Shakespeare Resource Center - Shakespeare's Poetry

SparkNotes: Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Sonnet 130

William Shakespeare - Wikipedia

Probably the number one complaint about reading Shakespeare is that it doesn't always read like "normal" English. It's a natural and legitimate accusation. Shakespeare wrote for an audience over 400 years ago. Think about how word meanings and expressions change over a relatively short time; four centuries bring with them a lot of alterations. For instance, the history of literary English is the history of invasions, with Celtic supplanted by Anglo-Saxon, which was usurped by Norman French (and accentuated with Latin). All of these influences combined to create first Old English, then Middle English, and finally Early Modern English—the language of Shakespeare. And if you compare Shakespeare's works to the Middle English of Chaucer, you can appreciate just how much closer Shakespeare's English is to our contemporary usage.

To speed the printing process, most of Shakespeare's plays appear to have been set by multiple compositors.

William Shakespeare | Poetry Foundation

One issue often overlooked is that Shakespeare's plays were written as dramatic literature—meant to be performed and heard aloud, not silently read. That distinction is accentuated where Shakespeare writes in verse. Verse allowed Shakespeare to write lines with a poetic rhythm crafted for the stage. Typically, he wrote in , which is a fancy way of saying ten-syllable lines that alternate unstressed and stressed syllables (although the pattern varies widely within speeches to avoid sounding monotonous). Shakespeare's verse is written either in pairs of rhymed line endings (), or unrhymed lines (). Keep in mind that verse and poetic license sometimes force Shakespeare into phrasing that can seem foreign at first glance. Verse is easy to spot by its different margins and capitalization of the first word in each line—keep an eye out for it, and know that you may have to pay more attention to these passages to get at their meaning.

In the summer of 1592, an episodic outbreak of the plague swept through London. Theatres were among the public gathering places to be shut down. William Shakespeare decided to stay in London rather than follow a theatrical company on tour.

Shakespeare dedicates as "the first heir of my invention." In doing so, Shakespeare acknowledges that even he considered his plays as literary works inferior to poetry. The poem, a brief epic, evokes comparisons to Marlowe's , to which owes at least some debt. Equal parts comic and erotic, the poem is Shakespeare's take on a story told by Ovid in which Venus falls for the handsome youth Adonis.


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Why sonnets? The sonnet was arguably the most popular bound verse form in England when Shakespeare began writing. Imported from Italy (as the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet), the form took on a distinctive English style of three distinctively rhymed quatrains capped by a rhymed couplet comprising 14 total lines of verse. This allowed the author to build a rising pattern of complication in a three-act movement, followed by the terse denouement of the final two lines. Conventional subject matter of the Elizabethan sonnet concerned love, beauty, and faith.

Shakespeare, Sexuality and Gender | Justin Borrow

was published the year after . Because of their proximity and Shakespeare's dedication of both works to Southampton, the two poems are often thought of as companion pieces. In fact, it's believed that is the "graver labour" to which Shakespeare refers in the dedication of . Written in rhyme royale stanzas, also borrows from Ovid.

William Shakespeare - New World Encyclopedia

At some point in the early 1590s, Shakespeare began writing a compilation of sonnets. The first edition of these appeared in print in 1609. However, Frances Meres mentions Shakespeare sharing at least some of them among friends as early as 1598, and two (138 and 144) appear as early versions in the 1599 folio . Shakespeare's seeming ambivalence toward having the sonnets published stands in remarkable contrast to the poetic mastery they demonstrate.

Literary Terms and Definitions C - Carson-Newman College

Some of the most difficult passages of Shakespeare occur when the Bard is purposely playing with language. Metaphors and similes abound in poetic comparisons that can make some passages more complex or difficult to understand. And apparently, Elizabethan audiences loved puns,because Shakespeare wrote them into his plays by the dozens. In a similar vein, many words are used with intentional double meanings. This is especially prevalent in the numerous sexual innuendoes that appear in the works. Malapropisms are another device Shakespeare often uses for comic effect. So not only does the contemporary reader have to interpret surface meanings that may have changed, but also account for the subtext of Elizabethan humor. One key is to look for lines with homonyms or repeated words; those are some of the most common giveaways.