Put a sonnet in your bonnet!

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A dose of sun and a daily snippet of poetry offers a chance to put an extra spring in your step this week.

The RSC has just launched Sonnets in Solitude, a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets self-recorded by RSC actors while in lockdown. Many of the actors were working with the RSC at the time of the theatre’s temporary closure on 17th March and have been unable to perform or rehearse since.

While the sun raised temperatures earlier this week, Herald arts’ thermometer threatened to blow as we tuned in to listen to Antony Byrne turn up the heat with his assured delivery of Sonnet 18 Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’, and Andrew French wrap his deeply-timbred and divine vocals to Sonnet 2 ‘When forty winters shall besiege thy brow’.

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran said: “The sonnets are so intimate, confidential and direct, and watching them being performed in this way captures that immediately. Perhaps after 400 years, the form has finally found its ideal format”.

The RSC will release 90 of the 154 sonnets over the coming weeks which will be available to view via the RSC’s You Tube channel Miles Jupp, Alexandra Gilbreath, Antony Sher, Emma Fielding and Rosie Sheehy are just some of the actors involved in Sonnets in Solitude.

Some highlights include: Sonnet 29, ‘When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes” read by Antony Sher; Sonnet 116, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ performed by Alexandra Gilbreath; and Sonnet 130 ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ read by Miles Jupp, who should have been opening as Antipholus, one of the twins in The Comedy of Errors, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this month.

First published in 1609, Shakespeare’s Sonnets were described by William Wordsworth as “the Key which unlocked Shakespeare’s heart”. They explore themes of love, sexual desire, jealousy, mortality, friendship and the passage of time and continue to be published and shared around the world to this day.

The question has longed been asked who was Shakespeare addressing in his sonnets? Academics think they may be addressed to a series of different people.

The first 17 sonnets for example seem to be addressed to a fair youth, an aristocratic young man, imploring him to get married, and have children. There are several candidates for this Fair Youth.

Perhaps the most likely candidate is William Herbert. In 1595 Herbert had refused to marry Elizabeth Carey, the granddaughter of the Lord Chamberlain, the patron of the very company Shakespeare worked for. Some people suggest that his mother, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke invited Shakespeare down to Wilton House and commissioned him to write these 17 for the 17th birthday of her son, William in April 1597.

William Herbert’s initials certainly seem to fit to the dedication of the book to Mr WH. Hemminges and Condell, Shakespeare’s business partners would later dedicate the First Folio to William Herbert and his brother Philip.

Some suggest that the sonnets are written for Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton to whom in 1593 Shakespeare dedicated his poem Venus and Adonis and later The Rape of Lucrece.

To see the other sonnet readings visit the RSC’s YouTube channel here