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What is The Sonnet Guy?

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BEFORE you read this post, READ THIS FIRST

Good. Now that you’ve gotten that out of the way, what are we doing here?

There is no shortage of writings about Shakespeare’s Sonnets. So why add to the pile? Well, because as useful as these resources are in understanding the sonnets, they completely miss the point of their existence: that they are meant to be experienced. Viscerally, emotionally, messily, humanly felt. Spoken aloud from the soul, and received with the heart.

It is not a literary criticism, nor indeed any type of criticism at all. It is not a scholarly commentary on the poems themselves, nor is it anything remotely scholarly in any sense.

This is stark contrast to most of what you’ll find written about the sonnets. Here is a partial list of what I will not be doing:

  • I will not be extrapolating or conjecturing on any of the following popular themes:
    • the intended order of the poems
    • the “true” author of the poems
    • the autobiographical nature of the poems
    • the identities of WH (or HW), the fair youth, the rival poet, or the dark lady
    • the circumstances of the acquisition and/or publishing of the 1609 Quarto
    • the various real/imagined connections to prior literary works, court figures, political climate, or other Elizabethan societal circumstances
  • I will not pass judgement on the artistic merits of the sonnets, either on the whole or individually (except to point out bits that I particularly like for how they make me feel, or inspire me, or are just plain fun to speak!)
  • I will not vainly attempt to be more clever or witty than either the poems or William Shakespeare.
  • I will not use archaic or indecipherably academic language to flay open and  dissect the poems under an agenda-riddled microscope.

I will simply share how the poems affect me, and what they’ve clarified or illuminated about me. It’s a mixed bag, I’ll grant you. I try to confine my comments on a poem itself to  how the language, sounds and rhetoric help shape my experience of it. I won’t get too technical or boring, I promise.

Strap in folks. We’re in for a fun adventure!

I am drawn to the sonnets like a moth to flame. As an actor, teacher, coach, and human being, they fascinate me. Every time I speak one, I reveal myself a little more fully. Sometimes when I speak one, I reveal myself utterly in a brief, unsettling  moment of clarity that is exhilarating. I have an experience.

Thinking I must not be alone in this, I went looking for validation and information. Aside from the helpful resources for unpacking the structure and language (my favorites are all here at The Sonnet Journey), I found lots of literary criticism  and commentary. Some of  is interesting, some is weird, and some  (IMHO) miss the point entirely. Thus a Quest was born: to learn each of these gems, let them seep into my soul, and see what they might reveal. Inherent in this is the necessity of sharing them on a very personal level, speaking them to people, and helping others to have their own experiences of the sonnets. This blog, a journal of my own exploration, is one manifestation of this quest. The Sonnet Journey, where I share tools and resources for tackling the sonnets yourself, is another. And then there’s Sonnet Play, my performance following one man’s heart through love in all its messy humanity.  So pack a snack and saddle up, it’s gonna be a long journey.

I’ll start with my core belief: The sonnets are meant to evoke in the speaker and the listener a visceral and emotional experience. Whether it’s a face to face experience, or a more private reading, the sonnets were an intimate sharing, spoken aloud and felt as much as heard.

That’s it.

The speaker speaks it; the listener hears it. They connect. They share an experience, individually and collectively. That’s why they were written, and that’s what they are for. Everything else is… well, irrelevant, to me at least.

What I share here are my own very personal experiences and feelings of living with these sonnets. It is a work in progress. I only write about sonnets I’ve memorized, which is necessary for me to speak it from my soul. My Quest is to memorize all 154 sonnets, but I am far from that. I learn about 3-4 a month on average. I have far more sonnets memorized than I have posts, and more writings than I have shared here. Some are so personal that I hesitate to press Publish, because I know there are consequences for sharing such private parts of myself. Likely they will end up here once I’ve made peace with the truth they contain. Also, I don’t edit the posts much. They are what they are (although I will pop back in to correct a typo if it bothers me.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not confuse “personal” for “autobiographical.” Many commentators have fallen down that rabbit hole regarding WS and the sonnets themselves, despite a complete and utter lack of evidence on the matter. Likewise, these are personal experiences, but not a diary from my life. My real life and my fantasy life rub shoulders here. Just as an affair of the mind, and affair of the heart, and an affair of the flesh are three very different outcomes of the same emotional seed, my emotional life feeds what you read here, whether it occurred in the world or in my mind. Either experience can be real and unsettling and profound. And there is a price to pay either way.


I’ve used that word a lot so far. But that’s because I want you to have one! A human experience speaking a sonnet to another human being. To do that, you must understand the sonnet – for that, consult the Folger, Jones, and Booth editions, in that order. If after consulting them, you are still a little unclear what you are eating, don’t fret. That’s only step one.

Now you memorize. Really learn it by heart, every word. Hop on over to The Sonnet Journey for fun tips and tricks, but the best advice I can give here is: speak it aloud, always and often.

When you can speak it equally well on the bus as you do in your kitchen, you may still find it’s meaning a little unclear. That’s because you’re only half of the equation. The final step is to find another human being and speak it TO THEM. Look them in the eyes and speak it slowly and clearly. Then take a breath and relax. Let the anxiety over reciting calm the heck down, and do it again. Speak it to them, from your soul, and open yourself up to the experience. Let it happen. Revel in it. Clock it for future reference. Be grateful. Then do it again.

That’s what the sonnets are for. Period.

So… expect some jumping around – I’m not learning them in order, and I’m not even posting them in the order that I learned them or write about them. So there’s that. Read nothing into it. I’m NOT reordering the sonnets (don’t get me started on the futility and folly of that endeavor.) So don’t go there.

Finally, some of these writings are not appropriate for kids. I’m an adult. The sonnets are full of affairs of the mind, heart, and body, with loads of deception, lust,  infidelity, resentment, hurt, anger, recrimination, love, and yes, sex. It’s messy. I’m messy. It’s probably why I love them so much.

1 Comment

  1. Brian knows whereof he writes. He’s looked in my eyes and spoken these words. Sonnet 105. Thanks Brian. Keep up the good work.

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