Books for Women #7 Shakespeare (part 1: Sonnet 29)

Shakespeare sonnet number 29

No one would link a Shakespeare sonnet with Black Beauty, would they ?

But I must mention Black Beauty  because I had seen one the brain/psych people I follow on Twitter mention it. Professor Sophie Scott ( @sophiescott)  tweeted ‘ aged 7/8 I used to  read Black Beauty and work myself into hysterics…’

Of course! Many readers will have had the experience reading Black Beauty, of totally identifying one’s inner being with a horse! That makes me think about what ‘identifying’ is –  it is not to  do, in many respects with  gender, class, or even species. So why am I  writing about  books to make a woman?

Leaving that question for another day, as I am rushing out to listen to Brian Turner reading at the Scott Clinic, let me introduce my first piece of Shakespeare text into the list. You can identify with a horse? Easy enough then to make the emotional link with a C17 man…

I found this poem as a teenager who literally couldn’t sit still in an English class (always nipping out for a smoke)  through the 1971 film ‘Fortune and Men’s Eyes’ which I saw in a cinema in Brighton on one of my runaway trips. No – not running away, this was when I had  finally officially ‘left home’. I hitched down the A41 to Brighton with my boyfriend Nick. We  lived in a squat and worked in cafes.   I’d be 16. Don’t remember the film very much  – homosexuality in a prison?  – but I remember  crying in the cinema. At the end of the film, up rolled the words of the Shakespeare sonnet ‘When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’ – or did I go away and look it up?

SONNET 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

For a long time  the poem  didn’t mean much to me, but all the same I loved it, and I  learned it off by heart and could recite it. Which begs the question, if I didn’t ‘understand’ it, what was it that  I loved? As with ‘America’, there were particular lines that got me, and hurt, and  that was partly what I liked;

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate…

Certain words (‘ disgrace’ ‘alone’ ‘outcast’ ‘deaf heaven’ ‘fate’ ) carried the emotional charge I sought. I  ‘identified’ with or felt those words or felt their feelings. Was I in pain? Not really, not consciously, I was just a very stroppy, uncontained teenager. In retrospect? Perhaps the poem held my consciousness for me?

And it also contained a promise, a possible future.’For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings.’ One day, I could feel,  that might come to me – Shakespeare was laying down a possible pattern, and in a form I could know through the feeling of words, and remember.

Amazing technology.

One thought on “Books for Women #7 Shakespeare (part 1: Sonnet 29)

  1. Kate Rodenhurst May 22, 2012 / 8:18 pm

    My sister read this at my wedding. It turned out to be surprisingly controversial, as some people thought it was too downbeat, and someone else laughed at me because ‘Shakespeare is so middle class’, but I love it.

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