Tweeting the Sonnets: #Bard154

· 27 April 2016 ·
[Joshua Gray’s project to convert my Sonnets to tweets]

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

I’m sure it costs me eyeballs to tweet links back to these posts (one click is a lot to ask), but it’s better than going mad trying to be lyrical 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.

14 July 2019: The hashtag doesn’t work any more. The tweets (and more besides) now reside in Joshua’s book The Life and Death of King Edward. He means me. I gave the book a thorough going-over not long after it was published. [paperback, Amazon: $13 US | £10 UK]

The sonnets’ metre and rhyme have been sacrificed in the condensation, and some may feel that this is a high price to pay. Yes it is, but look at it this way: I wouldn’t want the tweets to replace my originals (nor does Joshua), but they’re an entertaining addition to be read alongside them. I suggest you also have a look at this page on Joshua’s website, where he offers some background.

One other point: you may or may not agree with Joshua’s belief in the much-debated Prince Tudor theory as the generative force behind the sonnets. I respectfully decline to get into this subject here – 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 Joshua’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 Joshua.

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.

The 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.

Read the whole set if you can. You won’t have to sell a manor to afford the slim paperback. If you’d like to check with my originals for comparison, Open Source Shakespeare is one place to find them.

Food for thought, an enjoyable meal.