Helen Vendler's The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets is an incredible work of analysis, criticism--and obsession. In giving these complex poems a close reading, Vendler attempts to enter the mind and esthetics of her subject, resulting in an amazing and comprehensive commentary on the sonnets. But this is not a book for Shakespeare neophytes. Vendler assumes a degree of familiarity with Shakespeare's sonnets, and she writes in the language of literary criticism: "...the couplet--placed not as resolution but as coda--can then stand in any number of relations ... to the preceding argument."). However, for those readers who have a basic knowledge of Renaissance poetics, and Shakespeare's sonnets in particular, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets is a gold mine of fascinating interpretation. What's more, though Vendler draws on the work of many commentators who went before her, in the end it is Shakespeare's own meaning, and not the interpretation of modern critics, that she reads for. A nice bonus is the CD inside the back cover of the book, which contains the author's reading of 65 sonnets.
Helen Vendler, widely regarded as our most accomplished interpreter of poetry, here serves as an incomparable guide to some of the best-loved poems in the English language.
In detailed commentaries on Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, Vendler reveals previously unperceived imaginative and stylistic features of the poems, pointing out not only new levels of import in particular lines, but also the ways in which the four parts of each sonnet work together to enact emotion and create dynamic effect. The commentaries--presented alongside the original and modernized texts--offer fresh perspectives on the individual poems, and, taken together, provide a full picture of Shakespeare's techniques as a working poet. With the help of Vendler's acute eye, we gain an appreciation of "Shakespeare's elated variety of invention, his ironic capacity, his astonishing refinement of technique, and, above all, the reach of his skeptical imaginative intent."
Vendler's understanding of the sonnets informs her readings on an accompanying compact disk, which is bound with the book. This recorded presentation of a selection of the poems, in giving aural form to Shakespeare's words, heightens our awareness of voice in lyric, and adds the dimension of sound to poems too often registered merely as written words.
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