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Modern Versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Brandie DeRusha

Staff Writer

With her MA in English from Rutgers University-Camden, Brandie spends her days chasing around her toddlers and writing. She loves to pair wine with her reading; preferably a Brontë, or an Elliot, or a Woolf novel. Depending on the mood. She currently lives in Florida with her husband, two kids and furry beast.

This post is sponsored by Wednesday Books.

Jade, Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of—until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target. They picked the wrong girl. Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

“Shall I compare thee to a summers day…” (opening line of Sonnet 18)

Yes! It’s the time of year for some love poetry, so for our Shakespeare Retelling Day, I thought we could look at some more modern versions of the eternal bard’s sonnets.

Those 14 rhyming lines set to iambic pentameter are everything a person needs to kindle the flames of the heart. Shakespeare published 154 sonnets in his lifetime. It is rumored that he wrote at least double that number. He also used sonnets in his plays, as both introductions (Romeo and Juliet) and closings (Henry V). So while we look at his plays and productions, forgetting about his poetry being retold would be incomplete.

Of course, Elizabethan English is a little difficult to understand completely for the average Joe. Language is fluid and has (obviously) changed a lot in 400 years. While we do owe a huge debt toward Shakespeare and his foundation to our modern language, he can be a bit difficult to understand without help. However, thanks to the power of the internet, we can access the deep and profound meanings to his sonnets.

To Read

Shakespeare’s Sonnets Retold: Classic Love Poems with a Modern Twist by William Shakespeare and James Anthony

James Antony is a Shakespeare scholar, in love with the meter and the rhythm of his sonnets, yet frustrated with the inaccessible language. One day he set out to go line by line of Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summers day,” keeping the rhythm and meter, and made a completely modern sonnet. This book is the product of him doing this 153 more times. What is remarkable is that he was able to retell these sonnets while keeping the iambic pentameter and the rhyming scheme. This is a labor of love, that’s for sure.

To Watch

For the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Ashoka University, in collaboration with the British Council and the Shakespeare Society of India, hosted a commemorative two day performance of Shakespeare’s work with modern translations. These two videos are awe inspiring and proves that Shakespeare can be relevant all over the world.

To Participate

Attend a poetry slam and embrace your internal bard. Every year Willful Pictures hosts Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam in New York City. Here you’ll get the chance to read one of the 154 sonnets, or just sit and enjoy them being performed live by a diverse group of people. Every person brings something new and interesting and ALIVE to the sonnets.

Of course, if you’re not in NYC, you may find a local poetry reading to dust off your sonnet performance skills. One of the best things about Shakespeare is that his work is so interactive. It’s almost that in order to understand him, we have to put ourselves into his work.

It’s a fun time to gather your family and play with words. I like to think he would want us to do that anyway.