In the course of some research into the musical element in English poetry, Dr Wilson read the work of the Elizabethan sonneteers chronologically and was struck by a suspicion that Shakespeare’s sonnets were parodies. Later she carried out a more thorough investigation, and this book, originally published in 1974, is the product: her early impressions had been justified beyond all expectation.
Her investigation involved examining the background of each of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and this in itself is a contribution to scholarship. A surprising number of them are shown to be direct parodies of particular sonnets; all of them guy the sonnet convention, and the more difficult ones are easily explained by this hypothesis. Fresh correspondences between Shakespeare and his predecessors have come to light and his relationship with them is seen to be mocking. This is demonstrated in his borrowings from Ovid also, while the opening seventeen sonnets gain point as parody of Erasmus on marriage.
The book opens with a short note on the origin of the sonnet in song, chivalric love and Plato. The sonnet theme in Shakespeare’s early comedies is treated freshly and the author throws light on the plays from a new angle. In the final chapter, among other themes, the implication of dating is considered, and here too some new material is discussed.
However, Dr Wilson is aiming at a wider readership than that of scholars alone. She has a view of Shakespeare as a young man catering for "young-man laughter", as she puts it, and she never loses sight of this aspect in her study. Although the academic basis is there, the presentation is not academic. Her aim is clearly to share the joke with her readers.
Table of Contents
1. Introductory (i) The Sonnet Texture (ii) English Sonneteers 2. The Sonnet in Shakespeare’s Plays 3. The Dark Lady 4. The Man Friend 5. Postscripts (i) Thorpe’s Dedication (ii) Gulling Sonnets (iii) The Date (iv) Shakespeare Not Homosexual. Notes. Index.
Katharine M. Wilson