In a ground-breaking new book, All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, Professor Paul Edmondson and Professor Sir Stanley Wells aim to redefine the way in which we think about the poems – and provide us with a renewed insight into the man himself.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare – a book that has been a long labour of love for both men – reorganises the poems into their probable chronological order and also includes sonnets and sonnet-like passages from within the plays.

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The detailed and thought-provoking introduction discusses the origins of Shakespeare’s sonnet writing, the pioneering ways in which he went on to use them within the plays for both dramatic effect and as spoken dialogue, and perhaps early glimpses into his literary education. It looks at the sonnets as snippets from Shakespeare’s life condensed into poetry: “Shakespeare’s sonnets can instead be read for traces of his personality, as though the poems were his emotional, psychological, and spiritual memoir”.

Providing this fresh approach to the way in which we view the poems, Professors Edmondson and Wells have freed whole sections of the work from the long established narratives of the ‘fair youth’ and the ‘dark lady’, enabling a far more complex and intriguing insight into why Shakespeare might have written them and exposing a great deal about his sexuality.

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According to the authors, “We believe that many of Shakespeare’s sonnets are deeply personal poems written out of Shakespeare’s own experience”. They seek to identify the sex of each sonnet’s addressee and in doing so hope “we have played a part in emphasising the bisexual quality of Shakespeare’s sonnets”.

Each sonnet though re-ordered, has its original number below and is accompanied by detailed notes and literal paraphrasing – of which there are more detailed versions towards the end of the book. This gives the reader the ability to either work through the book methodically or find favourite sonnets and flip back and forth between them.

Edmondson and Wells add: “It is our hope that in arranging all the sonnets of Shakespeare chronologically we have newly minted these poems and poetic extracts in a fresh and open context”. With All the Sonnets of Shakespeare they have certainly provided all lovers of Shakespeare with a fascinating new perspective from which to view the biographical elements of the poems and the parallels they share with his works within the plays.

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All the Sonnets of Shakespeare is a beautifully presented book that offers the reader many new ways in which to further understand this hugely significant collection of poems.

All the Sonnets of Shakespeare
(Cambridge University Press, £12.99 Hardback)
By William Shakespeare, Edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells
ISBN 9781108490399 Go here to purchase All the Sonnets of Shakespeare.

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