Dog-Eared Shakespeare

Darcie Hart Reidner

There can be no more classic author than William Shakespeare and no more suitable work for the month of February than his remarkable collection of  Sonnets.


So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


Sonnet 18


In his 154 sonnets, Shakespeare wrote of  jealousy, heartbreak, doubt, betrayal and true love. In adddition to voice and content, which has only grown stronger with the passage of time, what makes these works so appealing is the astonishingly varied forms in which they can be found.

A beautifully bound new copy, suitable for gift-giving, can be found for $20 while a used paperback edition is available for as little as $2.00. Project Gutenberg makes free downloads available in a variety of formats for e-reader or computer. Electronic versions are also sold for about $2.00. If you would like to have your favorite sonnet read to you, they are available through free download  at LibriVox, the audio equivalent of Project Gutenberg.  For less than a dollar, downloads for an individual sonnet can be purchased for an MP-3 player, read or sung by a variety of Elizabethan peformance groups. A scattered few can be found performed by such noted actors at Sir John Geilgud and Dame Judi Dench.  Or, as the majority of laptops come with built-in microphones, with a copy from the public library, anyone can become an Elizabethan and record a favorite sonnet or two as a gift for someone this month.


The mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s sonnets  provides complimentary reading, as well. Centuries of speculation shroud these beautiful works, as Shakespeare provided  little if any background information on his folios or manuscripts and his dedications seem cryptic, at best. Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets by Hank Whittemore ( Martin and Lawrence, 208 pages),  So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Clinton Heylin (De Capo Press, 304 pages), The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Helen Heightsman Gordon (Xlibris, 172 pages) and The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Helen Vendler (Harvard University Press, 696 pages) all make for compelling reading by providing potential back story and interpretation of these romantic works.


If reading or hearing these magnificent odes sparks an interest to learn more about William Shakespeare, an excellent biography, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (Norton, 448 pages) was written in 2005 by prize winning author Stephen Greenblatt. This biography provides insight into the time Shakespeare lived, the events and circumstances which shaped him, and lends credibility to the theory Shakespeare was indeed author of all his works, rather than some other figure of the time.


Scholarly anthologies on Shakespeare can also be mini treasure troves for interpretation and background when reading the sonnets. Used book super sleuthing could find earlier editions which would sell for much less than ones with a more current copyright.  If you are not yet in a romantic frame of mind, the fluid, musical flow of Shakespeare’s sonnets will hopefully set you to rights and you will find a line or sonnet  you want to return too again and again, worthy of a dog-eared page. 

With hundreds of new releases vying for reader’s attention, Dog-Eared encourages a look  at  Classic works or authors, not to be forgotten and always treasured.