Eternal Lives

I can’t not mention Shakespeare this week. This Saturday will be the 400th anniversary of his death.

 

So its sonnet 18 that comes to mind. Yes, he’s using May and not April, but still, 400 years is getting on eternal lines. It’s not Beowulf, let alone Gilgamesh, but it’s nothing to sneeze at!

Sonnet XVIII

 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 

Have fun with the whole batch and some discussion of their printing at http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/ But don’t take all the analysis too seriously. Enjoy them.

 

I’ve been reading about the First Folio. It is interesting, I’d not thought about it before, that his sonnets were published during his lifetime and the plays collected by friends several years after his death. So even though the plays are more touchstones to us, it was really the sonnets that were intended for some sort of posterity.

 

Sonnet XIX

 

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,

And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,

To the wide world and all her fading sweets;

But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,

Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;

Him in thy course untainted do allow

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

Yet, do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

 

The sonnets were published by a Thomas Thorpe in 1609. There’s some debate if he had permission to publish or if the sonnets were somehow snagged without permission, like the early printed plays. Current theory is leaning towards Shakespeare’s approval of the publication, due to the coherent order of the sonnets. The first 126 poems are to an unknown ‘fair youth’, the last 28 to the much guessed at ‘dark lady’ and the series of sonnets is rounded out by the poem “A Lover’s Complaint.”

 

The printing is dedicated to a W.H. That might be the initials of the youth in question, a mistake for W.S (Or W. Sh), or a wealthy benefactor. The fact that the dedication is signed by the publisher and declares W.H. “the onlie begetter of these insving sonnets” seems to me to lean back to Shakespeare himself rather than tempt us with the identity of the youth in question.

 

This would mean one of the biggest claims of many sonnets is off the mark, he would be remembered and well, if we knew who he was!

 

The book discussing First Folios is a fairly new book called The Millionaire and the Bard. If you’re interesting in early printing the opening is really interesting. There are a few theories about how the process of assembling the plays, good information about the lack of protection of intellectual property, and mild technical information about how the First Folio was published.

 

It’s an easy enough read, but the author keeps going on tangents about the muckrakers and how they were all persecuting Rockefeller and his business and how that risked impeding Henry Folger’s obsession with collecting folios. I’m finding that off-putting, obviously I like Shakespeare, but wanting the money to collect folios doesn’t justify the whole robber barons to me. It seems like his collection was more of a very well curated dragon’s hoard rather than a case of I love this stuff and I’m going to share it with others so they can love it too. I’m not knocking the current Folger’s Library (much, they really ought to have some decent exhibits, it’s really a disappointment visiting it), I like the glosses on their editions.

 

I guess it’s one of those things where I don’t read too many biographies about people since you learn a lot of the people who make enough impact to get biographies written about them were jerks. Maybe it’s a good thing we just have his writings and very little biography on Shakespeare, the mystery is more appealing.

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