On May 20, 1609, Thomas Thorpe, a publisher and procurer of manuscripts, registered a new book titled “Shake-speares Sonnets: Never before imprinted.” The quarto included 154 sonnets (beginning with a very mysterious dedication, worthy of a Dan Brown novel, and concluding with a long narrative poem) that are considered the most beautifully written and profound sonnets in the English language. The sonnets, written by William Shakespeare, have never been out of print in more than four centuries. The 1609 Quarto is extremely rare and valuable — only 13 copies exist (compared to about 228 copies of the First Folio, containing all of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1623 by Heminges and Condell). And like the Bard’s plays, the sonnets have been read, discussed, studied, and endlessly written about. Indeed, Shakespeare prescience in the 18th sonnet is justified: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see / So long lives this.”
In order to bring the glorious sonnets of Shakespeare to new generations using the technology of the 21st century, the New York Shakespeare Exchange (NYSE), a nonprofit organization that aims to make Shakespeare accessible, announced the Sonnet Project, a free app for the iPad and iPhone that displays short films of 154 different actors (some of them established Shakespearean actors) reciting the sonnets, against 154 backdrops around New York City. The goal of the Sonnet Project is to reach 1 million viewers before the Bard’s 450th birthday. Ross Williams, artistic director of the NYSE, explains the inspiration for the Sonnet Project: “Shakespeare gets a bad rap. A lot of people say ‘I don’t like Shakespeare, he’s over my head,’ or ‘Shakespeare is boring. I wondered what happens if we share Shakespeare in really easily digestible chunks so people can get used to having him in their lives?” To date, 75 of the sonnets have been filmed; 10 were released on the anniversary of their initial publication.
Poetry is meant to be read, and once you read Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud, you instantly understand why they endure. Williams elaborates: “When you hear those words something just moves, shifts inside of you. There is a simplicity of spirit within the poetry and I think that’s why people can connect to it in such an amazing way.”
Read related post: The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
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For further reading: http://sonnetprojectnyc.com
So Long As Men Can Breathe by Clinton Heylin, Da Capo Press (2009)
The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint by William Shakespeare, Penguin (2010)