William Shakespeare was more than a playwright, he was a poet. He is studied by actors and English scholars alike because, through language, he captures the human condition.
Sonnets, while poetry, can be very important – and helpful – to theater performance.
All of his sonnets are written in iambic pentameter (if you are unfamiliar with iambic pentameter, this is a good place to start: http://iambicpentameter.net/), which means they have 10 syllables in each line, alternating stressed and unstressed (lost? see the link). It creates a rhythm, and all of Shakespeare’s plays are written mostly in iambic pentameter. Studying sonnets allows us to practice speaking and reading classical verse without the burden of trying to follow a five act play. They are a great introduction to Shakespeare. Sonnets illustrate how much storytelling power can be harnessed in 14 lines and they’re great for locking into the iambic rhythm.
I’d like to start this series off with sonnet 64, which includes, as a friend and colleague put it, images of beautiful destruction.
When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
Why I like it: The realization that time is passing and that the inevitable path of the world is towards destruction is a terrifying, yet realistic thought. The speaker isn’t so much concerned with his (or her) own fate, but that “Time will come and take my love away”. The realization of his lover’s death is the true fear, the true destruction. Everything will fall around him eventually.
Because this is the first installment, I’ll include sonnet 65. It’s almost like a “sequel”, in which the writer finally realizes that he can keep his love alive through his writing. So it’s appropriate to include it so that you get the full story:
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Next week I’ll have another one of my favorites that I feel a special connection to. Which one? Find out next Sunday.