-half hours, with one “interval,” and featured a live snake. Between this performance and my trip to the Globe, I reasoned I’d had enough Shakespeare for one week. I’m not sure I was right.
The (heated, indoor) exhibition at the Globe included artwork illustrating some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Even before I knew I would be visiting London, I had decided to write a Shakespearean sonnet. That’s in the realm of things people decide to do, right? In a conversation with my husband, I discovered that maybe people, in general, are not as excited by archaic poetic forms as I am. The conversation ended with one of us calling the other a nerd.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are in the public domain, so I considered including one in this post. But my own effort appears below, so that would be like hanging the Mona Lisa next to a stick figure. (You can determine which is meant to be which.) Did you know the Shakespearean sonnet was developed by the Earl of Surrey in the 1500s, prior to the Bard’s birth? Shakespeare made the form famous, however, in his great sonnet sequence, printed in 1609.
I liked at least five things about writing a Shakespearean sonnet:
- Its formal structure. I do well with limits.
- Its meter. Sticking to the required iambic pentameter guarantees a nice rhythm.
- Its rhyme scheme. ABAB CDCD EFEF GG is more forgiving than the Petrarchan pattern, which requires that two sets of four lines rhyme with each other.
- Its length. As poems go, sonnets are relatively short. When you get to line 14, you’re done!
- Its closing couplet. This pair of rhyming lines at the end provides an opportunity for great pith.
In an example of much ado about nothing, here is my attempt at a Shakespearean sonnet:
Perception and Vision
My mind was sick, and so my body. Blight
Surrounded me and bound me in a dim
And frightful prison. Blisses flickered bright
But did not stay to mitigate the grim.
Reality had I reversed and flipped,
Projecting war and vain imaginings—
A camera obscura in a crypt.
There is another way to look at things!
Beyond the body, seated in the mind,
Is endless light. It sheds the truth on all,
Unveiling sinlessness ever enshrined—
Shining away my fathomless cell wall.
With no more steps to take, a tick I wait,
Among the lilies thick outside your gate.
By the way, the Globe’s gift shop is the mother lode for anyone looking for a present for me.