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VINE VOICEon 5 December 2010
In one of the most brilliant and revolutionary Arden3s to date, Katherine Duncan-Jones argues against scholarly consensus. For starters, she suggests that although first mentioned in 1598 (Francis Meres and the 'sugar'd sonnets') most of the 154 poems were not Elizabethan creations at all but the products of the mature, Jacobean Shakespeare - hence their often knotty complexity and their relatively bitter, 'salty' tone. It is an unconventional view, like many others in this radically different edition.

By any account, this is an erudite, thoroughly researched and thoroughly readable edition with sonnet-by-sonnet annotations that don't assume undue expertise on the part of the reader. Unlike previous Arden editions, therefore, this third series issue is ideal for readers wanting an in-depth and accessible analysis of poems that have long had the reputation of being difficult ('laboured perplexities', in the words of the C18 Shakespeare scholar, George Steevens).

Duncan-Jones is herself often highly ingenious. Certain sonnets she considers numerologically significant. She detects a 'strongly misogynistic bias' throughout the sequence. Even those sonnets addressed to a female (ie 127-54) arouse her suspicions that the speaker has a male audience in mind as he exhibits a strong distaste for the female form generally and for 'the negative connotations of menstruation' in particular. These suspicions are strengthened on realising that the total number of these 'Dark Lady' sonnets is 28 - one for each day of the lunar cycle. (Duncan-Jones is the first to draw our attention to this detail.) Other numerical correspondences are more literary. The great central sequence (18-126) comprises 108 sonnets, thereby matching Sidney's collection. Sonnet 12, meanwhile, alludes to the number of hours in a day; 60 to hour/'our minutes'; 70 (threescore and ten) is followed by the sonnet which begins 'No longer mourn for me when I am dead'; 144 is concerned with the 'gross'-ness of his evil angel, and so on. Whether or not such decoding has unearthed Shakespeare's original intentions, there is no doubt that the sonnets were written for a highly sophisticated literary culture that, unlike ours, 'knew the rules' governing cryptic conceits.

But if the sonnets themselves aren't sufficiently full of puzzles, here's another: in her Preface, Duncan-Jones claims to have 'avoided' John Kerrigan's 1986 Penguin edition, although 'excellent in its subtlety and scholarship', for fear of over-reliance. Yet apart from both agreeing that 'A Lover's Complaint' is an integral part of the overall scheme (sonnets-complaint, following Samuel Daniel's model, Delia) their rival editions seem poles apart. He (JK) guards against using the sonnets to speculate about Shakespeare the man and is dismissive of such fantasies and 'crackpot theories'. She (KD-J) considers the sequence's title, 'Shakespeare's Sonnets', of paramount importance, and one, moreover, that invites, and even positively insists upon, autobiographical inference. She in turn is dismissive of editors and critics who avoid confronting the poems' homoeroticism by speaking, for example, of the cult of 'comradely affection in literature' (Kerrigan). Her verdict on such thoughts: 'Sidney Lee lives!' (Lee being a critic who, immediately after Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, sought to conceal the Sonnets' potentially explosive homoeroticism. For respectable Victorians, the Sonnets were overspiced.) So much for excellence, subtle scholarship and potential over-reliance.

Combative, therefore, as well as eloquent, this edition doesn't so much fence-sit as hurdle them full-on. Whether you agree with Duncan-Jones's stance or not, there's no denying that her case is vigorously pursued and her evidence presented with skill. Admirably, her edition preserves the arrangement of the 1609 Quarto together with much of its spelling and punctuation on the grounds that excessive modernising of spelling results in blurring potential double meanings. And punctuation? Her edition is the first modern one to restore the empty parentheses at the end of the six-couplet 'Sonnet' 126. The two pairs of brackets, she believes, represent the graves awaiting the bodies of poet and 'lovely Boy'.

Definitely not the last words on the Sonnets. But some of the more fascinating, nonetheless.
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VINE VOICEon 19 August 2008
Arden's third series illuminates the continually-shifting priorities of the moment as well as the Shakespearean texts themselves. Katherine Duncan-Jones devotes less space to such arcane matters as the practices of the Jacobean printing house and relatively more to what we now consider to be all-important: the sonnets, their meaning and literary significance. She considers that although some sonnets were obviously written before Meres's first mention of them in 1598 ('sugred Sonnets among his private friends') most were the products of the mature, Jacobean Shakespeare - hence their often knotty complexity and their relatively bitter, 'salty' tone. It is an unconventional view, like many others in this radically different edition.

By any account, this is an erudite, thoroughly researched and thoroughly readable edition with sonnet-by-sonnet annotations that don't assume undue expertise. Unlike previous Arden editions, therefore, this third series issue is ideal for readers wanting an in-depth and accessible analysis of poems that have long had the reputation of being difficult ('laboured perplexities', in the words of the C18 Shakespeare scholar, George Steevens).

Duncan-Jones is herself often highly ingenious. Certain sonnets she considers numerologically significant. She detects a 'strongly misogynistic bias' throughout the sequence. Even those sonnets addressed to a female (ie 127-54) arouse her suspicions that the speaker has a male audience in mind as he exhibits a strong distaste for the female form generally and for 'the negative connotations of menstruation' in particular. These suspicions are strengthened on realising that the total number of these 'Dark Lady' sonnets is 28 - one for each day of the lunar cycle. (Duncan-Jones is the first to draw our attention to this detail.) Other numerical correspondences are more literary. The great central sequence (18-126) comprises 108 sonnets, thereby matching Sidney's collection. Sonnet 12, meanwhile, alludes to the number of hours in a day; 60 to hour/'our minutes'; 70 (threescore and ten) is followed by the sonnet which begins 'No longer mourn for me when I am dead'; 144 is concerned with the 'gross'-ness of his evil angel, and so on. Whether or not such decoding has unearthed Shakespeare's original intentions, there is no doubt that the sonnets were written for a highly sophisticated literary culture that, unlike ours, 'knew the rules' governing cryptic conceits.

But if the sonnets themselves aren't sufficiently full of puzzles, here's another: in her Preface, Duncan-Jones claims to have 'avoided' John Kerrigan's 1986 Penguin edition, although 'excellent in its subtlety and scholarship', for fear of over-reliance. Yet apart from both agreeing that 'A Lover's Complaint' is an integral part of the overall scheme (sonnets-complaint, following Samuel Daniel's model, Delia) their rival editions seem poles apart. He (JK) guards against using the sonnets to speculate about Shakespeare the man and is dismissive of such fantasies and 'crackpot theories'. She (KD-J) considers the sequence's title, 'Shakespeare's Sonnets', of paramount importance, and one, moreover, that invites, and even positively insists upon, autobiographical inference. She in turn is dismissive of editors and critics who avoid confronting the poems' homoeroticism by speaking, for example, of the cult of 'comradely affection in literature' (Kerrigan). Her verdict on such thoughts: 'Sidney Lee lives!' (Lee being a critic who, immediately after Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, sought to conceal the Sonnets' potentially explosive homoeroticism. For respectable Victorians, the Sonnets were overspiced.) So much for excellence, subtle scholarship and potential over-reliance.

Combative, therefore, as well as eloquent, this edition doesn't so much fence-sit as hurdle them full-on. Whether you agree with Duncan-Jones's stance or not, there's no denying that her case is vigorously pursued and her evidence presented with skill. Admirably, her edition preserves the arrangement of the 1609 Quarto together with much of its spelling and punctuation on the grounds that excessive modernising of spelling results in blurring potential double meanings. And punctuation? Her edition is the first modern one to restore the empty parentheses at the end of the six-couplet 'Sonnet' 126. The two pairs of brackets, she believes, represent the graves awaiting the bodies of poet and 'lovely Boy'.

Definitely not the last words on the Sonnets. But some of the more fascinating, nonetheless.
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on 3 June 2016
I bought this as I wanted to understand what each sonnet meant as the language can be a bit convoluted. The sonnet is on the right hand side of the page and the meaning of the words on the other. This makes it very easy to work out what Mr S is saying. I would recommend this book to anyone who is studying Shakespeare or just wants to understand his beautiful sonnets. The explanation makes them come to life.
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on 27 July 2015
As much as I love reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, it can prove, not only informative to have them annotated but such detailed analysis can add another level or more to their intrinsic meaning. With this compilation one can read a Sonnet straight or, as in this annotated version, discover hidden depths of meaning within its historical context, supported with reference and examples to other writings by Shakespeare. I have enjoyed this volume greatly, the annotations and analysis, as mentioned above, have increased my knowledge and love for these writings, and I have found myself reading a new Sonnet daily.If you like reading Shakespeare's Sonnets or are new to them, this volume is well worth buying.
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on 6 April 2017
not come across the author before..Its a promising start but clear aims to impress the reader with an almost adolescent turn of prose. The wok tends the the misogynistic in places .. but as it was written a few years ago this is probably forgivable. The author get some miliage in extending his boundaries.. Rather than internal musing maybe some plays that are more outward looking. Perhaps he could extend his horizons to Europe, perhaps Italy, maybe Scotland.. He just needs to get out more..
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on 20 August 2017
it does just what it says on the tin... excellent!
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on 6 July 2006
Katherine Duncan-Jones provides very detailed and thorough notes for the sonnets, making your reading of them so much richer and more rewarding. I have discovered so much about Shakespeare himself and about the times in which he lived while reading all the annotated sonnets, it has been a fascinating discovery. There is also a very clear, and interesting introduction covering aspects such as authorship of the sonnets and themes. If you're serious about Shakespeare or just need clarification of the meaning of the sonnets, this book will do it beautifully.
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on 10 November 2010
Shakespeare's sonnets are a work of genius. Shakespeare was, undoubtedly, a genius. But the sonnets are also amongst his greatest, most intriguing, works; ranking with his finest plays in interest and influence.

These are love poems - addressed to unnamed men and women, by a man - each containing no more than 14 lines. Reading them is, therefore, no big deal - anyone can manage 14 lines at a time, surely. Read them to a lover - read them to yourself - Shakespeare's sonnets will give you pleasure and food for thought for ever.

The language is highly wrought, and there is a lot of word play. But this edition presents the poems so that you can read them just as they are, on a single, clean page - or get help with the basic message by looking at a brief one paragraph explanation on the left hand page. Any difficult or obsolete word use, likewise, can quickly be cleared up by looking at clear definitions and explanations on the left hand page. But whether you look at the left hand page is up to you; the scholarship is available, but completely unobtrusive.

This is the best edition of a well-loved work. It combines ease of reading with outstanding scholarship, presented simply and without fuss, which you can take or leave as you please, in whole or in part. You can read the poem. Or read the poem with help. Or dig deeper in the poem by spending longer on the left-hand page with its background scholarship. It is wonderful to have this choice.

The introduction is, also, highly readable and interesting.

In summary - Shakespeare's sonnets are highly recommended, and this edition is recommended as the best of all.
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on 18 April 2017
Great gift
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on 7 July 2003
This book is a must for anybody interested in sonnets and Shakespeare. You can pick this book up when you've got five minutes to spare and just read a couple of the sonnets. The book offers guidance for readers by providing notes and a commentary to each sonnet on the same page as the text. This makes the sonnets much more accessible for those of us who need a bit of help interpreting their meanings. It also indicates common links that exist between the different sonnets and refers to links between Shakespeare's sonnets and plays. The collection also includes a detailed (if not heavy) introduction that discusses the different context of Shakespeare's works. I would strongly advise any body (particularly students of English) to purchase this collection. However, it isn't just a collection for those who wish to study Shakespeare but I've found it a most enjoyable read.
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