But love you are no longer yours

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I’m going to go on a slight diversionary tour here, and talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets. Everyone can quote them – at least a little bit – and (I think) everyone has a favourite. My own is Number 130*.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,

Coral is far more red, than her lips red,

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun:

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks,

And in some perfumes is there more delight,

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,

That music hath a far more pleasing sound:

I grant I never saw a goddess go,

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

And yet by heaven I think my love as rare,

As any she belied with false compare.

And because they are so well-known, they lend themselves to endless reinvention. The phrase “shall I compare thee to a” can be ended so many ways – and my favourites include:

Sonnet 116 – “Let me not to the marriage of true minds…” – as quoted in Sense and Sensibility (the film at least) and in the Shakespeare Retold Much Ado About Nothing** – is also ripe for retelling***.

Moving in a different direction, there is also the joyous wonder that it is pop sonnet – every week, a new pop song is converted into surprisingly beautiful (and sensible) Shakespearian English – I particularly love XVI, XXV, and XXXIII. And the way they have preserved the Roman numerals – I wonder if they’ll stop when they get to 154?

Finally – and unrelatedly – the BBC is using Benedict Cumberbatch (and Shakespeare) to sell their dramas. It’s not like we needed it – but it’s very enjoyable all the same…


* Yes, I’m going to quote the whole thing. So sue me…

** I bloody love this, by the way. Sarah Parrish and Damian Lewis are fabulous.

*** I have issues with “love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds”, but I’ll happily take “Love’s not Time’s fool”….

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