What Does Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 Offer Readers Today?
Introducing The History of Literature Podcast
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
What did Shakespeare do when the bubonic plague shut down London’s theaters? Apparently he wrote poetry instead, including some or all of his 154 sonnets. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”) to see whether the poem deserves its reputation as one of Shakespeare’s greatest. Can it still be read today? And if so, what does it have to offer us?
From the episode:
Jacke Wilson: What’s great about a sonnet is not an unusual word or a clever word or a shocking word or a long word or an impressive word—but the perfect word. It may be surprising. It may be all those things that may be unusual. It may be clever. And so on. We don’t want “Moon in June” here, but it’s the word that fits the meaning and the sound and it snaps together tight. That’s what’s pleasing. That’s what gives us a sonnet. What it needs. And sometimes Shakespeare had to invent words for his verse, which is risky, but not when you can pull it off. If you stick to inventions that people will immediately recognize and understand, like those songs that immediately sound like old standards. If you invent a word that people think, oh, that must already be a word. I know what that means. And it’s there for you to use.