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sonnetsdedication2

The Shakespeare Sonnet Slam is coming up soon, so here is my preliminary analysis of the sonnet that was chosen for me this time, #62.

Here it is again:

SONNET 62
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

My approach is to memorize the sonnet, even though it’s not required for the Sonnet Slam. I think that until I actually sit down to memorize a piece, I don’t fully realize the particularity of the structure of the sonnet, the weight of each word, the peculiarity of each phrase, the rhythm and emphasis of the piece. Often when memorizing, I’ll have one phrase or more that I keep getting wrong—it seems like it should be what I’m saying, not what is on the page—but it is exactly that discrepancy that needs to be explored and uncovered for meaning and logic.

So, first things first: most of the Shakespearean sonnets have the same structure: 14 lines, made up of three rhyming quatrains, abab, and then a rhyming couplet, cc. Let’s break up Sonnet # 62:

SONNET 62

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.

Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.

But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.

‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

Typically, each quatrain is a variation on one theme, each with its own point to make. The final couplet is usually either a clever summation of the preceding lines, or a clever opposition to them. I think the word “clever” here is apropos, because cleverness is an integral part of a Shakespearean sonnet. No matter how much sentiment is contained in each of these sonnets, they are almost always also self-conscious objects for show. Will just couldn’t help himself on that score. Many of the sonnets were commissioned and many were the objects of public and private performance. In my opinion, a major subtext of all of these sonnets is: “I love you so much, that I wrote this clever witty poem for you.” They are, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, “conceits.” Without this acknowledgement,  the sonnets can become lugubrious; as I’ll talk about next time, a more interesting choice for me for performance is to find the playfulness in each composition.

Okay, Quatrain #1: I’m struck by the word “all”:

all mine eye,
And all my soul and all my every part

The accented beats all fall on the word “all” and it’s almost always a good idea to pay attention to the iambic pentameter and not fight it. So, the sonnet writer (“I” from now on), talks of himself in no half-measures. I fully admit my faults. Whether sadly or mockingly or gleefully remains to be decided.

I note also that the structure of the sonnet indicates that “eye” and “remedy” should rhyme—at least it did in Shakespeare’s day. Sometimes it’s pretentious in today’s world to go for the rhyme, but since it’s an unaccented syllable, I’ll probably go for it.

Next, Quatrain #2: I ask myself, what is this quatrain doing that the first did not? It seems to be more specific: “face,” “shape,” “truth,”; but also it stresses that not only do I think that I am wonderful, but I am the best, better than everyone else! —“As I all other in all worths surmount.” And again, the “alls” are hit hard. It’s like Muhammed Ali, “I am the Greatest!”

On to Quatrain #3: Now the turn of the sonnet. “But when my glass shows”…these “buts” in the sonnets are always important, they signal, “I used to think x, but now I realize y.”  The acting issue here is to make that emotional turn real by having some specific internal sensory stimuli to allow that change in thought and emotion to happen. Shakespeare provides the impetus—looking in the mirror and seeing the reality of my physical shape, rather than just what I’d like to imagine or feel. Those of us of a certain age have all had those awful moments when the light is too harsh and the wrinkles too deep and the mirror refuses to lie. That’s what I need to capture.

But there are two revelations going on in this quatrain: not only that I am not the physical and mental specimen that I think I am, but that my self-love has been deeply unfair.

The final couplet explains: I only look good to myself because I am basking in your glow, your beauty, and mistaking your aura for my own. This, I think is the hardest part of the sonnet from an acting point of view. It’s a complicated realization that has to be done in a very few words, and the structure of the lines seems difficult right now to me. This is where I think I have the most work ahead of me.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Next time, I’ll talk about actually trying to memorize the sonnet, and seeing how that informs me further.