Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Yes, Even Shakespeare Sometimes Had the Blues

The other day a student expressed surprise after reading William Shakespeare's melancholy Sonnet 29. "Shakespeare wrote this? Why would he feel this way?' 

Sometimes, when I teach teens literature, I forget to communicate that the long-gone writers whose words fill literature textbooks were human beings. But how could they be otherwise? How could Shakespeare have expressed so richly in his writings the depths of human joy and sorrow if he did not himself experience delight and desire and despair?

Shakespeare's life had plenty of hardship. He had to leave school at age 13 because his family could not afford the tuition. At least two of his siblings died of the bubonic plague. He lost his beloved son, Hamnet, at age 11, likely also to the plague. Shakespeare's own death garnered little public notice.

Sonnet 29 is filled with a sense of hopelessness, with the perception that the Divine is turning a deaf ear to his sorrows. And yet, in the end, his memory of human love sustains him. Could not Shakespere see that the Divine has brought him the human love that gives him such joy?

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state  
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries 
And look upon myself and curse my fate, 

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least; 

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;

For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. 

No comments:

Post a Comment