BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Poetry

I had every intention of writing & posting this last week.  Then, my Dad’s car crapped out & I had to be his driver.  I would’ve rather re-read The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, to be honest.

Shakespeare’s poetry isn’t as well known as his plays; not by a long shot.  However, many of us are familiar with (at least one of) his sonnets.

But, William Shakespeare also wrote long-form poetry in addition to his hundreds of sonnets.  They do share some common themes, although not as many, nor as apparent, as in his plays:

  • Focus on love, betrayal, wooing, & rejection
  • Follow strict rhyme scheme
  • Longer poems followed classical stories & structures; were also frequently dedicated to one “Right Honourable Henry Wriothesly”
  • Sonnets talked about the immortality of the written word

I’ll say it – Shakespeare’s poetry wasn’t my favorite.  It wasn’t my favorite work of his, it wasn’t my favorite poetry, it wasn’t even my favorite reading I did that same night.

Fun fact:  I always read two books – one, a serious book in which I’m interested & need to pay attention while reading, & two, one of any of the almost 20+ 3-pack Garfield comic strip books.  I read the first, then, when I get sleepy,the second, since I don’t feel bad falling asleep on a Garfield book.

I think, out of all the poetry, I found the sonnets the most engaging.  Even though I didn’t understand a lot of it – this was true for all the poetry, though – I found this was where I learned the most.

Maybe, because I learned something I didn’t know about the author.

William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet, numbered XVIII, reads:

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:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometimes declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, un-trimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest;

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee

Most people know the first two or three lines.  Perhaps some enterprising young men have sent the lines to the women in their lives.  Perhaps they thought they were very clever, taking the lines Shakespeare wrote to his lady love & presenting them to their own.

I thought the same thing before reading the sonnets.  But, sonnet number XIX (that’s right after sonnet XVIII, for those who aren’t familiar with Roman numerals) set me straight. 

In talking to the personification of Time, Shakespeare says, in lines 8-14 (emphasis mine):

But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,

Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;

Him in thy course untainted do allow,

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,

My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Yup, that’s right – the first half of Shakespeare’s some 150+sonnets are written to a man.  The second half are written to a “dark lady.”

Now, of course, it was perfectly acceptable for heterosexual men to speak lovingly to other heterosexual men in Shakespeare’s time.  However, he calls the subject of the first 80 or so sonnets “the master-mistress of my passion.” 

Shakespeare’s potential bisexuality is not something I had thought about before reading his poetry.  Knowing it now, it makes me want to reread some of the plays with it in mind.

The sonnets weren’t given to either of the people about whom they were written during Shakespeare’s lifetime.  After his death, the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, created a dedication that he hoped they reached the man who inspired them & they gave him happiness & the immortal fame Shakespeare had hoped for.

Poems Shakespeare wrote include:

  • Venus and Adonis
  • The Rape of Lucrece
  • Sonnets
  • A Lover’s Complaint
  • The Passionate Pilgrim
  • Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music
  • The Phoenix and the Turtle

Well, that’s the most interesting bit about the poetry I can share.  So, I figure I’ll end this post here.

Did you learn anything about Shakespeare, his plays, or his poetry from these posts?  Do you have a favorite work?  Tell me about it!

Final Score:

4 out of 5 stars  – I liked it!  It was just long & confusing.  I had to read a lot of passages twice or even three times.


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