Happy 400th Birthday to our dear friend, The Sonnets!

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It was 400 years ago today that Shake-speares Sonnets were registered for publication. Funny how it seems like only yesterday.

Still, there have already been some interesting articles and new books coming out based on this milestone, and more are sure to follow. There are two that appeared today that I wish to alert readers about.

First, NPR this morning reviewed a new book on the Sonnets, So Long as Men Can Breath, by Clinton Heylin (the review includes an audio clip, a brief article with some quotes from the author, and an excerpt from the book).

The story on the NPR site (by Lynn Neary) has the headline  “Did Shakespeare Want To Suppress His Sonnets?,” and the answer is yes, because they’re homosexual. Heylin is quoted,

“If the sonnets are interpreted in what I think these days would be
considered a fairly normal way, which is that they are about a
homosexual affair with a peer, [Shakespeare] was committing several
criminal offenses,” says Heylin. “It would have been extremely socially
sensitive to have a scandal come out that involved him and a male peer …
[The sonnets] are an insight into who the man was, and it is likely
going to be as close as we are ever going to get into the mind of Shakespeare

Well, we can agree with that last line from Heylin, but not with his conclusion that the love being talked about must be homosexual.

Meanwhile, a second story of interest (400 years young: The magic and mystery of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”) appears in today’s The Independent (London, UK). The image that accompanies the story tells it all:

Pink sunglasses? OK, we get it. (courtesy, Getty images)

Early on in the article we learn that “For every blissed-out ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
comes a disgusted outbreak of ‘Th’expense of spirit in a waste of
shame/ Is lust in action’. (‘Spirit’ is semen, among other
meanings).” But a few paragraphs later in the unsigned article (anonymous authorship??) we find, “
However universal the passions they dissect, the sequence has several unusual
even unique – attributes. This bard of flesh and soul also knows English law
inside out (‘summer’s lease hath all too short a date’).” Well, that’s interesting. Law and love? What’s the deal with that?

Anyway, the bottom line for both these stories is clearly the homosexual angle. As readers of this site know, there are other ways to look at these verses. I can only suggest that anyone surfing through here today check out Hank Whittemore’s The Monument site for an entirely different take on these timeless verses. It involves sex alright (as in, “Who’s your Daddy?”, not to mention “Who’s your Mommy?”), and plenty of law (as in treason, trial, conviction, death penalty, reprieve). But no pink sunglasses.

Actor Kenneth Branagh moving towards Oxford?

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In breaking news this weekend noted Shakespearean actor/director/producer Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labors Lost, Hamlet) has apparently gotten off the fence about the Shakespeare authorship question. In a news report in today’s Sunday Express in the UK Branagh is quoted as saying, “There is room for reasonable doubt. De Vere is the latest and the hottest candidate. There is a convincing argument that only a nobleman like him could write of exotic settings and that William Shakespeare was a simple country boy … I am fascinated by all the speculation.” [UPDATE, May 13, 2009: The link to the Sunday Express news story is now dead … click on it and you get a message that “The article you are looking for does not exist. It may have been deleted.” with no further explanation. Word on my Internet grapevine is that the paper was asked to take it down and did. This link to the story on a different site still works. Stay tuned.]

Sir Derek Jacobi as Claudius (left) and Kenneth Branagh (center) as Hamlet in the 1996 film.

Well, welcome aboard Kenneth! Although we don’t know at this point in time what the back story to all this is, there has been speculation for years that Branagh was sympathetic to the authorship debate but was hedging his bets and keeping mum on what he really thought. Perhaps all the recent news (the portrait, Jacobi and Rylance in the news saying they have doubts, the usual birthday hoopla) finally got him to commit. The comments were made during remarks at the US premiere of his BAFTA-winning Swedish detective series, Wallander.

In any event, this is big news and must be unsettling to the powers that be in the Shakespeare Establishment.