Wherefore 18?

Today I was watching a poetry reading and thinking, “If I ever got in front of a microphone to recite a sonnet, which one would I pick?”

17 is my goto answer because I read it to my wife at our wedding.  Which makes a nice romantic story but it’s not necessarily great for a big crowd.

130 is probably best for a laugh. But I don’t think I could play it for a laugh. I’d end up delivering a lesson on the bigger point.

The thing is, if you had to pick a sonnet that you assume everybody would recognize you’d pick … 18. Right? “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is right up there with “Wherefore art thou Romeo” and “To be or not to be” in the Recognizable Shakespeare Canon.

What I got to wondering is … why? What’s so special about this one, anybody know? I googled around a bit and everybody says the same thing – “It’s beautiful. It’s an example of the form.” and a whole bunch of other stuff that could just as easily refer to #1 or #29 or pick your favorite.

Since the first 17 are generally regarded as the “procreation sonnets”, I wonder if there was a period in teaching this material that the powers that be said, “You know, we really don’t want to talk about that. So let’s skip those.”  Thus making 18 the first one. It’s not that hard to imagine. Once upon a time I learned that Julius Caesar is commonly taught in school not because it coincides with an ancient history curriculum, but because it’s got no sex in it.

Anybody know the actual answer?  I’m often downright hipster when it comes to 18 (“Oh, you know sonnet 18?  That’s so over. Sonnet 153 is where it’s really at.  You probably haven’t heard of it…”) so if there’s a story to go along with why people generally tend to know it, I’d love to spread the word.

 

The Return of Some Guy From New York

You know, it’s easy to forget how long I’ve been doing this.  Going all the way back to 2006 I linked to a podcast called Some Guy From New York. The gimmick was that he’d been sentenced to community service teaching Shakespeare, and he was working his way through the sonnets, analyzing each one.

That was a long time ago, and his is not the first Shakespeare podcast to come and go. But a funny thing happened this time.  Several different people over the years found their way to that post and asked if there was any way to get in touch with the creator.

I do love a challenge.  I was able to contact Jason Pomerantz, the original Some Guy From New York, and asked if he’d like me to re-host the original podcast files for him.

So, I am very happy to present the new home for the original 48 episodes of the Some Guy From New York podcast! Here’s to a whole new audience rediscovering Jason’s excellent work.  Who knows, maybe he’ll be motivated to come out of retirement?

(Still gotta do something about that Yankees hat, though….)

 

Free Sonnet Book Giveaway!

Good news, everybody! A few weeks ago I reviewed Shakespeare’s Sonnets,  Retold by James Anthony.  This is a neat side-by-side modern translation of all the sonnets, which seemed like it would make a nice casual reference book.  Check it out, they even made a trailer:

The good folks at Crown Publishing have provided a copy for me to give away as well!  I want to do this quick, so there’s at least a possibility that the winner will receive their book before Christmas (but I can’t promise anything).  So here’s the game:

  1. I grabbed a coworker and asked for a random number between 1 and 154.
  2. I’ve taken the final couplet from the sonnet she chose (she didn’t know she was picking a sonnet), and provided the modern translation below.
  3. Tell me which sonnet this is.
  4. Entries accepted via comments on this blog post, or on Facebook.  PLEASE NOTE THAT I WILL NEED TO CONTACT YOU TO GET YOUR ADDRESS IF YOU WIN.
  5. Winner will be chosen randomly from the correct entries.  Do not post spoilers (i.e. copying the text of the actual sonnet if you think you got it right), that will invalidate your entry and I’ll almost certainly remove those comments.
  6. Contest runs until end of day on Friday, November 30.  Like I said, short one. I want to try and turn it around quickly.

Everybody ready?  Here you go!

So learn to read the signs that love can make:
Your eyes will spot my love that’s yours to take.

Just tell me what sonnet that’s from, and make sure that I’ll be able to contact you if you win, and do it all before Saturday.  Good luck!

(P.S. – I reserve the right to correct any mistakes or clarify any ambiguities in the above, blah blah blah formal stuff….)

Review : Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Retold

Translating Shakespeare’s plays into modern text is big business.  Personally I’m not a fan, it reads like one of those documents where somebody went through and hit “thesaurus” on every other word.  You get the gist of the moving the plot forward, but you lose the poetry.

So what about the sonnets? The rules are much more strict.  Keep the number of lines, keep the rhyme pattern, keep the number of syllables, keep it iambic. And keep the same meaning.  Could you do it? Could you do it 154 times?

James Anthony can, and I admit I’m pleasantly surprised and impressed. In Shakespeare’s Sonnets Retold he’s admirably taken up the challenge, and the finished product has the potential to be quite useful, and entertaining along the way.

Modern readers don’t just need help figuring out what Hamlet, Romeo, and Juliet are saying.  The sonnets aren’t exactly the most readable, either.  From fairest creatures we desire increase? What?

How about, “We strive to procreate with gorgeous folk?”

Sure, maybe some readers still have to run to the glossary for “procreate,” but the author’s got to keep it family friendly (and keep it three syllables). But the chances of the modern reader “getting it” just went up a hundredfold. Especially when you get a feel for the rest of sonnet number one:

We strive to procreate with gorgeous folk
So that our beauty won’t capitulate.
We reach a ripe old age; but then we croak.
Our memories live through offspring we create.
But you’re in love with you and you alone,
So self consumed your face is all you see
Depriving us of children of your own
And hence you are your own worst enemy.
Now you are young and walking in your prime
Well set to raise a daughter or a son
But you’re content to piss away your time
And — silly fool! — your days will soon be done.
Take pity on your world or go awry
Have children now for one day you will die.

Many times I (and I’m sure many others) have summarized the procreation sonnets (ha! I didn’t even get the connection in the first line!) as, “Hey dummy, blah blah blah you’re young and your beautiful, but you’re not going to live forever, so how about you get cracking and have some beautiful kids?” I get that message loud and clear in Anthony’s translation. The words jump out at you – children, daughter, son, offspring…ripe old age, croak, piss away your time, days are done, one day you’ll die.

I think that’s where this book has value.  Do you feel intimidated by the sonnets? I do. I have several copies of the sonnets lying around the house, it’s the kind of gift people send me. But I wouldn’t say that I’m confident in my understanding of them. There’s a handful that I have studied. For the rest it’s more like, “I think I know what that means, but I’m not sure I could teach it to someone else. Sure sounds nice, though.” Anthony’s book is the first side by side modern translation I have, so it’ll be nice to have that, “Ohhhhh, that’s what that means!” moment of revelation from time to time.

Definitely a cool addition to the collection.

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

 

The Universe Loves Me And Is Trying To Kill Me

EDIT: I just realized that the beer post isn’t scheduled to go out until tomorrow.  Was everybody confused?  🙂 

And I’m ok with it.

I’ve written about how last week not one but two separate coworkers sought me out to tell me about a Shakespeare-branded beer (“ShakesBeer“).  We’re still on the hunt for that one.

This morning a different coworker tells me, “I got this chocolate bar at the supermarket that had some sort of Shakespeare quote on it. I took a picture of it for you, but it’s on my wife’s phone.”

I’m intrigued.  I knew about the beer, but the chocolate was new to me.  I googled around, found some random novelty items, and told him, “Sounds like one of those independent brands you find at Whole Foods.  Never heard of it.  But definitely tell me more!”

While waiting for his wife to get back to him I decide to throw the question out to the Twitterverse, noting that “some sort of Shakespeare quote on it” actually meant “a sonnet inside the wrapper” which is even cooler.

Twitter delivered.  Both @magpiewhale and @katep08 said that he’s surely talking about Chocolove, adding that “this brand is delicious.”

“That’s it!” says my boss.  Then he sends me this picture that he’s googled, since we have a name now:

I’m crushed.  “That’s not Shakespeare,” I tell him after reading about four words.

“I guess each one has a different poem,” he tells me.

Well, now the hunt is on.  Their website has a “find a location” section and sure enough, it’s exactly what I suspected originally – straight to Whole Foods for me!

Success!

They actually have at least half a dozen flavors, but most of them were dark chocolate and I’m not as much of a fan.  But I’m probably going to make multiple trips, who am I kidding.  I swear I felt like the kid in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, peeling open the wrapper slowly to unveil the golden ticket inside.

But did I get a Shakespeare or not?!  The suspense!I did!  Sonnet 24, to be precise.

A joyous day to be sure.  The chocolate is pretty good, but I felt twelve kinds of guilty eating it, so noting that I was only in it for the Shakespeare, I put the rest out for my coworkers. One of whom, also a Shakespeare fan, examined the outer wrapper and announced, “It doesn’t say Shakespeare anywhere on the outside. What do they think, I’m going to spend good money for Keats?!” 🙂

And yes, I have a shrine of Shakespeare action figures and bobble heads on my desk at work. Doesn’t everybody?

P.S. – Last week beer, this week chocolate.  I can’t tell if the universe loves me or is trying to kill me. Either way I’m ok with it, I’m going down happy.

P.P.S – Also!  These are apparently part of the Whole Foods / Amazon Prime program, if that’s available in your area.  So if you’ve done whatever soul selling thing you do to let Whole Foods know you’re a Prime member, you can get them at a significant discount.  In my neck of the woods it was $3.19 for a single bar but would have been $4.00 for 2 bars if I had my accounts linked.