Sonnets obscured

Drawn from my PhD thesis, this article – for a special issue on sonnets in the nineteenth century – looked at how the circulation of Shakespeare’s unexpurgated sonnets in ever proliferating new editions impacted the cultural regard of the sonnet form itself. Although sonnets had some reputation for being ‘direct expressions’ of emotion and feeling, Shakespeare’s example was disruptive — once speaking ‘freely’, Shakespeare spoke of love for a a young man, and lust for a ‘dark lady’. Variously received with delight or consternation, I traced how Shakespeare’s collection saw the sonnet form itself become associated with obscurity, encoded emotion, occult feeling and highly-wrought conceits and riddles.

Rhian Williams, ‘ “Pyramids of Egypt”: Shakespeare’s sonnets and a Victorian turn to obscurity.’, Victorian Poetry, 48(4) (2014), pp. 489-508.