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Throwing off the Shackles of ‘Shakespeare Fear’ and Learning To Love the Sonnets

The Bard

Sonnet 65

William Shakespeare

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o’ersways 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 wrackful 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.

Whether the sonnet to the left seems impenetrable and confusing or crystal clear and soothing, Parker Reed’s online class explaining the sonnets of William Shakespeare could be just the class for you.

Shakespeare is recognized as one of the world’s most celebrated playwrights, but he also wrote 154 sonnets — one stanza poems of 14 lines — exploring love, infidelity, lust, mortality, desire, beauty and other themes that reflect the human condition.  

Hotchkiss School Shakespeare instructor Parker Reed will lead an exploration of the sonnets and reveal some of the techniques he used to develop his facility with language. The three free classes will be held on Tuesdays Feb. 2, 9 and 16 from 11 a.m. to noon. 

Sonnets likely to be covered include, “Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day … ” (Sonnet 34), “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea …” (Sonnet 65) and “The little Love-god, lying once asleep …” (Sonnet 154).

The COVID-19 quarantine has encouraged many readers to return to the Shakespeare plays and read them again, finding new lessons in them at a later stage of life. The plays can be daunting enough on their own, but the sonnets add in the challenges inherent in reading poetry. What is, after all, a sonnet or a stanza or iambic pentameter?

Reed said he’ll adapt the class to suit the level of knowledge of the participants. If everyone knows what a quatrain is, the class will proceed to other matters. 

“I’d like to shape the experience to meet interest,” Reed said. “Because we’ll meet three times, perhaps I’ll offer a brief historical context for the sonnets, followed by an exploration of one or two. Then we can discuss or address questions or pursue whatever course feels fertile.”

Even though the plays are written in verse, they are different from sonnets. Reed feels that the shorter-form poems help readers to understand and appreciate the plays. 

“I think they provide an excellent introduction to Shakespeare’s use of language.”

Introduction is the key word. Reed wants to entice readers to approach the Bard with more joy and less trepidation.

“His reputation as a literary genius has intimidated some and bored others,”Reed said, “but he wrote words to be said and savored. I’ve committed to giving Will back to the people. Anyone with any level of curiosity or appreciation for Shakespeare is welcome.”

To register and get the Zoom link, go to www.noblehorizons.org.

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