What do Shakespeare’s sonnets actually say? What can they tell us about the life or character of the man who penned them? Not only romantic and philosophical, the sonnets are erotic, desperate, and often angry, laced with shocking sexual imagery and emotional confession; as a group, they break all conventions of Elizabethan poetry, and trace the ghostly outline of two passionate affairs — one a brief, tawdry fling with a mature voluptuous woman, and one a long, fraught relationship with an androgynous young man. This will be followed by a discussion of the publication of the sonnets, the possible identities of the “Dark Lady” and “Fair Youth,” and their relation to the plays; and then by a discussion for patrons only of the “authorship controversy.” Suggested further reading: Katherine Duncan-Jones, ed., “Shakespeare’s Sonnets”; Joseph Pequigney, “Such Is My Love”; Lynn Magnusson, “A Modern Perspective” in Folger Shakespeare Library’s edition of Shakespeare’s Poems.
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