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17 October 2010

Sonnets

An article by Don Paterson in yesterday's Guardian is a shameless plug for his new book on Shakepeare's Sonnets. An awful, awful piece of writing that took prime location in the review, it's created a flurry of comments which reverse the usual position: usually, the inarticulacy and ineptness of the commenters makes you realise how rare good writing is. Here, despite the inarticulacy and ineptness, you feel they're right: Paterson is madly wrong.

First, he raises and conclusively answers the non-question "Was Shakespeare gay?". A host of comments rightly say that this is anachronistic: the category gay is of our time, not Shakespeare's. This is damaging because he does depend on a biographical approach, and flirts with the questions of who the real people encoded in the sonnets are.

But what's worse, and which only a few comments directly refer to, is the writing. Right from the start:
The problem with reading Shakespeare's sonnets is the sonnets themselves, by which I mean their reputation.
Well, if that's what you mean, why not say so? It's just a lame attempt at a verbal trick. And if there isn't a typo in the next quote, I wish there was:
Here is not the place to elaborate, but suffice to say that the square of the sonnet exists for reasons which are almost all direct consequences of natural law, physiological and neurological imperatives, and the grain and structure of the language itself.
I suppose the "square" might be a reference to the shape of a sonnet on the page. But the rest of it, including the deathly "suffice to say", doesn't make me want to visit the place where all is elaborated.

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