Shakespeare Sonnet Shake-Up

When I first got an email asking me to look at Shakespeare Sonnet Shakeup I made the mistake of thinking that it wasn’t spam.  After all, I run a Shakespeare blog, so I regularly get people emailing me Shakespeare stuff to look at.  I looked at it briefly, made some suggestions back to the author, and then put it in my list of stuff to post as I got time.  I wasn’t terribly impressed, so I wasn’t in a great hurry. Then I spent the next week watching references to it show up everywhere.  Programming forums.  Download of the Week.  I even saw a flat out “press release”.  The thing’s being heralded like the discovery of Cardenio.  Given that I never received any sort of answer back from my email, I’m going on the assumption that the person who wrote it just basically blasted out the announcement to anybody and everybody who might listen.  And given what it is, I’m surprised at the number of people that did. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a little web form where you pick random lines from the sonnets to build your own.  It forces you into a rhyming scheme by only offering you rhyming lines at any given time.  “Create your own sonnet!” it says.  This is roughly equivalent to writing a short story by picking random words out of the dictionary.  What you are almost certainly guaranteed to get is absolute gibberish.  I suppose if you already knew the sonnets like the back of your hand and knew exactly how to piece together some key lines, you might be able to produce something that made sense.  But if you already knew how to do that you wouldn’t need the tool.  People seemed to pick up the story on the idea that it could teach students about poetry.  How, exactly?  The only place I could find any actual useful info was under the “English sonnet” link, and all that did was to copy a page directly out of Wikipedia.  Leading people to believe that you can create an Elizabethan sonnet simply by having three quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet is the same as telling them that haiku is just about counting syllables.  It’s also pretty buggy.  Here’s my sonnet: And all things turns to fair, that eyes can see
By those swift messengers returned from thee
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
In tender embassy of love to thee
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
In tender embassy of love to thee
Thine by thy beauty being false to me
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me
And all things turns to fair, that eyes can see
Perforce am thine and all that is in me
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me   Not sure the ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG rhyme scheme allows for me to use the exact same rhyme in every single line.  Or, at least, that’s what my ninth grade English teacher Ms. Cunningham told us, otherwise it’d be AAAAAAAAAAAA.  And how hard would it have been to write something in that doesn’t let you use a line a second time – much less, use it right after you just used it?  Shakespeare is not Robert Frost, I don’t recall any “Miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep” in the sonnets.  We won’t even cover the fact that it’s complete gibberish with no context at all about when an idea starts or ends, since I assume that everybody knows that going in.  Maybe the button should say “Create your own gibberish”. I give this one a pass, unless your idea of a “fun toy” is pretty much anything that involves clicking the mouse.  It certainly has no real Shakespearean value.  UPDATE:  Jim Yagmin, the author of the application, has gotten back in touch with me.  He says that he only sent out the link to a few blogs such as mine that he thought would be interested, and that others just picked it up and ran with it.  Also that he thought of it as a “fun poetry widget” that I was taking too seriously.    Fair enough.  I’ll admit to posting grumpy, primarily because everybody seemed to be jumping up and down over a story that I had chosen to put in the queue.  I think it was the treatment of it as more than just a “fun poetry widget” that got me going, though, because I really could see some potential in it — just not right now.  As I mentioned I had already written back to the author with suggestions about giving the lines some concept of context so, for example, you couldn’t start a quatrain with the end of a sentence.  And if the whole page was dedicated to explaining what a sonnet is (and not just the rhyme scheme!) then it really could be very educational.  Who knows, maybe Jim will continue to work on it and I really will be recommending it as a serious educational tool in the future :).  

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