Reading Shakespeare's sonnets

Shakespeare's plays enjoy a strong presence in film and popular culture, but the Sonnets have remained relatively less accessible. Don Paterson, twice winner of the T. S. Eliot prize for poetry, drew on his working knowledge of the sonnet form as a practicing poet to write Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets, a full-length popular commentary.

Subsequently Don was asked to choose a Shakespeare sonnet to complement each of twenty-five book titles that were given away as part of World Book Night 2012, ensuring that 2.5 million sonnets reached new readers. Don also worked as consultant and contributor for Faber/Touch Press on their highly successful Shakespeare's Sonnets iPad application, reinterpreting an historically remote and formally challenging body of poetic work for a wide non-academic audience through the new digital media.

Find out more about this project in our REF 2014 case study


Listen to Don Paterson discuss Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets and sonnet 86

Listen to Don Paterson read his own sonnet ‘Miguel’

Sonnet challenge

Basil Bunting, the twentieth-century British poet, used to advise young poets to ‘cut out every word you dare!’ He would practise his own advice by ‘editing’ Shakespeare’s sonnets, trying to cross out with his pencil as many words as he could from each sonnet in his battered edition, while still allowing the basic sense of the poem to come through unharmed.

Try this for yourself on one of your favourite sonnets; the results may not ‘improve’ the poem, and it certainly won’t be a sonnet by the time you finish, or even Shakespeare! But you will learn a lot about word choice and the discipline of editing.