Why Love Lyrics Last

I am inclined to agree with the “favorite scholarly idea” that is here criticized, if only to offer a counterpoint to the notion that the “I” who speaks in each Shakespeare sonnet is a coherent and consistent stand-in for Shakespeare himself, and that the proper way to understand a poem is to imagine a situation that might have motivated the poet to write this poem. In order to teach literary interpretation, I need to get the students to engage with the words directly, not think of the words as evidence that exists only to support an argument about what “really” happened to the poet.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 10.06.45 AMA favorite scholarly idea is that these questions mistake Shakespeare’s real purpose, which was to invent a group of characters in order to play with Petrarchan conventions. Yet nobody writes poems like the one beginning “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame” as a desk exercise. A working poet like Shakespeare is usually too busy to have sabbaticals for scholarly inquiry into verse types and genre blendings. The pressure of immediate experience is felt on every page and in every poem of the 1609 book. — The New Yorker