Summarizing Sonnets The *Right* Way

Found via Samizdat blog, this e-book entitled Threading Shakespeare’s Sonnets makes me wishI could run around to all of those other sites on the web that claim to do a paraphrase / summary of each sonnet and say, “No, you fool, this is how you do it.”  Instead of trying to paraphrase word for word, Professor Bennett instead starts a conversation about what Shakespeare is trying to accomplish in the whole – the “threads of thought”, so to speak.  Most of the commentary is in the form of questions, backed up by references to the text.  What you end up with is a commentary that assumes you already know what you’re talking about, while at the same time reminding you.  Doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid, in other words. Example (from Sonnet 17, a favorite of mine): Here he looks to the future and the possible survival of the youth despite all-powerful time. Initially he questions what “the world” will think. Will it believe the speaker’s account of the youth’s worthiness (“high deserts,” l. 2)? If there are doubts, heaven (which by rights is more just than time or the world) knows that the speaker’s verses are like a tomb or monument that conceals the youth’s real life by not showing half his good qualities. (Note the change from the treatment of the grave and tomb in Sonnets 1 and 4).
After this pat on his own back, the speaker reveals more concern with appearances. He praises the physical beauty of the youth, especially his face and eyes (which will later prove to be deceptive)….
Also nice is the regular reference back to common themes (threads) in the other sonnets. The work is presented as PDF / ebook, rather than HTML, but I’m not sure why he could not have chosen to dynamically link such references.
Still, an excellent resource and I’m glad I found it.  Go browsing for your favorite sonnet and see what it has to say.  (Rats, I’m a little disappointed in the short treatment that 130 gets!)

2 thoughts on “Summarizing Sonnets The *Right* Way

  1. I’m going to have to check this one out. Thanks. I’m also a big fan of Helen Vendler’s The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

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