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Shakespeare: The Sonnets

Shakespeare’s love sonnets belong to a tradition deriving from Francesco Petrarch, whose love poetry swept Europe and initiated the vogue of the sonnet sequence in celebration of the chaste, exalted, unattainable mistress. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, however, this traditional object of devotion is displaced by what was then considered to be two scandalously unorthodox love interests: the bulk of the poems are addressed to a femininely beautiful young man, and the remainder to a rampantly promiscuous woman. Unsurprisingly, these sonnets have spawned a host of vexing questions. Are the poems autobiographical, as is widely believed—a possibility that continues to provoke revulsion and denial? If so, who was the lady (hundreds of pages have been devoted to pondering her identity), and who was the man? Or are they both poetic constructs through which to explore heterodox love?

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You'll Walk Away with

  • Greater familiarity with the poetic form of the sonnet and its use by Shakespeare
  • An understanding of the questions that have vexed Shakespearean scholars for years

Ideal for

  • All members of the community—working, retired, and in between
  • The curious and creative
NO open sections available for this course at the moment. Please check back next semester.