Ideas of Order: A Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Neil L. Rudenstine. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-28015-4
Rudenstine, former president of Harvard, unpacks what he calls the “greatest single work of lyric poetry,” Shakespeare’s 154 love sonnets. The poems are quoted extensively throughout, as well as given in their entirety. Rudenstine astutely divides the sonnets into “clusters,” so he can explicate separate themes like praise, betrayal, and love. Various rhetorical devices at work in the poems, including wordplay, irony, and hyperbole, also come under consideration. This study touches on multiple interpretations, but is most persuasive on Shakespeare’s use of symbols, such as the sun, and imagery. Rudenstine’s analysis is inspiring and thoughtful, especially when parsing the line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” or tracing the sonnets’ relationship to the author’s plays. Curiously, the book only briefly mentions the homoerotic strain running through the sonnets, otherwise leaving the poet’s intense feelings for a young man unexplored. Still, this is a worthwhile attempt to unravel the meanings of a challenging work. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/2014
Release date: 11/18/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-374-71201-3
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