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The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets Hardcover – November 15, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

From Library Journal

A respected literary critic and Harvard academic, Vendler has created an exhaustive and wonderful work on Shakespeare's sonnets. Most of the many studies of the sonnets focus on the dozen or so most famous ones. Works that do study the complete group usually offer detailed, scholarly annotations, such as G. Blakemore Evans's highly recommended The Sonnets (Cambridge Univ., 1996). Vendler examines the lyrics as works of poetry, presenting all 154 sonnets, first in the 1609 Quarto version and then in Vendler's modernized text. Close readings relate the meaning of the language and the structure of individual sonnets and link them to other sonnets by theme or unit. The work is accompanied by a CD of Vendler reading 65 of the poems. A lengthy, useful introduction; a bibliography; an index of first lines; and two appendixes (of keywords and defective key words) complete the work. This study will become a standard work and is essential for all academic libraries.?Neal Wyatt, formerly with Mary Washington Coll. Lib., Richmond, Va.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 696 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Har/Cdr edition (November 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674637119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674637115
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 6.8 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #704,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this invaluable book, Helen Vendler investigates what she finds aesthetically most provocative in each of Shakespeare's beautiful sonnets, i.e., the fact that Shakespeare, himself undertook the writing of the sonnets as a "writer's project invented to amuse and challenge his own capacity for inventing artworks."
The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets is comprised of a single introductory chapter outlining Vendler's own critical perspective and 153 individual sonnets, together with critical commentary. (Sonnets 153 and 154 are presented together in one essay.) Vendler's format seeks to restore "comprehension of the internal logic and old finery of Elizabethan lyric" which has almost completely disappeared from contemporary examinations of these sonnets. Vendler's book will help readers to better understand the language of Shakespeare's sonnets as well as uncover textual clues in a clearer and more deliberate fashion, leading readers to a greater appreciation of the power of language when manipulated by a master poet intent upon expressing the inner life of the speaker.
The author provides fresh and unexpected interpretation of the sonnets based on clear, textual evidence rather than through a dominant theoretical perspective. She also explores linguistic strategies directly from Shakespeare's own compositional acts and then constructs upon them an interpretation of the poet's duty "to create aesthetically convincing representations of feelings felt and thoughts thought." Vendler chooses to concentrate her efforts on Shakespeare's ability to accurately convey the speaker's own misery, torment, joy, wonder, exuberance, etc. within the mere fourteen lines demanded of the sonnet, that most structured of all forms of expression.
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Format: Paperback
Among the many good features of The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets are those mentioned by other reviewers: Each sonnet is printed in its original form on its own page and also in modern form. Each sonnet gets its own independent essay. Vendler's comments are illuminating on a majority of the sonnets. The careful reader will come away seeing things in the sonnets that they would not otherwise have seen. Her pointing to what she calls "KEY WORDS" and "couplet ties" at the end of each sonnet's discussion helps the reader to engage with the sonnets in a new way. I've put this book on the shelf with my other favorite Shakespeare secondary sources.

Nevertheless I have to wonder if the effort of working (and it is hard work) through Vendler's book is worth the agony. Some of the previous reviewers have pointed out some of the failings. The diagrams, of which there are many, were for me simply worthless. (See the review by Royal Diasticutis on this issue.) Also this is not a self-standing book. The reader who has not specialized in the sonnets needs another more basic text to use along side Vendler's. (She suggests several.) Vendler's editors should have insisted that she skip the diagrams and instead add more basic information. This would have made this book much more useful and manageable.

The main reason I found this book far less than pleasurable despite the beauty of Shakespeare's poetry is that Vendler is a very poor writer. I do not understand how someone who professes to love poetry and to devote her life to it can be such a tedious, stiff, and pretentious writer of prose. Vendler must secretly hate the English language.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just finished a research project for my Masters class. The project was about the Philosophies found in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Vendler's book was an extremely important tool in helping me learn to understand the Sonnets. First, this book contains all 154 sonnets, with each sonnet appearing on its own page with the sonnet number appearing in the upper right hand corner. This makes finding each sonnet simple and easy - very important when typing research papers. Vendler's description and analysis that follows each sonnet is highly detailed and exact, containing diagrams, links between words and puns, meanings behind the quatrains and the couplets, and even linking the connections between the groups of sonnets (such as the "young patron" and the "dark lady" sonnets). I was very glad to have this book at my finger tips for my project - in fact, every quote I used from the sonnets came from this book. Helen Vendler's The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets is a fantastic book and something that will enhance anyone's desire to know more about Shakespeare's Sonnets. For anyone that has studied Shakespeare or wants to know more about the sonnets, I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Vendler does an excellent job of making the sonnets accessible and illuminating for all readers of Shakespeare. For those who are novices to Shakespeare's work, Vendler points out the patterns of structure inherent in the poems. To the individuals more familar with the sonnets, Vendler offers a detailed analysis of the words of the poems. The sum of these approaches provides both the novice and the expert with an appreciation for the depth and complexity of the sonnets.
Interestingly, Vendler does not often provide interpretations of the meaning of the poems. Instead, she chooses to provide the reader with an appreciation of the elements of the sonnets in order to allow one to make their own informed interpretations.
Vendler has created a book that mirrors the sonnets in that it can be enjoyed on many different levels. But, regardless of which level upon which it is enjoyed, the book is an indespensible guide into the wonders of Shakespeare's sonnets. Any student of Shakespeare needs to have this book in their collection of critical works on the Bard.
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