Category Archives: Sonnet

’Tis I You Seek

spoiler alertThe poem I am sharing today strongly suggests the identity of the person who wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare. That’s right: the pesky “authorship question” has finally been solved!

If you’ve never heard of the authorship question, it’s the controversial theory that William Shakespeare, due to his humble upbringing, was not capable of writing the poems and plays credited to him. Therefore, someone else must have written them—but who?

If you’re wondering whether William Shakespeare was even a real person:

  • William Shakespeare’s baptism was recorded at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on April 26, 1564.
  • According to surviving documents, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in November 1582. William was eighteen; Anne was twenty-six, and pregnant with their first child.
  • William Shakespeare’s legally validated will was signed on March 25, 1616, four weeks before his death.

If you’re curious how long the authorship question has been around, it originated during William Shakespeare’s lifetime.

As a Shakespeare fan since I was thirteen, an English Literature major in college, and a devoted theatergoer, I never had much time for the authorship question. To me, the works were the thing. Did it really matter who wrote them?

But when I realized who wrote the works of Shakespeare, I changed my mind. The realization arose more from common sense than from research. If you’d like the same joy of discovery, I have provided five clues, below!

Clue #1: The person who wrote Shakespeare’s works was very close to William Shakespeare, as this person’s plays were performed by William’s acting company. William Shakespeare belonged to the King’s Men acting company, known earlier as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for most of his career.

Clue #2: This person was able to write fully realized female characters in an era when women were regarded as weak and subservient to men. Think about Shakespeare’s rich and memorable portrayals of Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Rosalind, Portia, Viola, Beatrice, Katherine (Kate), Titania, Cordelia, and Ophelia, among other female characters.

Clue #3: This person hotly encouraged a young man to marry and to have a child. Of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, the first 126 are addressed to a young man known as the “Fair Youth.” The first 17 of these sonnets are referred to as the “procreation sonnets.” In the procreation sonnets, Shakespeare urges the Fair Youth to wed and to become a father, so he might perpetuate his beauty and live forever through his offspring.

Clue #4: This person is someone whom scholars have overlooked for many years. If the “authorship question” holds merit, why hasn’t a definitive candidate for the author of Shakespeare’s works been recognized yet? What type of person would have been dismissed out of hand—or never considered in the first place?

Clue #5: A final nod to the identity of the individual who wrote the works of Shakespeare can be found in the following poem. This is the sonnet Shakespeare never wrote (until now!) about meeting the Dark Lady, the poet’s famous mistress. Of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, the final 28 are devoted to the Dark Lady. Remember, I wrote this poem from the perspective of the person who penned the works of Shakespeare.

standing there

I’ll be back in a future post to let you know if your guess is the same as mine!

CREDIT: The featured image for this post is Woman in Triangles (1909), by the Czech painter František Kupka (1871–1957), photo taken by me at the Centre Pompidou, in Paris.

My Mistress’ Eyes

Don’t be alarmed, but I’ve written a poem. Some people are frightened of poetry. This fear even has a name: metrophobia. I understand. I’m afraid of spiders. And brown spots on avocados. But there’s no right or wrong way to read a poem. What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? That’s what matters. Forget what a teacher might say about it, or even what the poet might have intended.

The poem I am sharing today is a redo of a famous Shakespearean sonnet, the one that starts, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Why reimagine a classic? To redeem Shakespeare’s maligned mistress, known as the “Dark Lady.” What began as a joke between lovers circa 1590 has prompted generations of merciless schoolchildren to mock the Dark Lady’s fictitious flaws, which include bristly hair, foul breath, and a lumbering gait.

In “Apology to the Dark Lady” (below right), I have retained all the original rhymes from Shakespeare’s sonnet (below left), but every insult has been replaced—by a compliment of the very highest order! Let’s give the Bard’s enthralling paramour her due, at long last. And let’s give the actor William Shakespeare a standing ovation as his honorary birthday approaches, on April 23.

my mistress side by side copy

CREDIT: The featured image for this post is The Two Sisters (1843), by the French Romantic painter Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856), photo taken by me. Chassériau painted this portrait of his sisters Adèle and Aline when he was twenty-three. When I saw The Two Sisters at the Louvre last year, I was utterly transfixed.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Winter’s Day?

It was too cold to take out my phone, so I lifted this photo from the Internet.

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.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, illustrated

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:

  1. Its formal structure. I do well with limits.
  2. Its meter. Sticking to the required iambic pentameter guarantees a nice rhythm.
  3. 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.
  4. Its length. As poems go, sonnets are relatively short. When you get to line 14, you’re done!
  5. 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.