Tweeting the Sonnets: #Bard154

· 27 April 2016 ·

Not long after I began tweeting in September of 2015, I also started this blog, because I found it frequently painful to wedge myself into Twitter’s character limit. It’s why you’re reading this here.

I’m sure it costs me some eyeballs to tweet links back to these posts (one more click is a lot to ask), but it’s better than going mad trying to be lyrical or precise in a format that borders on ADHD. Can you recall how a heavily compressed jpeg photo resembles the dog’s breakfast, with all the clarity pixellated out of it to save space? That’s Twitter where verbal expression is concerned. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but 140 characters is soul-killing.

The point I’ve just proven is that I don’t function very well in tiny textual spaces. So when someone takes all 154 of my sonnets, and invests the time and thought needed to reinterpret them as one-tweet-each quatrains, that person has my profound admiration. I don’t know if I could do it. Joshua Gray recently has.

The tweets can be found on Twitter by searching on the hashtag #Bard154 (you want the ‘Live’ tab), or just click on that link, and scroll down the page to get to the beginning. I suggest you also have a look at this page on Mr Gray’s website, where he offers a bit of background.

The sonnets’ metre and rhyme have been sacrificed in this condensation, and some may feel that’s a high price to pay. It is, but I look at it this way: I wouldn’t want the tweets to replace my originals (nor does Mr Gray), but they’re an entertaining addition to be read alongside them. That’s just what I’m doing.

One other point: you may or may not agree with Gray’s belief in the much-debated Prince Tudor theory as the generative force behind the sonnets. I respectfully decline to divulge my insider knowledge about this – some questions are best left unanswered, even after 400 years. But agreed-with or not, it’s an interesting approach to an Oxfordian reading of the sonnets, and in this particular case the premise has been highlighted by Gray’s choices in interpretation and emphasis, as he reduced the fourteen-line poems to four-line tweets.
Here’s Sonnet 76 as an appetizer, chosen by Mr Gray himself.
My original:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?

O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:

For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

Gray’s corresponding quatrain:

This no­-pride song-center:
all one, ever the same; every word
doth almost tell my name. My son
new and old make old words new.

Do go and read the whole set. If you’d like to open an adjacent tab with my originals for comparison, Open Source Shakespeare is an excellent place to find them.

Food for thought, an enjoyable meal.