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Literature/dark lady sonnets


Hi, I am thrilled to ask a question from such a prestigious Shakespeare fan such as yourself. I am investigating at degree level, if the dark lady sonnets are actually written not about a woman, but about Shakespeare's love for the Catholic church. Is this true? Why? Is there any evidence? Furthermore, what are the different interpretations of the dark lady sonnets?
In addition, as you like it- why did Shakespeare write the play?
What is the main theme in Othello?
Kindest regards, can't wait for the answers (and if you can only answer one please answer the first!)


First off, I must recommend that you go to a library and seek out some books about the sonnets. Any good book on the subject will tell you far more than I can do in a reply such as this.

The dark lady of the sonnets is a sharp stereotype of the courtly mistress featured in the conventions of the mentality called "courtly love" (see, and also sometimes a parody thereof. It used to be thought that the dark lady was a particular woman from Shakespeare's private life (and there are many theories as to who, as you can quickly discover by researching the dark lady via Google), but this idea is currently being replaced by other ideas, such as that she was a construct intended to symbolize something else. I understand that some people are trying to interpret her as symbolizing Catholicism, and while this is an interesting idea there is, as far as I am aware, no actual evidence to that effect. There is a document which seems to suggest that Shakespeare's father may secretly have been a Catholic, but even if he were, this tells us nothing about Shakespeare himself.

There really is no evidence, so any conclusions must come from the understanding of Shakespeare's writing. A lot of speculative theories have been, and are being, written about Shakespeare, but in my opinion most of them are wrong. I have my own theories (according to which Shakespeare was an atheist), but I don't know if they will be useful for your purpose. My main advice to you is to research the conventions surrounding "courtly love", because understanding courtly love is essential to understanding Shakespeare in general. He refers to it in almost all his plays, and uses the dark lady to represent it in the sonnets. The purpose, I believe, seems to be historical; Shakespeare based so many of his plays on historical themes because he was interested in the nature of the progress of history. I believe Shakespeare himself had a theory about the development of history as relating to human nature and the human condition, and the key point around which his allegorical analysis revolves is courtly love. This mentality is dominant and popular in the high middle ages, and Shakespeare uses it as a symbol to show how history evolves towards courtly love from a more primitive mentality, and then evolves beyond courtly love towards a more advanced mentality. But this is very complex stuff; on the intellectual cutting edge, and you need to be extremely well versed in both history and Shakespeare scholarship in order to begin to grasp it. At least that is my subjective opinion.

Why did Shakespeare write "As You Like it"? Is there a particularly reason to ask this question? He wrote it for the same reason he wrote all his other plays. Because he was a brilliant playwright who understood art to the fullest and was capable of using his artistic skills to the fullest. Do you have a particular question about "As You Like It"...?

The main theme in Othello again relates to courtly love. Othello is a soldier, a product of martial circumstances that leave little room for love. He thinks in terms of war and battle. He lives in an era that is just passing over from an age of war to a new age of diplomacy, where new behaviors are called for. Instead of being a warrior, a leader now has to be a diplomat, rational and well-tempered, and this new age is also an age where those who used to be soldiers can now become lovers and family men. Othello's marriage to Desdemona represents this transition, but Othello is not suited to it. He is still too much of a soldier, so he believes Iago's tiny hints of betrayal (esp. as they involve Cassio, the model of the "courtly love" courtier), and blows them up to great domestic conflicts, with a tragic end result. So the theme is the difficulty of practicing love and domestic values in a time and a culture that is closer to the old martial way of life than to the civilised and diplomatic modern times. Several other Shakespeare plays have essentially the same theme, such as Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida.

- Tue Sorensen


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Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

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