“With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart,” Wordsworth famously declared in the sonnet “Scorn not the sonnet;” to which Browning replied, no less famously, “If so, the less Shakespeare he!” Indeed, if Shakespeare did offer us such a key, it has proved to be extraordinarily badly cut. Probably no part of the Shakespearean canon has attracted a greater amount of nonsensical and ill-founded commentary than that which appeared in a Quarto of 1609 as SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS. Never before imprinted (hereafter Q). So intractable have these poems proved that they only now appear in the Arden edition, Katherine Duncan-Jones having taken over from the original editor, the late Winifred Nowottny. Not that other editions have been scarce, the most notable of the last twenty years being those of Stephen Booth (1977), John Kerrigan (1986), and G. Blakemore Evans (1996). Helen Vendler, meanwhile,...

 

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