Why “analyzing” the sonnets is not a great idea

I’m in a sonnet mood lately. I’m actually so entranced with David Gilmour’s version of Sonnet 18 that I made it my ringtone :). So when I saw this ‘analysis’ of sonnet 18 I thought I’d check it out. After all, I liked what Some Guy from New York did over on his podcast with it.

Yikes. How….painful. Makes me fully appreciate why a) there are so many books that claim to “paraphrase” Shakespeare into more modern tongue, and b) why there is still room for more. Check it out:

Confused by “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”? Fear not! Here’s what it means: “Rough winds shake the much loved buds of May”.


So, basically, all you really need is a thesaurus. Darling, darling darling…..ah, here it is! Much loved.

Or how about this less than heart-felt translation of “Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade” — “Nor will Death claim you as his own.” Hooray.
You can’t do a line by line translation of Shakespeare and hope to get 1/100th of the meaning out of it. I mean, come on. Look at that line. I love that line. Nor shall Death *brag*. Think about that. People die constantly. There’s a steady influx of people for Death’s little playground. He’s got no shortage. But this person who Shakespeare is talking about, this person is just so amazing that should that day finally come, Death would actually brag about this one. Like, forget all those others that I’ve got, have you seen this one? That’s the kind of stage that Shakespeare sets (pun intended). He, as the poet, is rescuing this beauty from Death himself. It’s a competition. Death wants to claim her (him?) as a prize trophy, and the humble poet is going to prevent that from happening by immortalizing him (her?) in verse. What more powerful thing is there to promise to someone you love than “I will not let you die”?
Go ahead and explain Shakespaere. Summarize him. Try to get at the essence of what he’s saying. But don’t do the reader a disservice and elevate yourself beyond your station by trying to pretend that you can simply swap out a few words and hope to add any real value.
(Geez, am I cranky today? :))

4 thoughts on “Why “analyzing” the sonnets is not a great idea

  1. Hi Duane,

    Today is a day for finding the community of Shakey lovers in blog form. If you go to blog.iloveshakespeare.com and check out the Old Vic page, you can seemy contribution.

    i found you through Some Guy’s blog.

    keep up the good work!

    william S.

  2. What’s frightening is the error of the interpretations!
    No indication that the May in ‘darling buds of May’ is in fact the May Tree;
    No understanding of the bragging of Death being before the person has died – it is the wandering in the ‘shade’ (Which, to me, is so poweful an image).

    Frightening – what do we do when we commit ourselves to the blog!

  3. Hi Alan,

    I’m confused on whether you’re taking issue with my comments on “Death brags”, or the original that I posted about?

    Although now that you’ve said it, it dawns on me that “wander’st in his shade” more likely means the approaching of Death, and not after one has died. Fair enough. I wrote that post off the top of my head :).
    I took “the shade” to mean the darkness of what comes after.

    Sometimes from your comments I can’t tell whether you enjoy reading my blog or not, honestly. If it pains you, why do it?

  4. Goodness, I do enjoy it or I wouldn’t read it! One of the few regular places I drop in to.
    And the issue here was not with your blog but the one you refered to – which I checked out.

    Certainly I make errors when writing – in interpretation too: One reason for keeping the comment box on is to let people take issue with what I write if issue needs to be taken (or they feel that).

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