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From The Reader Bookshelf… Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 23rd September 2021

As part of our ongoing work around The Reader Bookshelf, we've asked staff to share their thoughts about some of the inspirational texts in the collection.

This week, Marketing & Communications Manager, Rachael Norris, tells us about her favourite sonnets by The Bard.


Words by Rachael Norris

‘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’

Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare

Heard those lines before?

This regular segment on The Reader Bookshelf  gives everyone a short introduction into some of the texts that have been chosen for our theme this year of ‘Walking the Earth’. Shakespeare’s Sonnets are very famous – I've no doubt you will have heard at least some lines from them before or studied them at school.

What we learn at school is that a sonnet is fourteen lines long with ten syllables per line and Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets which were collected and published posthumously in 1609.

In episode 2 of The Reader Podcast Phil Davis talks about how in Shared Reading groups we can put those technicalities aside and focus on the ‘personal and informal’ responses we each have to them.

I want to share my top three sonnets, and my ‘personal and informal’ reasons for choosing them.

Sonnet 104 – 'To me fair friend you can never be old...'

I run a Shakespeare group with my superstar volunteer co-leader – in just over a year we have powered through six Shakespeare plays and countless sonnets - we don’t always read sonnets but we have a group member who absolutely loves them. She shared this poem with us shortly after we had been celebrating her 80th birthday! I love the vividness of the colours and seasons in this one!

Sonnet 116 - 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds...'

I have a version of this up on the wall in my bathroom and I read it every day while I’m brushing my teeth. Even though I read it probably every single day there are still new things to think about held within it. If you’re looking to take a deep dive, watch this live stream with Katie Clark for a fascinating discussion on all that this sonnet holds.

Sonnet 64 - 'When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd...'

We read this poem in the Shakespeare group back in February whilst we were reading The Tempest – this Sonnet made me think about a lot of things; how Shakespeare must have felt approaching his final play, my 97-year-old gran, how I worry about not having enough time to get everything I want to done. I share the worry in this poem that ‘That Time will come and take my love away’ in lots of different ways but I can take comfort in the fact that sharing that worry is what connects me to other humans.

I would really recommend trying Shakespeare’s sonnets in Shared Reading groups. When you feel the urge to look up a word or to google the meaning look inwards rather than outwards and make your own meaning. It's the sharing them across time, space, generations, and views that has given me an understanding and I wouldn’t have got nearly as much from reading them alone.

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