Tag Archives: charles vess

Happy Maybe Bard’s Birthday

Sonnet 130

William Shakespeare

 

 

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

     As any she belied with false compare.

 

 

This is one of my favorite sonnets. I just like how the woman in question is made very human, and all the hyperbole saved for one final punch. It keeps it grounded, almost slightly mocking of love poems, until in the end it caves.

 

“…he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron–forever there and not there.”*

 

A Charles Vess illustration of Shakespeare with Titania and Oberon looking over A Midsummer Night's Dream.

No one knows the exact date of Shakespeare’s birthday. He was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was probably born on the 24th or 25th. Tradition holds it to be April 23rd, because that was the day he died in 1616 and would have a wonderful sort of symmetry. But it would be highly unusual for a family to wait three days for a baptism, especially in a time of such high infant mortality.

 

We don’t know much about William Shakespeare’s life. He existed, married an older woman, had three kids, went to London, acted, wrote, went home a reasonably prosperous gentleman, and died.

 

This dearth of information has led to a lot of crazy conspiracy theories. (Yes, I did research them, and decide they were all B.S. In high school. Which is why their persistence drives me nuts. And when it comes up at work I can’t even engage in debate with people who espouse it. Here’s a great article about this phenomenon by the very charming Joe Nickell.

 

The thing is, he lived a long time ago. We’re lucky we have as many of his writings as we do, for this we owe his colleagues dear. Only one or two have been lost. Those of us English geeks are lucky there’s a grave to visit. 400 years may seem like nothing in human history, but think of the sheer number of people who have lived (and pushed and thrown out paper!) in that time. We know more about him than we do about any of the other major dramatists of his age.

 

As someone once pointed out his life is more of a mystery to us than a drama. But we gained some beautiful poetry and plays, and some words and phrases that still linger in the English language. To “vanish into thin air,” a “foregone conclusion,” to lose everything in “one fell swoop”

 

*Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. HarperCollins 2007. p 9

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Filed under Historical Facts and Trivia, Poetry