taken from the guardian.uk
Shakespeare's sonnets are synonymous with courtly romance, but in fact many are about something quite different. Some are intense expressions of gay desire, others testaments to misogyny. Wary of academic criticism, Don Paterson tries to get back to what the poet was actually saying.
The problem with reading Shakespeare's sonnets is the sonnets themselves, by which I mean their reputation. Much in the same way as it's almost impossible to see the Mona Lisa as anything but a parody of itself, or hear Satie's Trois Gymnopedies without the feeling that someone's trying to sell you something – a bar of chocolate perhaps – it's initially hard to get close to the sonnets, locked as they are in the carapace of their own proverbialism. "A Shakespeare sonnet" is almost as much a synonym for "love poem" as "Mona Lisa" is for "beautiful woman". When something becomes proverbial, it almost disappears; and worse, we're allowed to think we know it when we really don't.
The sonnets are close to being one such cultural cipher. If you'd asked me a year ago, I'd have been breezily confident that I knew a fair number of them reasonably well, and had a few by heart. Then there was the literary dinner party. A hideously exposed bluff prompted me to re-examine my avowed familiarity. (Lesson: only bluff at parties where you can immediately walk to another, darker, part of the room – so you're not obliged to remain in your seat, blushing through the cheese course.)
At least I wasn't alone. Twain's definition of the classic, "something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read" is well known, but I might also add, less memorably, that a classic is a book you can safely avoid reading, because no one else will admit they haven't either. READ MORE....